30 years ago the avocados were rarely seen outside of a shrimp cocktail. Today they are an essential breakfast food in the country, have caused a generational war of words and dominate Instagram. Why are we so bewitched by this product? Alexandra Carlton analyzes the situation.
How do we become so obsessed with a food that seems to be a vegetable but that furtively is actually a fruit? I asked a friend when I told her that I am writing a small but vibrant article about our passion about the humble avocado. Little did I know that even this little question was loaded with controversy. Apparently the avocado is not a vegetable – neither is it a simple fruit, it is actually a berry. A berry with a single seed, nothing less. And if you think that’s where the strangeness of the avocado ends, you should think about it again.
The avocado generates territorial conflicts, doubtful histories of origin and generational wars in its step and whenever it is debated. The invention of Australia’s national breakfast – avocado puree – is claimed by at least three compelling sources. There is even a dispute over who invented the infamous global theory of “millennials cannot buy houses because of avocado toast.” And the next time you want to cheer up a dinner, ask your guests if they approve of cooking the avocado and then sit down to watch the pyrotechnic games. That seems like a lot of fuss caused by a small fruit. “It is,” says Jeff Connor, president of the Queensland Avocado Festival, “a very exciting fruit.”
For a long time Australians did not think the avocado was particularly exciting. The fruit was thought to be native to Central Mexico with many varieties of subspecies found in Guatemala, Ecuador, Colombia and other places in Central and South America.
In 1840, when the first avocados were planted in the Royal Botanical Garden of Sydney, no one noticed them except, presumably, from a bunch of bats and opossums. It was not until the entrepreneurs – and blessed by the weather – of Queensland put their hands on them, at the end of that century, that they spread throughout that state.
Alec Kidd was one of the greatest pioneers of avocado. In 1934, when he was a child, and according to his son-in-law, John Williams, Alex planted 20 avocado seeds on Mount Tamborine in southeastern Queensland. Some of the magnificent varieties of avocado trees from Guatemala that grew there still remain, including one behind the house of John and Lindy Williams that is four meters in circumference and produces up to one ton of avocados in a good year. It could be said that he is the grandfather of the East Coast avocado industry because it has served as a rhizome for millions of new trees – some of which flourish today.
“There was a time when it was considered a taste acquired because it was so different and unusual.”
When the US military arrived in Australia during World War II, they began to popularize this creamy fruit. By this time, the avocado enjoyed a brief fad, but until the 1980s, Australians still did not eat in large quantities. Some sophisticated host could entertain his guests with a prawns cocktail mixed with a spoonful of avocado but this was the exception and not the rule.
“There was a time when it was considered an acquired taste because it was so different and unusual,” says Lindy, who lives on the Merrinee estate on Mount Tamborine, the family property that still produces a commercial avocado crop from 1100 trees. “Now, due to the publicity that it has, it has become a daily fruit like an apple or an orange”.
And what storm of publicity have you received over the years almost without warning. First, it was the cheerful television commercial “ave an avo” in the 1990s that was later modified to the more refined slogan “add an avo”. Then there was a sudden explosion of mashed avocado on toast for breakfast, a dish claimed by three different sources – including, in 1870, the governor of Queensland who reported having enjoyed it “smeared on the bread with salt and pepper to flavor it.” It was also mentioned as part of a recipe in a California newspaper in 1920 and then, of course, Cheff Bill Granger, a native of Sydney, invented his version of luxury coffee in the 90s by decorating it with lemon and cilantro.
As the Western world gradually became more aware of health issues – especially with the advent of Instagram that provided us with a platform to brag about it – the popularity of avocados, which are rich in vitamins K and C and “Healthy fats”, rose to new heights. Nowadays it is almost impossible that you do not find in your social networks any person making a label with a green avocado and with a look of whim.
The main advertising source of the avocado industry is the biweekly newsletter Guacamole. This includes approximately six full pages on different characteristics of the avocado and 10 or more new avocado dishes in Australia and around the world, as well as a detailed list of the main events in relation to the avocado – this is every two weeks. There is a lot of avocado action out there.
The truth about avocado
Why are the supermarket avocados as ripe as a cricket ball?
The avocados do not begin to ripen until they fall from the tree. This is good news for growers because avocados can hang on the branch, grow, but not mature for a long period of time -extending their harvest. But this also means that the producers transport them when they are green, so they are less likely to be beaten or bruised. “So if you’re buying one that’s hard, it means it’s cool,” says producer Lindy Williams.
How can I mature them quickly?
The old way works better, says producer John Williams:
Put it in a paper bag with a ripe banana and it will soften quickly. Or, suggests Jeff Connor of the Avocado Festival, buy a bunch of hard, rocky avocados, store them in some dark place and take them out in turns so that they ripen when necessary.
Why do avocado prices vary so widely?
There is no great mystery in this: it is directly related to supply and demand. During mid-summer (the perfect climate for eating avocados) local supplies are reduced and most of the fruit comes from Western Australia and New Zealand. If there is a smaller harvest than expected, it can cause shortages and, therefore, higher prices.
There are only two avocado varieties in Australia, right? Hass and Shepard?
No. There are many more, including Gwen, Sharwil, Edranol, Pinkerton, Fuerte, Wurtz, Reed and -the favorite of John and Linda- Choquette, which is the size of a soccer ball and perfect for making a large bowl of guacamole or up to 20 servings of avocado puree. Hass is a huge success, with production of up to 87% of total avocado production in Australia during 2016/17. Here is some advice: try to look for Shepards avocados during your short season at the beginning of the year. They do not turn brown once you cut them.
Tell me something extra that you do not know about avocados…
The actors Jamie Foxx and Tom Selleck are owners of avocado production farms. And Meryl Streep once cut her hand when she was trying to remove the seed from an avocado, and inadvertently coined the term “avocado hand.”
When the avocados had what would be known as the pinnacle on the world stage – in 2016, when the demographer Bernard Salt mocked the millennials in a column of opinion for spending all their money on toast with mashed avocado instead of to be saving for the payment of the mortgage deposit – Guacamole was there present. “We wanted to take advantage of this huge amount of conversations on our platforms … And tell Bernard and all the Australians, who can have their Hass avocados and their house,” the editors laughed in their newspapers a week later, pointing out the various memes and articles of opinion that your favorite fruit has starred as a result of your column.
For the record, that two years later, Bernard is quite confused about the entire episode “The comments were taken out of context,” he insists. “The point of the article was to make a parody of middle-aged people and their conservative thinking about comparing house: it was a satire.”
Satire or not, the concept of “avocado as a generational weapon” was born and repeated in May of 2017, when Melbourne tycoon Tim Gurner told the TV news show 60 minutes that he was able to buy his first property by rejecting the purchase of avocado purées for 19 dollars, unlike their wasteful companions. This time, Guacamole decided not to make any comment, perhaps fearing that this time people would genuinely think that because of the avocado they did not have a roof over their heads.
Despite these punches of fruit, Australia gives no sign of wanting to cool their romance with avocados. When there was a shortage between seasons earlier this year, the owners came to a frenzy: “Avocado puree under strict rationing due to the seasonal gap”, “Relief in sight after prices skyrocket to $ 9 per avocado “The panic should not have been surprising. In 2007/08, Australia produced 39,000 tons of fruit. By 2016/17, that number had risen enormously to 66,000 tons and per capita consumption increased from 1.2 to 3.5 kilograms.
John Williams, the heir to the avocado empire of Alec Kidd, is perfectly fine with this. He even thinks that millennials who sacrifice to own a home for the regular consumption of avocado purées are receiving reasonable compensation. “Perfect!” Says the man who has eaten avocados every day since he was 10 years old. “Sounds good to me!”
Source: Spirit / September 21, 2018