Culinary and Cultural Tidbits About Avocados and Guacamole

  • 01 of 08

    The Alligator Pear

    Avocados whole and mashed
    Avocados and guacamole. photo (c) Westend61 / Getty Images

    Avocados have been cultivated and consumed in Mexican territory for several thousands of years, but it wasn’t until the 1950s that they started to enter mainstream American food consciousness. They were still pretty exotic back then; vintage cookbooks often call them by their old-timey name, “alligator pears.”

    Avocados grow on trees and are technically fruits, even though they are most often used in savory ways like vegetables. Desserts (such as avocado ice cream) and other sweet creations do...MORE exist, however.

  • 02 of 08

    Word Origin

    The word avocado ultimately comes from Nahuatl, the language the Aztecs spoke. They called it ahuacatl, which means testicle.

    The word guacamole comes from the Aztec word ahuacamolli which translates loosely as avocado sauce. People outside of Mexico may think of guacamole as more of a dip than a sauce -- but then, what actually is a dip if not a relatively thick condiment (sauce) that is scooped up instead of poured over its partner food? 

    (Nahuatl is a language still very much in use by some...MORE modern-day Mexican indigenous groups.)

  • 03 of 08

    Types of Avocados

    Avocados for sale
    Different varieties of avocado for sale at a market. photo (c) Vinh Nguyen Phuoc / EyeEm / Getty Images

    There are dozens of different avocado variety in cultivation, but the most commercially successful and well-known type is the Hass avocado. Its excellent flavor, creamy texture, and transportability has made it the favorite in the United States.

    If you get the chance to sample other varieties in addition to the Hass avocado, don’t miss out; each has its own quirky charm. There are even a few varieties in Mexico—available only locally, since they don’t travel well—that have a very thin, edible...MORE peel.

  • 04 of 08

    "Poor Man's Butter"

    Avocado on breat
    Ripe avocado flesh spread on bread slices. photo (c) Inese Liepina / Getty Images

    There is a saying in Spanish that translates to Avocado is the poor man’s butter. This refers to the common practice of eating avocado on bread, either sliced or smashed, usually sprinkled with salt. Though no longer true today, in previous centuries in areas where the trees abounded, fresh avocados could often be obtained much more inexpensively than actual dairy butter.

    Continue to 5 of 8 below.
  • 05 of 08

    Going Dark

    An avocado turns dark due to a chemical reaction when it’s exposed to air; basically, it oxidizes. (If avocados were made of metal, we would say they rust.) The only way to prevent this color change is to avoid exposing the cut avocado. (Nope, the pit-in-the-bowl-of-guacamole technique, while widely practiced, is not actually effective.)

    If air does get to your alligator pear, though, don’t dismay; the discolored part is not dangerous in any way and can just be scraped off.

  • 06 of 08

    The Leaf and Pit

    Avocados whole and halved, plus an avocado leaf and a pit. photo (c) Pix Hook / Getty Images

    The leaf of the avocado tree is used by many in Mexico to make medicinal teas and to flavor a wide variety of savory dishes. The pit, ground and toasted, is used in a similar way, albeit less frequently.

    In Mexican Spanish, the avocado pit is called a hueso, which means bone. Stone fruit such as peaches and plums also have this “bone.” Other fruits, however, just have semillas, or seeds.

  • 07 of 08

    Freezing the Fruit

    Avocado flesh can be successfully frozen. If you have excess, mash the peeled and seeded avocado pulp and mix with a teaspoon or so of lime juice per avocado. Freeze in a zip-top bag with the air squeezed out, then take out and thaw your mashed avocado for use when avocados are scarce (or when you forgot to get them at the store).

  • 08 of 08

    The Wide World of Guacamole

    Guacamole with chapulines
    A serving of guacamole sprinkled with roasted red chapulines (grasshoppers). photo (c) César Rincón, creative commons license cc by 2.0

    As a sauce, guacamole’s purpose in life is to add flavorful goodness in all sorts of ways, which means that it shouldn’t be limited to just snacking with tortilla chips – or even to restricted to Latin-style foods. How about a side of guacamole for that steak you just grilled on the patio, or with a slice of Mom’s meatloaf? Guacamole is much better than plain mayo on a BLT or chicken sandwich, and it makes a baked potato or plate of scrambled eggs very happy. Guacamole stuffed mushrooms or...MORE deviled eggs, anyone?

    The varieties of this wonderful, millennia-old sauce are endless. Guacamole can be deliciously simple, consisting simply of ripe avocado flesh roughly mashed with salt and a little lime juice – hard to beat as a filling for a warm corn tortilla. Other versions are more complex, containing additional ingredients such as tomato, onion, and garlic. Then there are the non-traditional or nouveau guacamole preparations, incorporating anything from bacon to pineapple and mango to green peas or pomegranate seeds. Certain restaurants in Mexico will serve you a simple guacamole with roasted chapulines (grasshoppers) stirred in or sprinkled on top. One really does have a lot to choose from!