How Mexican avocado continues its journey to the US

24/06/2021

Avocados have historically been an important part of the Mexican and Central American diet. Currently, the demand for this fruit has increased, since its market includes the United States, Europe, and Asia. The communities that produce it have begun to face different challenges associated with the increase in national and international demand, but they also face various problems related to the planting of monocultures, such as water distribution, changes in soil use, and the use of fertilizers.

The main market for the Mexican avocado is the United States. Photo: APEAM
The main market for the Mexican avocado is the United States. Photo: APEAM

In the total balance of production and exports, the projection for the end of this season (2020-2021) is that more than 1.2 million tons will have been harvested and more than 1 million tons sent abroad. This is a figure that may vary due to the prolongation of the covid-19 pandemic. Until the second half of 2020, avocado exports already registered a 12 percent increase compared to 2019; 551,226 tons had been exported to the United States alone.

The main market for the Mexican avocado is the United States, where Michoacán -the only state-certified to export the fruit to its northern neighbor- sends more than 84 percent of its production. The strategy in the United States is focused on making an important investment in promoting the avocado at different times of the year, beyond the Super Bowl and Cinco de Mayo, seasons already very well positioned among American consumers.

Other strategic markets are Canada, Japan, and China, although growers and ambassadors also send the fruit to Europe, South America, and even the Middle East. Last year alone, some 37,378 tons of products were exported. Mexico has at least 20 different species of avocado, and three races are recognized: Mexican, Antillean, and Guatemalan. Among the most commercialized varieties are: "Hass", "Criollo", "Bacon", "Fuerte" and "Pinkerton".

Among the benefits of the consumption of avocado is that it is a product rich in minerals such as magnesium and potassium, includes antioxidant properties for its high content of vitamin E, also, is one of the richest fruits in fiber, contains no cholesterol or sodium, and is low in saturated fat, for all the above is recommended to include in the diet for a healthy diet.

In Mexico, the presence of around 20 species of avocado is documented. Mexico is the world's leading producer of this fruit: 48.3 percent of the avocado consumed on the planet is Mexican.

Avocado is rich in proteins, lipids, and vitamins (particularly A), as well as phosphorus, and calcium. In addition to fresh fruits, frozen, dehydrated pulp and oil extracts are used for the cosmetic industry. The leaves, seeds, and bark are used as a medicinal remedy and in the production of dyes. The trees are part of the coffee and cocoa orchards and the backyards of the houses.

History of the avocado

The avocado (Persea americana Mill.) belongs to the botanical family Lauraceae, and the genus has approximately 190 species, distributed mainly in the neotropics, from the southern United States to Chile. The oldest fossil records of the ancestors of this plant were found in the area currently occupied by the Sierra Nevada in California, where at the end of the Cenozoic era (approximately 50 million years ago), there was a tropical climate. However, during the last glaciation (between 18 and 24 thousand years ago), this plant moved south, where the climate was suitable for its development. It was in the Tehuacán Valley, in the Balsas region, where this plant established itself, diversified, and probably began to be domesticated, since the oldest evidence of its consumption was found in a cave in Coxcatlán, with a date between 8,000 and 7,000 years ago.

The avocado was a very important plant for the Mesoamerican peoples, not only as a source of food, but also for medicinal purposes and as part of their cosmovision. When the Spaniards arrived in America, the avocado and its races already had names in the different languages of the peoples that were distributed in the current Mexican territory. Fray Diego de Landa, in his book Relación de las cosas de Yucatán of 1560, describes the avocado as follows:

...a very large and fresh tree which the indigenous people call on; it bears a fruit like large squash with great softness that seems to taste buttery and is lardy, and is very high maintenance and substance. It has a large shell and delicate rind and is eaten sliced like melon and with salt.

This plant was also mentioned in the General History of the Things of New Spain, written by Fray Bernardino de Sahagún, where three types of avocado are mentioned: "aoacatl", "tlacacolaocatl" and "quilaoacatl".

Avocado consumption worldwide began to increase at the end of the last century. Up to 1963, 47 varieties were registered in Mexico, all of them with regional names. However, since 1964, the hybrid variety called "Hass" began to replace the native varieties. This has meant that, in a period of a few years, the genetic diversity of avocados has begun to diminish. Mexico became the main producer of the now called "green gold", with the state of Michoacán leading the production list, accompanied by the states of Jalisco, Nayarit, State of Mexico, Guerrero, and Morelos.

Where does the word avocado come from?

The word avocado comes from the Nahuatl ahuacatl, which means "testicles of the tree". The oldest vestiges of the avocado go back to a cave in Coxcatlán, located in the region of Tehuacán, Puebla, and date from 8,000 a.C. The avocado tree can reach 20 meters in height, but it is generally kept at less than five meters. Its scientific name is Persea americana and there are more than 90 species on the continent, distributed from central Mexico to Central America.

There are three avocado breeds: Mexicana, auácatl (P.a. var drymioflia); Guatemalan, Quilauácatl (P.a. guatemalensis var.), and Antillean tlacozalauácatl (P.a. American var.), which give rise to a large number of hybrids, among the best known are the Fort, Hass, Bacon, Pinkerton, Gwen, and Reed.

By Mexicanist, Other sources: El Tlacuache