Has a fruit ever caused quite as much controversy as the avocado?
First, commentators got in a tizz because it appears so frequently on Instagram (its hashtag appears 4,934,369 times and counting), usually smashed on toast, sprinkled with chili and topped with lime, herbs, eggs or cheese.
Now Australian writer Bernard Salt has suggested that the poor old avo is responsible for the youth of today failing to get on the housing ladder.
One the one hand, this is nonsense—he claimed that giving up $22 avocado-smash brunches would allow Australians to save a deposit for a property.
Readers quickly calculated that it would take well over a century to save a deposit for a flat in Sydney just by giving up brunch, even at the extraordinarily inflated price he seems to pay for avocado on toast.
One writer even wrote a sarcastic piece headlined ‘I stopped eating smashed avocado and now I own a castle’.
But on the other, it does confirm the avocado’s status as the foodstuff de nos jours. The Sydney Morning Herald even called for it to be made Australia’s national dish.
For at least 7,000 years, the avocado has been minding its own business, quietly being cultivated and eaten in subtropical America, where it is a native species.
There are three main types—the Mexican, Guatemalan and West Indian—and although there are about 500 varieties in culinary use today, they all come from these three parents, which are part of the laurel family.
Its name comes from the Aztec for testicle—ahuacatl—and they range from plum-sized to larger pear-shaped fruit, which are in fact very big berries.
The term superfood gets stuck to all sorts of things, but avocados are probably more worthy of the title than most: they contain more bioavailable protein than any other fruit, 18 of the most important amino acids, buckets of potassium (even more than bananas) and fiber.
True, an avocado can be as much as 30 percent fat, but most of it is the good kind, which we need and which helps us absorb fat-soluble nutrients.
‘Its name comes from the Aztec for testicle—ahuacatl’
No one knows precisely when Australians first started topping their toast with avocado, but they certainly started the current trend.
There are some who reckon they ate it as children, up to four decades ago, while chef Bill Granger first put it on his menu in 1993.
Well before Instagram, the dish quickly spread around the world—it’s easy to make, nutritious and, despite its ubiquity, somehow still feels luxe and posh.
@rohan_connolly But if people ate avocado on toast back then, who owns all the houses? Obviously can’t have both
— Michael Lee (@mikewlee89) October 19, 2016
Australians eat 60 percent more avocado than 10 years ago (although US consumption has grown 300 percent since 2000) and the Australian avocado industry hopes to see Australians go from eating 3.2kg a year now to 5kg in the next decade.
If new plantings go as planned, Australia will have 110,000 hectares of avocado trees by then too, double the current amount.
There’s no sign of the market plateauing yet, as shown by the mass hysteria induced by a brief avocado shortage back in January, which saw panicking customers freely paying up to AU$6 per fruit in the supermarkets.
The aim is to export more too, capitalizing on increasing demand in places like Japan, the US and Europe.
Mexico supplies around 40 percent of the world’s harvest, and almost all of America’s, after trade restrictions were gradually lifted from the late 1990s onwards.
Unlike California, where the rest of America’s avos come from, Mexico has an almost continuous season, but it ran into trouble this year.
Strikes by Mexican workers demanding fairer pay, plus a government-backed campaign to reclaim land illegally deforested for avocado plantations, created shortages and temporarily forced prices up worldwide—in the US they hit $2 per fruit.
Meanwhile, in New Zealand, short supplies resulted in a crime wave across North Island’s avocado orchards, as many kilos of unripe avocados were snaffled and sold on the black market.
At the same time, fierce droughts in southern California wrecked much of this year’s crop. The result?
A rapidly changing market, and a tense year for social-media-loving hipsters and their breakfasts.
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Main photo: Alamy