While it has been a popular fruit for decades – primarily as the basic component in guacamole and other dips – the avocado has undergone a surge of popularity in recent years; so much so that there are actual avocado shortages from time to time. Its relatively recent designation (at least for marketing purposes) as a ‘superfood’, as well as the even more recent worldwide semi-addiction to avocado toast and ‘smashed avocado’ for breakfast have increased worldwide demand to the point that the major producing nations are having a hard time keeping up. But never fear – new cultivars of avocados that are stronger, better producing, and easier to grow are being researched even as you read these words.
Avocados are the fruit of the Persea americana (also, not surprisingly, commonly referred to as the avocado) tree in the Lauraceae family of flowering plants. The fruit is technically considered to be a berry and normally has one very large seed in the center. The avocado tree – depending on the specific cultivar – can grow to almost 40 feet tall and, in some cases, can live over 200 years. It is not uncommon for a new tree to take 5 to 10 years to begin producing fruit. The tree is considered a subtropical plant and most cultivars cannot tolerate climates with frost or high winds; it is sometimes grown indoors in colder climates and used as a decorative houseplant.
The avocado is believed to have originated in Southern Mexico, and the earliest consumption of the fruit by humans dates back over 10,000 years, while the first cultivation of the tree is believed to have taken place around 5,000 BC. The avocado spread to Southern Europe (specifically Spain) via the early Spanish explorers, and from there to the rest of the world. The plant was introduced to what are now the US states of Florida and Hawaii in the 1830s, and California in the 1850s.
Today, about 6 million metric tons of avocados are grown commercially every year with Mexico leading production and accounting for over 35 percent of the total. Other major producers include Peru, Dominican Republic, Indonesia, Columbia, Brazil, Kenya, Chile, Guatemala, and Israel. The United States, which currently ranks tenth, produces around 190,000 tons per year; California produces around 90 percent of that total, followed by Florida and Hawaii.
While all parts of the avocado are technically edible including skin, seed, and leaves, normally only the soft flesh is consumed (the other parts usually having a bitter, nasty taste). The flesh is rich in oils and complex fats, a number of the B vitamins (1, 2, 3, 6 and 9), vitamins C, E, and K, as well as potassium, phosphorus, magnesium, iron and zinc. Some people have an allergy to avocados; individuals with latex-related allergies can be particularly at risk. Cooking oil produced from avocados has a higher smoke point (and is usually more expensive) than most other oils.
Avocado trees are classified as type-A or type-B based on their pollination and flowering properties; both types produce the edible fruit. Along with the type A and B designations, the trees are widely classified by their regions of origin; the three main classifications are Mexican, Guatemalan, and West Indian.
So what are some of the most popular types of avocados you will likely be enjoying in the near future?
Discovered by chance by amateur horticulturalists and US mail carrier Rudolph Hass growing on his 1.5-acre avocado grove in La Habra Heights, California in the mid-1920s and patented by him in 1935, the Hass is currently the most widely grown avocado in the world. The Hass accounts for roughly 80 percent of all international avocado production, and about 95 percent of the yearly California crop. Along with the US, the Hass is widely cultivated throughout Mexico, Central and South America, Israel, and New Zealand. The next time you purchase an avocado from your local market, the odds are very good that it will be a Hass.
Although the cultivar was first identified in California, the Hass tree is categorized as a type-A Guatemalan variety. It is a heavy producer, and in some climates will yield fruit year-round. It is not at all tolerant of the cold (a single frost can severely damage or kill a fully grown tree) and needs soil with good drainage to thrive. While it will grow as an ornamental houseplant, it will not normally produce fruit as one.
The avocado itself is medium to large size with an elongated spherical shape that is widest at the bottom and narrows as it approaches the stem. The Hass will normally weigh between 8 and 14 ounces when ripe. The fruit has a bumpy green skin when it is harvested that will turn a deep purple, almost black color as it ripens off the vine. The skin is relatively thick but quite easy to peel after the fruit has fully ripened. The soft, creamy flesh is green near the peel and takes on a yellowish hue as it approaches the medium size seed (or stone). The flesh has a relatively high oil content and a nutty, buttery flavor with just a hint of sweetness. As is the case with most avocado cultivars the Hass does not stand up to cooking well and is normally used in fresh applications either alone or with other fruits, in salads and, of course, for dips like guacamole.
Prior to the release of the above-mentioned Hass avocado in 1935, the Fuerte was for many years considered to be the ‘gold standard’ when it came to this fruit and was instrumental in making California a major player in the international avocado market. Originating in Puebla State, Mexico and first released to the public by a California grower in 1911, the Fuerte (which means ‘strong’ in Spanish) became the tree of choice with California growers at the time after it survived the ‘great freeze of 1913’ which destroyed most of California’s avocado (as well as citrus fruit and many other) crops. Although it is currently a distant second to the Hass in terms of commercial cultivation, the Fuerte is still grown in Mexico, Central America, Australia, New Zealand and parts of Asia as well as in California, where it is primarily used as a pollenizer tree for the Hass.
Categorized as a type-B Mexican / Guatemalan hybrid, the Fuerte is a sturdy plant that tolerates cold better than most other avocado trees – albeit only for very short periods of time. It will normally grow to about 35 feet tall and can spread 30 feet wide – a distinct disadvantage for commercial growers. It produces a large, elongated, pear-shaped fruit that will often grow to over a pound. The generally smooth, leathery skin is a grassy green color with darker speckles throughout and is quite thin and easy to peel; the skin remains green throughout the ripening process, although it will get darker as it ripens. The flesh is consistently yellow throughout, somewhat firm and thick, and oily (up to 18 percent oil content) with a medium-size stone at the center. The flavor is quite rich and buttery with a hint of hazelnut and can hold its own when paired with other, even stronger-flavored fruits. The leaves have a strong anise smell when dried and crushed, and are sometimes used as a seasoning.
The Bacon avocado tree is a hybrid developed and originally cultivated by avocado grower James Bacon in Buena Park, California and first released to the public in 1954. Classified as a type-B Mexican variety, the Bacon was specifically developed to be tolerant of colder winters and can survive temperatures as low as 25 degrees Fahrenheit for short periods of time without root or fruit damage. Predominantly grown in California and southern Florida, Bacon avocados are rarely found in grocery stores or farmers markets outside of these areas, but are widely available from growers on the internet.
The Bacon avocado is a medium-size elongated oval fruit usually weighing between 7 and 12 ounces with a smooth speckled dark green skin that retains its color as it ripens. The skin is very thin and easy to peel. The fruit is a pale greenish-yellow and less oily than some avocado varieties has a very creamy texture and a buttery and slightly nutty flavor that is milder than many other avocados. The stone is quite large and can cause the seed cavity to mold relatively quickly, adversely affecting its shelf life.
The Reed avocado was first discovered by grower James Reed of Carlsbad, California in 1948 and released to the market in the early 1950s. The tree is smaller than many other avocado varieties, only growing to about 8 to 10 feet in most cases, making it a favorite with home gardeners in warmer climates and for use as an ornamental indoor plant. Classified as a type-A Guatemalan variety, the tree is not at all tolerant of cold.
Unlike many other types of avocados, the Reed is usually round as opposed to elongated, and will normally grow to be a bit larger than a softball. While the tree is small, the fruit will normally weigh in at between a pound and a pound and a half and can grow to be larger. The fruit has a thick, pebbly, medium green skin that remains the same shade throughout the ripening process, and can be somewhat challenging to peel. The stone is quite large, and the light yellow flesh has a smooth, creamy texture and a buttery, nutty flavor that is considered by some epicureans to be the best available today.
Developed in Israel and released to the market in 1947, the Ettinger is a type-B Mexican / Guatemalan hybrid avocado. Somewhat tolerant of cold, the tree is a particularly heavy fruit producer and is quite sturdy, often growing to over 25 feet tall. Still most commonly grown in its home nation of Israel – which exports about 70 percent of the crop to Europe annually – it is also cultivated on a small scale in California and South Africa. The tree produces relatively large, pear-shaped fruit that will range from about 12 ounces to over a pound. The skin is a bright green and quite thin, making the fruit difficult to peel. The particularly soft flesh is pale green with relatively low oil content and a mild, slightly nutty flavor. The stone is quite large. The softness of the flesh makes this variety especially popular in Europe for making smoothies and for use in dips.
A descendant of the Hass, the Pinkerton avocado tree is a hybrid type-A Guatemalan variety developed in Saticoy, California at the Pinkerton Ranch and released to the public in the early part of the 1970s. A large, heavy producing tree often exceeding 35 feet in height, the Pinkerton is not cold hardy and cannot tolerate exposure to temperatures below freezing for an extended period of time. The pear-shaped fruit will normally range from just under to just over a pound and has a stone than is smaller than average for an avocado of that size. The bumpy, textured skin is a deep green that darkens as the fruit ripens and is quite easy to peel. The pale green flesh is thick with a smooth creamy texture, buttery and slightly nutty flavor, and a high oil content. The Pinkerton avocado can be found in grocery stores and farmers markets in some parts of the United States and Canada, particularly on the West Coast.
The Lula avocado tree was first discovered in a Miami, Florida nursery by its owner George B. Cellon in 1915 who named it after his wife, Lula. Released to the public in 1921, the Lula tree is a type-A Mexican / Guatemalan hybrid that is still widely grown throughout southern Florida today, both for its excellent fruit production and for plant-grafting for sales to home growers. Fairly cold-hardly, the tree produces medium to large size pear-shaped fruit that will range from 7 ounces to about a pound. The smooth glossy green skin is relatively thin, while the greenish-yellow flesh is smooth and creamy with a larger than average stone. The Lula has low oil and relatively high water content and a mild flavor that is slightly sweet with a hint of almonds.
The Sharwil avocado tree was developed in southern Queensland, Australia in 1951 and first introduced to the Hawaiian Islands in 1966. Today, the Sharwill accounts for well over 50 percent of Hawaii’s annual avocado production and is also still widely grown throughout Australia, New Zealand, Southeast Asia and parts of Africa. A type-B Guatemalan / Mexican variety, the Sharwil is particularly susceptible to frost but is quite a disease and pest resistant. The medium to large fruit is relatively narrow and pear-shaped, and will generally weigh between 10 and 20 ounces. The rough skin is a bright green that will darken as the fruit ripens, while the very creamy flesh is generally a dark yellow with a high oil content (between 20 and 25 percent), a very small stone, and a rich, nutty flavor.
Originating in Homestead, Florida in 1932 and patented in 1937, the Monroe is a type-B Guatemalan / West Indian hybrid that is still grown on a relatively large scale throughout southern Florida and parts of the West Indies. A fairly cold hardy tree that can survive occasional short-term frost, the Monroe tree will grow to 25 feet and is a heavy producer. The elliptically-shaped fruit is very large (often weighing over 2 pounds) and have a thick shiny green skin, very firm yellowish-green flesh, and large stone. The flavor is milder than some avocado varieties. Due to its size and the firmness of the flesh, the Monroe is often used in stuffed avocado recipes.
One of the newer commercial avocado cultivars on the market and sometimes referred to as the Maluma Hass, the Maluma was first discovered growing in the Lavubu region of Northwestern South Africa in the late 1990s and was released to the market in 2006. A type-A cultivar believed to be Guatemalan in origin, the Maluma is a slow-growing tree that does not spread as widely as many other avocado trees, giving it excellent commercial potential. The Maluma produces a medium pear-shaped fruit ranging from 10 to 14 ounces with a dark green pebbled skin which, like the Hass, darkens to a deep purple as it ripens and is easy to peel. The flavor is creamy and buttery. The Maluma is currently commercially cultivated in South Africa and Australia and is being grown experimentally throughout South and Central America, Africa, and Southeast Asia.
The Linda avocado tree is a type-B Guatemalan cultivar believed to have been introduced to the Hawaiian Islands in the mid to late 19th century. It is still widely cultivated in Hawaii today, and on a smaller scale in California and parts of Mexico. The tree produces a very large fruit (often weighing 2 pounds or more) with a thick, rough green skin that darkens to a deep purple as it ripens. The flesh is light yellow with a small seed and has a mild buttery nutty flavor and creamy texture. The Linda is sometimes referred to as the ‘dieter’s avocado’ due to its extremely low oil content.
Also sometimes called ‘avocaditos’, the cocktail avocado isn’t actually a specific cultivar but rather refers to the underdeveloped, unpollinated fruit of a number of different avocado varieties. Gaining popularity over the last decade or so in the United States and Western Europe, cocktail avocados are normally between 2 and 4 inches long and resemble small cucumbers. The thin olive-green skin is edible and the greenish-yellow flesh is creamy with a very mild avocado flavor. As they are unpollinated, cocktail avocados do not develop a stone. Cocktail avocados (often called ‘cukes’ by growers) are an ancillary crop which until just a few years ago were discarded as waste by most commercial growers.