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Hass Avocados
A basket of Hass avocados, green-black with a pebbly surface. Photo courtesy Avocados From Mexico.
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

 

KAREN HOCHMAN is Editorial Director of THE NIBBLE.

 

 

January 2007
Updated November 2009

Product Reviews / Main Nibbles / Salsas & Dips

The History Of The Hass Avocado

Originated In Mexico, Patented In California

 

This is Page 5 of a five-page article. Click on the black links below to visit other pages.

 

About the Hass Avocado

The avocado is indigenous to Mexico; while there are much larger varieties of avocado, the Haas has the creamiest, most delicious flesh. As a result, 98% of the avocados grown in Mexico are Hass.

Mesoamericans “discovered” the avocado, which had grown there for perhaps 50 million years, and called it ahuacatl. When the Spanish conquistadors arrived in 1519 under Hernán Cortés, they could not pronounce ah-hwa-CAH-tel and called the fruit aguacate.

The Haas Avocadoword ahuacatl itself means “testicle:” Aztecs saw the avocado as resembling testicles and ate it as a sex stimulant. According to Linda Stradley on the website WhatsCookingInAmerica.com, for centuries after Europeans came into contact with the avocado, it carried its reputation for inducing sexual prowess, and wasn’t purchased or consumed by anyone concerned with his or her reputation. Growers had to sponsor a public relations campaign to dispel the myth before avocados could become popular. After avocados became popular, their dark green, pebbly flesh also earned them the name, “alligator pear.”

The name guacamole comes from Mexican Spanish via the indigenous language assumed by the conquering Aztecs, Nahuatl. AhuacamOlli is a compound noun from Ahuacatl [=avocado] + mOlli [=sauce]. The chocolate-based mole sauce comes from that same word (mOlli), which simply means “sauce.”

Types Of Avocado

There are hundreds of avocado cultivars, although today, the vast majority are grown as garden trees, not as commercial crops. The Hass is one of the smaller varieties of avocado: Rich, buttery and flavorful, the flesh is said to have the subtle taste of toasted almonds. The large, smooth- and thin-skinned avocados in the market that hail from the Caribbean have a more bland flavor and are much less oily than the Hass. This makes them less good for guacamole: They don’t mash as well, even though the size might promise an excellent guacamole yield, the quality isn’t there. They are still excellent for salads and other culinary purposes.

The Hass avocado is named after Rudolph Hass, a California postman who planted a seedling in his front yard  in the 1920s and patented the cultivar in 1935. When he died in 1952 (the year his patent expired as well), he had no idea that the black-green avocado with the pebbled flesh would become comprise 95% of the avocados grown in California and 80% of the avocados eaten worldwide. (The tree itself succumbed in 2002 at the “ripe” old age of 76 to root fungus.) More than $1 billion of Hass avocados are sold in the U.S., according to the California Avocado Commission.

The funny thing is, Hass almost cut down his original tree. He had Hass Avocado Treepurchased the seedling in the late 1920s from A.R. Rideout of Whittier, California, a pioneer avocado grower who was always searching for new varieties. He had planned to graft another variety onto it, but when grafts didn’t take he planned to cut the tree down. Hia children talked him out of it, since they preferred the taste of the tree’s fruit to the Fuerte avocado, the industry standard of the day.

Since the quality was high and the tree gave a good yield, Hass took out a patent in 1935, naming the variety after himself. That same year, he signed an agreement with Harold Brokaw, a Whittier nurseryman, to grow and promote the Hass Avocados.

Brokaw began to propagate the Hass exclusively and promoted it in favor of the standard Fuerte variety. The Hass was a far better bearer and matured in the fall, providing a seasonal advantage. The Hass was an immediate sellout success, and the course of avocado history was changed.

 

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