Mexico's Sustainable Avocado Mecca

By Rowan Jacobsen, "Avocado Heaven," March/April 2010

Growing avocados in Mexico and delicious recipes to try.

On a jade-tinted hillside in the lush southwestern Mexican state of Michoacán, Chef Rick Bayless held up an avocado as if it were sacred. He halved the avocado around its equator with a penknife, which is how growers check for ripeness, and discovered that this particular specimen was spot on. He could tell by the way the bright-green flesh near the skin paled to yolk-yellow near the pit. An avocado that is green to the pit will taste grassy, he told me. If it’s yellow at the core, it’ll be creamy as custard, rich as ricotta.

The avocado looked like a snowglobe-size model of its surroundings: green hills, yellow fields and dark-domed peaks. This fruit, here in its native land, was one with its environment. Which might have explained the look on Bayless’s face. Bayless is, among other things, the chef responsible for introducing many Americans to authentic Mexican cuisine, as well as one of the strongest voices in the sustainable-food movement. As executive chef of Frontera Grill, Topolobampo and the recently opened Xoco in Chicago, some of the top Mexican restaurants in the U.S., Bayless has seen a lot of avocados in his life, which means he has seen all too many bad avocados. But he was staring at this one with something passingly close to love. And I admit, I was starting to feel it too. Because I had traveled here, with him, to find out why Hass avocados from this little corner of the world are so damn good.

The answer was all around us. Avocados in this valley are so rich because they are born to wealth. The highlands of Michoacán, 200 miles west of Mexico City, are rimmed by towering, flat-topped volcanoes—1,350 in all. Millions of years of eruptions filled the valley with sweet, productive, mineral-rich soil, and the avocado tree pumps all those nutrients into its fruit. Most fruits are primarily sugar, but an avocado is mostly fat—heart-healthy, monounsaturated fat. A fully ripened Michoacán avocado can have a fat content of 30 percent.

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