Considered a food of the gods by the Mayans, second only to chocolate, the avocado was one of the most treasured, sacred commodities of their culture. Once used as a form of money, today it shares supermarket shelves with standard day-to-day products.
Healthy, good tasting and steeped in tradition, the avocado currently stands at the forefront of what is definitely a “growing” revolution on our beloved island of Sicily.
If someone had asked you to taste an avocado just 10 years ago, you would have been surprised by what, for Italian consumers, was a strange and alien fruit at the time. Used in everything from main courses to desserts, at first the avocado struck many as tasting “a bit like chlorophyll”.
To better appreciate the avocado, after an initial taste, we need to trace its roots way back in history to Latin America.
The avocado (Persea Americana) is a bona fide fruit, part of the Lauracee family and native to South America. The numerous varieties found on the market differ in terms of their form, as well as their taste and colour.
The inside of an avocado is bright green verging on yellow, depending on how ripe it is, while the colour of the skin can range from emerald green to deep purple. The skin can be smooth or wrinkly, while the shape of the fruit is very similar to the pear, hence its name of “American pear”. The length and size of the fruit varies, depending on the species.
The avocado is a prized ingredient in the kitchen, thanks to the bountiful nutritional contribution made by its healthy fats, water, antioxidant fibres and vitamins. With each avocado providing 4 grams of protein, plus twice as much potassium as a banana, the fruit, when eaten in moderation, is a highly nutritious and ideal for use in salads, as an ingredient in cakes and sweets or as an energising pick-me-up following exercise.
Farming avocados: a practice that dates back to the invention of the wheel!
The first cultivation of the Avocado, or Aguacate, is traced back to the tribes of Mesoamerica, where the tree was “domesticated” more than 5000 years ago.
The avocado played such a major role in Aztec society, that it was thought to instil superhuman powers in whomever ate it. In Mayan civilisation, the fruit was used as the symbol for the 14th month of their calendar (K’ank’in).
But together with its mythological and cultural importance, the avocado’s properties as a foodstuff were already well known some 10,000 years ago, when it was prized as a powerful aphrodisiac. In fact, the word avocado comes from “ahuacatl”, a term whose meaning we will let you have the pleasure of discovering on your own!
My Kingdom for an Avocado
The world leaders in growing avocados are the United States and Latin America, with California and Mexico accounting for a massive percentage of the production of the fruit, which became a cult product in the 50’s.
In today’s America, the avocado is a full-fledged cultural trend, being viewed as one of the most important health foods for those who wish to keep in step with the times while watching their diets.
And the situation in Italy?
As always, we seem to be the last to catch on to “global trends”.
The avocado movement has been slow to take hold in Italy, growing apace with the spread of new lifestyle choices when it comes to eating, such as vegetarian and vegan diets.
But there is one magical place in our Bella Italia where the growing of avocados and other exotic fruits is revolutionising an entire sector of agricultural activity, adding further lustre to the concept of Made in Italy food.
Sicilia Avocado (Dal Tropico) is a firm specialised in the growing and production of exotic fruit, efforts that, in recent years, have focussed on the production and promotion of “Made in Sicily” avocados.
Andrea Passanisi is the young, Sicilian-born businessman who runs the company, having combined his passion for ethical, sustainable agriculture and his love for his homeland into a winning strategy that now contributes a great deal both to Sicily and to the young people who decide not to leave their native island.
His approach has successfully navigated a sea that was first explored by the courageous, pioneering Sicilian entrepreneurs of the 1960’s who, aided by University of Sicily’s invaluable research on the growing of exotic fruit on the island, began taking advantage of the opportunities offered by such fruit, opening the doors to a new, previously untapped market.
Andrea’s avocado groves are found in the Town of Giarre, on the slopes of Mt. Etna, where the trees benefit from ideal soil and conditions for the production of their fruit.
Being so closely tied to his homeland and its identity, Andrea made a point of transforming his grandfather’s venerable fruit orchard into the springboard for the launching of brands such as “Sicilia Avocado”, “Etna Mango” and “Etna Avocado”, all of which are products whose names and success further highlight the quality and the symbols of the Island of Sicily.
Another important factor is the economic potential that this fruit offers our country’s farming sector, at least up to a certain point.
Being well acquainted with the examples of America and Mexico, the goal of these businessmen who promote the “American Pear” is to show the fruit in a different light, with an emphasis on ethics and solidarity, allowing it take root in its new territory, so that it can eventually become a full-fledged “citizen” of the local agricultural scene”.
All the above shows how a local area and its agricultural operators can make a difference. The avocado as we know it is not a fruit native to Sicily, though as in the case of many other products explored in our article on the Fruits and Flowers of China there are quite a few items that we ultimately “make our own”.
The important thing is to never stop searching for new and innovative opportunities that can benefit our country!
Pictures by Sicilia Avocado