Samui Wining & Dining
Tropical Pick

July’s Fruit of the Month – the Avocado.

 

12You can blame it on the ancient Aztecs. They really loved their ahuacate. They believed that it was endowed with mystical powers – particularly with regard to matters of virility and the production of strong warriors and priests. And, so, given the fruit’s shape, this belief led directly to its name ‘ahuacate’ – which was to create a great deal of embarrassment, several hundred years later.

      You see, around about the time that the 20th century was getting under way, the avocado wasn’t called the avocado. ‘Midshipman’s butter, ‘butter pear’, avovago pear, alligator pear: the California Fruit Growers Association reckoned that it’s had over 20 English names and around 50 others worldwide. Including the one by which it was generally known in America at that time – ahuacate. Which, unfortunately, is Spanish for testicle. And, thus, in 1911, it was announced to the world that this fruit was ever hereafter to be known as ‘avocado’. I guess that, when it comes to fruit, some people have got plenty of cojones!

      And so it’s back to Mexico again, where the avocado was first discovered by the conquistadores, back in the 16th century. They soon shipped the seeds back home, by way of the West Indies, Indonesia, the Philippines and India. And it thrived everywhere that was more-or-less tropically humid. But, although it grows happily throughout Asia, it’s never really caught on in these parts. The occasional dessert item, perhaps, but nothing to write home about.

      But! Pause to consider! That avocado that you’re spooning at breakfast near the pool. Or the guacamole that you’re enjoying at that little Mexican restaurant in Chaweng. There’s a 95% chance that it had ‘Made in Thailand’ stamped on it. And, odd though it might sound (because avocados are not what you might consider to be a typical Thai fruit), a great many of them are grown right here in Thailand. And for that we have to thank the King of Thailand, His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej.

      By the mid-20th century, northern Thailand had become the number-one exporter of opium, worldwide. Many of the impoverished hilltribe peoples, for whom subsistence living and slash-and-burn agriculture was the norm, found that opium was such a profitable cash crop that it was worth the risks to grow and sell it. To combat the growing drug trade, The King established a project where he encouraged the hilltribes to cultivate certain fruits and vegetables, with a guaranteed purchase, in exchange for giving up opium production. Everyone thus had a living wage, the ‘Mafia’ dangers of the drug lords were eliminated, and Thailand got rid of a huge international problem. He effectively replaced the ‘traditional’ crops of opium poppies with cost-effective alternative products, such as coffee, lettuce, grapes, strawberries and ... avocados. And, although these are not grown on a scale that lends itself to huge exports, there’s a ready commercial market in areas that cater for the millions of foreign visitors that come to Thailand each year.

       But, having said that, there are Thai companies that are exporting these fruits, particularly in their cut-and-frozen state. They send frozen packs of avocado, passion fruit and dragon fruit all over the world. It’s not viable to export the fresh produce, but this is a good alternative.

      And there are all sorts of other things that you can do with avocados, as well as just eating them! The extracted oil is rich in vitamins A, B, and E (as is the fruit, itself) but it’s considered too costly to produce commercially. However, it does show up in a number of high-end beauty treatments, as it lends itself to making facial creams, hand lotions and ‘designer’ soaps. And, somewhere at the other end of the social scale of things, the dried and crushed seeds make an effective rat poison. Another curious use of the same crushed seeds is that, in some parts of Indonesia, they are used as a remedy for dandruff. This is no doubt the reason that you see very few Jakartans with mice in their toupees. Well, one of the reasons, anyway.

       But, on a more earnest note, the same seeds exude a milky fluid, high in tannin, which turns a deep red in contact with the air. This fluid was used as an ink by the Spanish conquistadores to create legal and military documents – and such is the permanence of this ‘ink’ that, even though the original parchments are decaying, the writing is just as good today as it was back in the 1500s.

         And, so, to finish with – a little decorative souvenir of Thailand for you. Save one of your avocado stones and take it with you when you leave. Take a couple of toothpicks and push them into the stone on either side, like little arms. Place this across the rim of a glass tumbler and fill it with water so that the stone is suspended with its bottom half-inch in the water. Keep it topped up, and watch the roots and leaves form. And when it’s beaming at you later from its pot in the corner of your living room, you’ll recall fond and sunny thoughts of your breakfasts by the pool on Samui.

         But you might need to trim it a bit. It’ll grow to about 80 feet!

         

Rob De Wet


 


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