6 weird things about avocados (aka ‘alligator pears’)

11:09 a.m. Thursday, Jan. 25, 2018 Music
Thao Nguyen/Austin American-Statesman
Guacamole and chips at El Meson restaurant on South Lamar in Austin, Texas on Thursday, August 11, 2011.

Yeah, you heard me. “Alligator pears.”

You know avocados, and you love avocados. They sacrifice themselves for guacamole, which features prominently in any Texan’s daily life. They add some bright green “wow” to any taco. Heck, we even put them in margaritas. Is it any surprise that a food so versatile would hold secrets within its scaly, egg-shaped form?

Here are a few things you might not know about the chartreuse champion of your salad.

OK, the “alligator pear” thing: Dictionary.com delved into the “provocative nomenclature” of the avocado. According to them, the name comes from the Nahuatl word “ahuacatl.” If you had heard legends that that word also means “testicle,” at least one Nahuatl scholar says that’s not the case. Magnus Pharao Hansen, an anthropologist and linguist studying the language, wrote on his blog in 2016 that ahuacatl could have been used in the past as a euphemism for male genitalia, based of the similarity in shapes, but that they’re not literally the same word.

Addie Broyles

Ok, back to the dictionary people. The Spanish “aguacate” became “avogato,” an early English version, and a few weird etymological steps later, here we are. Aztecs called it “fertility fruit” (duh, if you read the above paragraph), and an early English name was “alligator pear,” according to Dictionary.com. They also say that in South America, the avocado is sometimes called “la manzana del invierno,” or “the apple of the winter.”

They might help fight cancer: A group of researchers in South Texas is exploring the properties of the avocado’s husk, or the outer layer of the pit. According to news station KENS, a University of Texas-Rio Grande Valley research team found that the husk contains compounds that are also used “to treat debilitating diseases, including cancer and heart disease.” But in an O. Henry-worthy twist, the husk also contains cancerous compounds. Keep working at it, y’all.

Julia Robinson
Kip Keller cuts avocado for an appetizer in 2011.

Yes, it’s a fruit: Just because it’s green and doesn’t taste like it would be a good soda flavor doesn’t mean an avocado is a vegetable. According to the California Avocado Commission (lol), our green pals (genus Persea in the Lauraceae family) are a nutrient-dense fruit, and also, they’re technically berries! Fleshy pulp plus seed equals berry, the commission says. But nutritionally, avocados are more like vegetables and are often listed as such, according to the Hass Avocado Board. (The avocado lobby is very good at organizing.)

It’s got layers: Everything that’s not the pit in an avocado is called the “pericarp,” which is divided into three distinct parts, the Hass board says. There’s the endocarp (that maybe-cancerous-but-maybe-anti-cancer husk we talked about), the mesocarp (green stuff! you eat!) and the exocarp (the rind on the outside that looks like it would make a handsome Louis Vuitton bag). 

Tammy Perez
Curra's Avocado Margarita

It was at the center of international trade drama: You probably think of Mexico when you think of avocados, and with good reason. The region is the ancestral home of the jade juggernaut, and BBC reports that 45 percent of the world’s avocados come from Mexico. But! Did you know! Mexican avocados were banned by the U.S. government in the early 20th century because California growers were worried that fruit flies would come along with them, according to politics news site the Hill. Eventually, U.S. growers couldn’t meet rising demand, and then NAFTA opened the door for avocados to cross the border in the 1990s. In case you missed it, renegotiating NAFTA is a thing the Trump administration talks about a lot. Depending on what happens there, avocado imports to the U.S. would likely be affected.

Conservation of Hass: According to travel site Atlas Obscura, the Hass avocado is the most prevalent variety in the U.S. A California mailman named Rudolph Hass discovered it after some botanical tinkering in the 1930s and patented his tree in 1935. You could still visit the mother tree until 2002, when it succumbed to root rot, Atlas Obscura reports.

Jay Janner/Jay Janner
California roll with real red crab, cucumber and avocado at Kyoten Sushiko Monday September 19, 2016.