There may be no more perfect food than the avocado, at once utterly decadent but decidedly healthy; an opinion backed by the fact that 1.6 billion avocados were consumed in the United States in 2012.
During the Super Bowl alone, 12 million pounds of avocados were transformed into guacamole; Cinco de Mayo and Independence Day see even more of the chunky green dip being devoured. We have become a nation of guacamole lovers.
Most of us first experienced guacamole in the context of Mexican food, but where did it originate?
Appropriately enough, Mexico. We can thank the Aztecs, the native American people who dominated central Mexico from the 14th to 16th centuries. Although dog, grasshopper, and worms were food staples in Aztec culture, they also indulged in things more culturally palatable to us, namely chocolate and guacamole.
The avocado (Persea americana) – savory like a vegetable, but botanically a fruit – dates to between 7,000 and 5,000 B.C., and is native to south-central Mexico. Archeological evidence shows avocado trees were cultivated as early as 750 B.C.
By the time the Spaniards came upon the Aztec empire in the 1500s, the locals were making a sauce called "ahuaca-mulli," meaning "avocado-mixture." The word "avocado" comes from the ancient Aztec word "ahuacatl," meaning "testicles" (an association we may not have come up with on our own, but now the aphrodisiac bit makes sense). The Spanish turned "ahuacatl" into "aguacate," which we in turn turned into "avocado" – "ahuaca-mulli" became "guacamole."
The first English-language mention of avocado was by Sir Henry Sloane in 1696, and in 1871, avocado trees were successfully introduced to California. By the 1900s growers there were foreseeing a great commercial crop, by the 1950s, some 25 different varieties of avocados were being grown in The Golden State. In the 1930s, the king of avocados, the Hass, was discovered; it remains the most popular (and, quite frankly, the most dreamy and delicious) of all. And perfect for making guacamole.
By most accounts, the ancient version of the dish was originally made with mashed avocados, chili peppers, tomatoes, white onions, and salt. Typical recipes nowadays include lime and cilantro, though any number of variations exist; just be sure to start with ripe avocados and a tip of the hat to the Aztecs.