Photo © Steven Foster
The avocado tree can grow to 50 feet and bears an oval or spherical fleshy, buttery fruit around a very large seed. Both the pulp and the oil from the seed are used. Avocado is native to subtropical America (Mexico, Central America) and has been in cultivation since ancient times for its delicious and nutritious fruits.1 Today, avocado is widely cultivated and there are several commercial varieties in the United States, including the Mexican avocado (P. americana var. drymifolia), grown in California and the larger West Indian avocado (P. americana var. americana), grown in Florida.2
History and Cultural Significance
The avocado has been desired throughout time not only as food rich in vitamin D and potassium,2 but for its medicinal uses and its soothing, skin healing properties.1 Traditionally, the pulp from the fruit has been used as a hair pomade to stimulate hair growth and topically to hasten wound healing. Avocado has a long history of internal use as an aphrodisiac.1 Historically, American Indians used the seeds, leaves, and bark internally to treat diarrhea.2 The first English mention of avocado came from William Hughes, the ‘royal physician’ who in 1672 wrote following a visit to Jamaica that it was “one of the most rare and pleasant fruits of the island.”3 Avocado seed oil has become extremely popular as a natural carrier oil and as a base in various combinations for cosmetics and aromatherapy oils. It is also a popular ingredient of “organic” and “natural” skin care creams, ointments, hair products, massage creams, muscle oils and soaps.2,4
A small number of studies have shown with avocado consumption may reduce cholesterol.1
In 2000, the world production of avocados was estimated at 2,000,000 tons and is expected to double by 2010.4 One limitation to growing avocados is their sensitivity to severe cold; being a tropical to subtropical tree, the avocado is adapted to frost-free growing climates.5 Another limitation is its preferred soil. Avocado trees do not grow well in poorly drained soils or those areas that are subject to flooding.6 Mexico is the largest producer of avocados and the European Union is the biggest importer.5 The United States is the second largest producer and second largest importer of avocados.5 The current production of avocados meets the supply and demand at its present usage.
1 Dermarderosian A, Beutler JA, eds. The Review of Natural Products. 3rd Edition. St. Louis, MO: Facts and Comparisons; 2000.
2 Leung AY, Foster S. Encyclopedia of Common Natural Ingredients Used In Food, Drugs, and Cosmetics. New York, NY: John Wiley and Sons; 1980.
3 Davidson, A. The Oxford Companion to Food. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press; 1999.
4 Toerien J. Overview of the World Avocado Production. October 6, 1999. Available at: http://www.colpos.mx/ifit/aguacate2/ingles2/panoramic.htm. Accessed November 3, 2004.
5 Sauls JW. Home Fruit Production – Avocado. The Agriculture Program of the Texas A&M University System: Extension Horticulture Information Resource website. Available at: http://aggie-horticulture.tamu.edu/extension/homefruit/avocado/avocado2.html. Accessed November 3, 2004.