What Is Guacamole, And Why Do So Many Love It?
Image Credit: Guacamole Spread | Image Credit: Pexels.com

It is impossible to not think of guacamole in any train of thought involving avocados. The gooey green condiment is the most popular product made with the savory fruit, right alongside sliced avocado on toast. From ancient Aztec settlements to Tex-Mex restaurants around the world, this article explores the origins of the green mash and its rise to fame.

The avocado tree used to be endemic to southern Mexico for thousands of years, so it comes as no surprise that the Aztecs were the first to mash and "cook" the fruit in the 1500s. The word "guacamole" is derived from the Nahuatl (a group of languages spoken by the Aztecs) term ‘āhuacamōlli’, which literally means "avocado sauce." The Aztecs enjoyed a simple version of the mash, made using avocados, tomatoes, and chili peppers. This recipe would see several additions following the start of the Spanish conquest of the Aztecs in 1519. The Spaniards brought a host of ingredients with them to Mexico, from both their own lands and their exploits on other shores. It didn't take long before Aztec guacamole began to feature ingredients like lime juice, onion, garlic, and salt. The addition of lime and salt were the most notable changes; the combination of salt, acid, and fat took the dish to new heights and became a favorite amongst Mexicans and Spaniards alike.

The condiment continued to be savored by Mexican families for generations, long after their independence from Spanish rule. Although Mexicans immigrated to the US as early as 1848, it wasn't until nearly 150 years later that immigrants would start making the condiment on foreign shores. This can be attributed to the US banning the import of avocados from Mexico in 1914, fearing that the produce would bring in pests that would wreak havoc on domestic flora. When the ban was finally lifted in 1997, Mexican immigrants immediately incorporated the fruit into preparations like salads and tacos, which were the most popular Tex-Mex staples at the time. It didn't take long until immigrants began to make guacamole all over the US. The local population instantly took a liking to the dish. The condiment was delectable and easy to prepare, nutritionally sound, and incredibly versatile. Americans began to use the condiment across their cuisine, as a spread on toasts, a dip, with deviled eggs, et al. Guacamole soon became an indispensable part of US culture, with events like the Super Bowl and celebrations like Cinco de Mayo seeing the import of several million pounds of the fruit from Mexico, almost all of which is processed into the condiment.

Mexican avocados are always in the news, in large part due to the US regularly suspending imports due to cartel activity in the trade. Most people assume that the US is the largest consumer of avocados, a misconception stemming from the fact that the country is the largest importer of the fruit. This, however, could not be further from the truth; the average consumption of avocados in the US is around 3.8 kg per capita, substantially lower than Mexico’s figures of 6.5-7 kg per capita. Mexico remains the largest producer and consumer of the fruit. So, just how do Mexicans eat avocados? You guessed it, good ol’ guac. There isn't an exact traditional recipe for the condiment, as with most Mexican staples. That said, guacamole recipes can be loosely classified into two schools: those reminiscent of the original Aztec recipe and those featuring ingredients brought to the country by the Spaniards. The former often features the addition of salt and skips traditional ingredients, while the latter is made in a more grandiose manner, featuring the addition of ingredients such as cilantro and cheeses like cotija. Traditionally, guacamole is made in a molcajete y tejolote (mortar and pestle). The non-uniform texture elevates its personality, and the absence of heat preserves sensitive flavor compounds, yielding a superior product when compared to that produced using commercial equipment like food processors and blenders. 

Now that you know everything about the condiment, let’s look at an easy-to-make traditional guacamole recipe. 

Authentic Mexican Guacamole 

    Peel and pit two ripe avocados, and transfer the flesh to a clean bowl. 

    Finely chop a quarter of an onion, a fistful of cilantro, a tomato, and a jalapeno pepper. Place in a clean bowl.

    Mash the avocado in a mortar and pestle till it forms a paste, add in salt and lime juice to taste, and fold in the chopped vegetables. 

    Top the mixture with crumbled cotija, if available. Serve with nachos, tortillas, or crackers