Peak Avocado Is Yet to Come

How the fatty green fruit went from near-extinction to a worldwide boom

Columns of avocado toast
Maggie Marsek / Getty / Katie Martin / The Atlantic

Avocados are on a roll. More precisely, they’re on toast—a lot of toast. Last summer, British Vogue reported that more than 3 million new photos of whole, sliced, and toast-topping avocados are uploaded to Instagram every day. But how did this humble fruit, originally named after testicles, get from its Mexican forest home to a tattoo on Miley Cyrus’s upper arm? This episode, we unravel the avocado’s amazing journey, a story that involves not only conquistadors and cartel violence, but also a Southern California postman and the actress Angie Dickinson lounging in a white leotard. And we discover where the avocado is headed next—a place where it’s known as the butter fruit, and often consumed in shake form. Listen in now for all this creamy green goodness and more.

Nobody is sure exactly where the avocado first came from, but the earliest evidence for its consumption dates back nearly 10,000 years, from the remains of settlements in central Mexico. The avocado tree itself is, of course, much more ancient, so ancient that it had already been an evolutionary ghost for 3,000 years by that point. Its partners in evolution—the giant, elephant-like gomphotheres and three-ton ground sloths that dined on its fruit in return for transporting and then pooping out its giant seed—went extinct soon after the first bipedal apes arrived in the region. Rodents, jaguars, and eventually humans stepped in as dispersal mechanisms, albeit significantly less effective ones. The flourishing avocado forests that carpeted much of Mesoamerica dwindled and died out. And, as Mary Lu Arpaia, who runs the avocado breeding program at the University of California at Riverside, explained, the avocado became a backyard fruit, enjoyed by first the indigenous peoples and later the conquistadors, but rarely cultivated intensively—until recent decades.

The story of this anachronistic fruit’s astonishing resurgence hinges on a trade agreement. With the help of Brook Larmer, a financial columnist, we explore the machinations that turned the avocado into green gold. But the avocado’s rise is more than just a business story: Smashed up on a piece of toasted bread, avocado has become a signifier of a certain lifestyle, popularized by none other than Gwyneth Paltrow. Although the journalist Lauren Oyler warned us that trying to pinpoint the dish’s origins is “a fool’s errand,” she nonetheless guides us through the celebrity-strewn story, dissecting avocado toast’s allure—and expense. Today, avocado is everywhere: It’s worshipped for its heart-healthy fats, and blamed for bankrupting a generation. But, according to Larmer, we’re nowhere near peak avocado yet. Listen in now for the next chapter in the avocado’s astonishing history.

This post appears courtesy of Gastropod.