Humans have been eating avocados on this continent for some 10,000 years or possibly longer, according to the archeological record. And we’ve been doing it more or less the same way the whole time, by mashing the tree’s fruit into a pulpy paste known as guacamole.
It’s that green, chunky mass, unusual for a fruit: somewhat savory, buttery in texture and high in monounsaturated fats. On occasion, you might find slices draped over a tostada or enchilada or omelet, but when mashed, it’s all “guac.” That includes iterations like being spread on artisanal toast with seeds and wispy greens (still weird but OK), lathered into the build of a turkey burger with Swiss cheese or served alongside chips and other salsas at watch parties for all-American sporting events like the Super Bowl.
The history of the annual NFL championship game as a cultural event is firmly entwined with the rise of guacamole in mainstream U.S. culture, according to Times columnist Gustavo Arellano, whose encyclopedic knowledge on all things American Mexican food is evident in his 2012 book, “Taco U.S.A.”
“Guacamole doesn’t take off until chips take off, and chips don’t take off until Doritos take off, and that’s the late 1960s,” Arellano says. “Guess what’s starting to blow up at that time as well? The Super Bowl.”
The Hass Avocado Board, which represents growers of the best-known variety in the country, says U.S. consumers ate more than 2.8 billion pounds of Hass avocados in 2021, and consumption has been on the upswing for the past two decades.
Vickie Fite, a spokesperson for the board, said we’ll probably eat about 124 million pounds of Hass avocados this week during Super Bowl LVI festivities. It’s hard to imagine another time during the year in which avocados are consumed in such an intensely concentrated fashion by so many people (coming in close second probably would be Cinco de Mayo, when tacky bar specials promote guac and margaritas).
Guacamole is an old word, with roots in the Nahuatl word ahuacamolli, a mashup of the word for the fruit ahuacatl (associated with the Nahuatl word for “testicle,” due to the fruit’s shape and texture) and molli. In modern Spanish, avocado is aguacate.
The colonizing Spaniards didn’t care much for it when they first reached these shores, focusing instead on taking back to Europe such wondrous new items in Mesoamerica as tomatoes, chocolate and vanilla. The colonizers worried, Arellano writes, that the ahuacatl made Indigenous Mesoamericans prone to “lust.”
Native Mexicans never stopped eating them, of course, and avocados remain a star in the firmament of Mexican foods, said Carol Hernández, an associate researcher in the Bioethics Program at the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM). “It’s a part of the Mexican diet in an ancestral form.”
Even so, the fruit never could have reached its current status without its arrival and flourishing in California, Hernández added.
It wasn’t until around the turn of the last century that people started planting avocado trees in California, where the rich soil of our state fostered the Mexican transplant. Interest in the fruit began churning upward following the accidental creation of the Hass variety. The “mother tree” was planted by Rudolph Hass in La Habra Heights in 1926, and patented in 1935.
That original Hass, which died in 2002, spawned millions upon millions of trees, and groves soon were blanketing Southern California, largely in areas that would later be parceled out for homes. A California industry was taking shape, and as early as 1937, the New Yorker declared the avocado to be the “future of eating.”