Where do avocados come from?
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History of Avocados

Avocado
Avocado

Avocados first evolved about 350 million years ago, along with other flowering plants like tomatoes and sunflowers. They're a kind of large berry that's native to Mexico in Central America. People probably began to eat wild avocados as soon as they got to Central America, about 20,000 years ago. We know for sure that people were eating avocados by around 8,000 BC. Avocados were valuable because they have a lot of fat in them, and Central America can be a hard place to find fatty foods to eat.

man eating guacamole with an avocado tree next to him
Aztec man with guacamole;
see the avocados on the tree?
(Florentine Codex, 1500s AD)

But these wild avocados were small, and most of the inside was taken up by the seed. There wasn't much fruit to eat on them. Once people began to farm corn, around 7500 BC, it didn't take too long before they got the idea that they could develop a better avocado too. Not long after 4000 BC, people were helping wild avocado trees along and breeding them to have bigger fruit with less of the space taken up by the seed. In fact, three different groups of Central American people began growing avocados about the same time, independently of each other. They might have started to grow avocados because of a climate change about this time.

Guacamole
Avocados mashed into guacamole

Some time later, people began to really farm avocados, planting the seeds in gardens near their houses. Traders brought avocado seeds south to South America. By the 1500s, the Aztec government was accepting avocados as tribute or taxes from areas of Mexico where people grew a lot of them. Our word for avocado comes from the Aztec name, ahuácatl, which means "testicle" after the shape of the fruit (compare the West Asian figs). Aztec people often mashed avocados into a sauce, which they called ahuacamolli - our word "guacamole" comes from this.

Learn by Doing - Making Guacamole
More about Latin American food

Bibliography and further reading about avocados and guacamole:

Guacamole Recipe
Tomatoes
Corn
Chocolate
Chewing gum
Potatoes
Sweet Potatoes
Sunflowers
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Karen Carr is Associate Professor Emerita, Department of History, Portland State University. She holds a doctorate in Classical Art and Archaeology from the University of Michigan. Follow her on Instagram or Twitter, or buy her book, Vandals to Visigoths.
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