They are already in Marks & Spencer stores throughout Britain: seedless avocados. And they’re oh so trendy! They’re calling them cocktail avocados. Eventually, these baby avocados will almost certainly show up at a supermarket closer to your home.
In the meantime, what is the seedless avocado and where does it come from?
First, seedless avocados are nothing new. Typically, avocado trees produce a certain percentage of seedless fruit, especially popular cultivars like ‘Fuerte’, ‘Arad’ and ‘Mexicola’. The number of seedless fruits rises when unusual weather means growing conditions are not conducive to perfect ripening. Avocado farmers call them cukes, cucumber avocados or avocaditos and until recently simply rejected them.
But why compost something you can sell? So, seedless avocados have been pulled out of mothballs and given the much more sophisticated name of “cocktail avocados.” If the results in England are any sign of future interest, they seem promised to a brilliant future!
The new Marks & Spencer avocados were grown Spain, but in fact, seedless avocados have been sold for many years in South America and are well known in many areas there.
By the way, no, these seedless avocados are not GMOs. There is no need to carry out complicated and expensive gene transfers to create seedless avocados when they occur spontaneously! In fact, humans have been growing seedless fruits (grapes, bananas and oranges, for example) for generations, long before the beginnings of genetic engineering. People terrorized by GMOs can therefore rest easy. There are, in fact, no GMO avocados on the market, seedless or not … but do beware of mangos!
Why do seedless avocados occur? It happens when the flower is pollinated normally, but seed production aborts at a very early stage. The fruit then continues to grow, but without a pit in the center. This phenomenon is called stenospermocarpy: it’s the same thing that produces seedless grapes.
So far, growers are simply harvesting the naturally seedless avocados that appear in varying numbers on their trees, but if ever they need to up their production, there are ways to increase the percentage.
A New and Growing Market
Cucumber avocados have always been available in countries where avocados are grown. What is new is that they are now being distributed in other areas … and that the distributors are actively promoting them as something new and worthwhile.
Marks & Spencer is advertising these little avocados as being “safer” than regular avocados. This surprised me, as I had never thought of the avocado as a dangerous fruit, but apparently, hundreds of people cut themselves each year removing the pit from avocados in England. In fact, there is even a term for the injury: avocado hand. Perhaps the English are particularly clumsy? Certainly I don’t see avocados as any more dangerous than carrots and onions, for which I’m managed to slice off a few fingertips in the past. (I wonder if there is a medical condition called “carrot finger” or “onion finger?”)
The Fruit Is Small, Very Small
The most surprising thing with cocktail avocados is their small size. They only measure about 2 to 3 inches (5 to 8 cm) in length and 1 inch (1.25 cm) in diameter. Growers were right: they actually do look like cucumbers!
Their skin is much thinner than normal and the suggestion is that means we should eat the entire fruit. That’s where the name “cocktail avocado” comes it: it subtly suggests that it can be served whole as an hors d’oeuvre. Now, I’ve tasted a cucumber avocado in Costa Rica before and, to be quite honest, I found the skin sufficiently bitter to rather ruin the experience. Maybe it’s just me (I’m the first to confess don’t like bitter foods), but still, I’d probably still prefer to cut open the fruit and spoon out its flesh in the old way.
What would I do if confronted with a cocktail avocado on an hors d’oeuvre tray at a reception? I’d delicately peel back the skin and eat it the flesh like I would a banana, starting at one end and working my way down. I’ll bet I could do it most elegantly!
Pricey … or Not?
Despite their small size, cocktail avocados sell for about the same price as regular avocados. Visually, or if you’re hefting both fruits, the cocktail avocado is so much smaller and lighter it would seem to be the more expensive of the two, but it would be interesting to experiment by extracting the flesh from both and weighing to compare them. After all, once the pit is removed from a regular avocado, it loses a lot of its mass! They’re perhaps closer in total “flesh” than you’d think!
In England, where seedless avocados have been on the market since the early December 2017, the media has jumped on the story in a big way, especially excited, apparently, by the safety feature of the new fruit. Pretty much every newspaper and news show did a feature on it and the word “avocado hand” has passed into everyday language.
The result is that in the 149 British Marks & Spencer stores, the only store that sells them in Great Britain, the fruits disappear as quickly as they can be put on display.
North American and international medias have picked up on this trendy fruit as well, even if the fruit is not yet available in their country. I suspect if growers can increase the production if this “new fruit,” they’ll find they have a ready market worldwide.
The End of a Tradition?
If cocktail avocados take over the market like navel oranges and seedless grapes have done in their fields, that could spell the end of a long-standing tradition, that of harvesting avocado pits and growing them as houseplants. You’d be surprised at how many people have avocado plants in their home, all from pits they sowed themselves. The avocado is certainly among the most popular of all houseplants and not because people buy avocado plants, but because they grow their own.
Fortunately, I don’t think avocados with pits are in any danger of disappearing in the immediate future, so you still have plenty of time to fill your home with the avocado trees you start yourself.
That said, I suspect that when the new cocktail avocados finally do reach local markets, many people really will opt for them. It’s so hard to buck a trend!