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What am I?

Name that fruit - for the answer scroll to the end
(
1st October 2001)

This is a common evergreen tree with large oval to elliptical leaves, belonging to the Laurel family, which also includes cinnamon, camphor, and sassafras. It bears a fruit that tastes like a vegetable.

Seeds found in caves have been determined to be nearly ten thousand years old and are cited as proof of the fruits early use by humans. This fruit first reached Great Britain in the Seventeenth century, but were a rarity for nearly three hundred years after their discovery, and did not achieve widespread popularity until Israel took up their production on a vast commercial scale after the Second World War. World consumption increased substantially from 1960 to 1980, and by 1990 production was almost 1.5 million tons! They are now grown commercially in Israel, Turkey, Spain, France, Chile, Brazil, South Africa, Mexico, Hawaii, Florida, Australia, California and some Caribbean islands.

Even though Mexico is the worlds largest producer, the U.S. banned importation of this fruit from Mexico for eighty-three years, from 1914 until 1997. It is an important commercial tree crop, which has its biggest sales days in the U.S. around Superbowl Sunday, during which time some six thousand tons are consumed in America. However, the largest number of dishes that include this fruit are found in Israel.

In Martinique it is used with salt cod to make feroce and in Africa the leaves are used to make a sparkling, slightly alcoholic drink known as babine. Some countries like these fruits cooked, some raw; some use it as a hot dog topping, some use it in ice cream. They are also used in soups (both hot and cold), sandwiches, salads, hors d'oeuvre, and soufflés. One ancient culture even made a special sauce containing this fruit to use as a topping for certain worms! Leaf and seed extracts have been used for a variety of medical applications, including treatment of diarrhea and dysentery and as an antibiotic.

Some species can withstand temperatures as low as 20ºF if not prolonged. They do best some distance from ocean influence, but do not do well in the desert interiors.

The leaves are egg-shaped, dark green with pale veins, and can be four to twelve inches long. Some varieties have leaves that are scentless, while others bear leaves that can have a pronounced anise scent when crushed and have medicinal use. The leaves normally remain on the tree for two to three years.

The flowers are yellow or greenish. Some varieties have flowers that open in the first morning as females, close in the afternoon, and open the next afternoon as males. Another variety has flowers that open in the afternoon as female, close that evening, and reopen as male the next morning.

Fruit is borne two to three years after planting, and well cared for trees are productive for many years. The fruit takes nine to fifteen months to mature, and ranges in size from that of a small gherkin weighing one ounce, up to one foot long and four pounds in weight. The smallest variety is seedless.

The fruit of this tree is low in vitamins A and C but rich in B vitamins and minerals. Unusual for a fruit, the sugar content decreases rapidly during ripening. They are high in potassium (about twice the level of bananas) and are also sources of protein, vitamin E, calcium, iron, magnesium and phosphorus. The average fruit contains seventeen vitamins and minerals. They contain nearly twice the energy of an equivalent weight of meat.

Chef James EhlerThis article is from Chef James Ehler of Key West, Florida.

James is a webmaster, cook, chef, writer and (like me) a self-confessed computer nerd. He is the former executive chef of Martha's Steak & Seafood Restaurant and the former Reach Hotel (both in Key West), the Hilton Hotel in Fayetteville, Arkansas, and the New Bern Golf and Country Club, North Carolina.

He is now webmaster and cook at the Blue Heaven Restaurant in Key West while he works on his Food Encyclopedia (five years so far). It is well worth paying a visit to James' food reference website which is a useful resource well worth Bookmarking - to visit either website just click on their title:

The Food Reference Website
The Blue Heaven Restaurant, Key West, Florida

If you want to contact James just email him by clicking here.

The answer : Avocado

Additional facts:
Avocados will not ripen on the tree, but must be cut from the tree for ripening to begin. The leaves supply a hormone to the fruit that prevents ripening; when the fruit is harvested this cuts off the supply of this inhibiting substance and starts the production of ethylene. That is why the best way to store avocados is to leave them on the tree, sometimes for up to seven or eight months. Another unique feature of avocados is that if deprived of oxygen (as in a plastic bag) the ripening process is halted. When oxygen is restored, the fruit will not ripen, but will get soft and spoil.

© James T. Ehler, 2001
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