If we’re going to label any fruit a mystery, avocados surely have apples and oranges beat in spades. The avocado is a fruit on a different level and of a different age.
The Cenozoic Era, which began about 65 million years ago, marked a time of “megafauna” — a term that describes any animal weighing over 100 pounds. The Cenozoic’s megafauna tended to be extra-large versions of animals that are familiar to us today: giant sloths, armadillos, birds, and snakes, all of which were able to eat these ancient avocados whole, spreading the seeds far and wide as they continued to travel on their way.
Over the past 50,000 years, however, the world’s largest creatures experienced several waves of extinction. As land animals tended to become smaller than humans, they stopped eating avocado in this manner. So one question remains: How did the avocado seed spread? What or who was indulging in this delicious fruit?
(By the way, you may not be able to eat avocado seeds whole, but you can do lots of other things with them, including making guacamole, everyone’s favorite dip! Check out this video to learn how to keep your guac fresh and green by adding a little lime juice, covering it with plastic wrap and putting it in the refrigerator.)
We know that humans have been engaged in some form of agriculture for at least 10,000 years, particularly in Mesoamerica, where several ancient varieties of avocado originated. The avocado’s resilience during megafauna extinction suggests that perhaps we’ve been responsible for plants for much longer.
Avocados are unique among fruits. Unlike most fruit, which have more sugar and less fat and which will get soft and fall off the tree if they aren’t picked, mature avocados can stay fresh and ready to ripen on the tree for a year or longer! Maybe early humans didn’t know that they were spreading the plant, but avocados are definitely the perfect portable food! And here’s a tip: There are plenty of ways to get avocados from freshly-picked to soft and creamy. Here are three of our favorite ways to ripen avocados quickly, the simplest one being placing the avocado where it can get direct sunlight like a window sill in your home.
Nomadic tribes could have picked handfuls of avos to carry, waiting for them to become soft enough to enjoy and dropping the seeds along their path when they were done. It wouldn’t take many generations of walking the same trails between the ancient caves and the valley gathering sites in the Oaxaca Valley, for example, to realize that new groups of avocado trees would sprout up and eventually produce fruit in the same place where seeds had been left behind.
It seems like early humans were as in love with avocados as we are today, and who can blame them? We have their hard work and resilience, over the course of tens of thousands of years, to thank for the abundance of fruits and vegetables we enjoy today.