Guacamole, with or without Avocados

National Guacamole Day is September 16

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By David Hammond

Guacamole is one of the many foods bequeathed to us by indigenous peoples of North America. In addition to corn and chili peppers, the ancient people of Mexico were the first to cultivate avocados, beginning probably around 8,000 BC. The Aztecs, whose homeland was colonized by the Spanish, seem to have been the first recorded people to have developed guacamole. The word "guacamole" comes from Nahuatl, the language of the Aztec, and it means something like "sauce."

Guacamole, now so common at Mexican restaurants, started gaining popularity in the United States in the 1980s. In the 70s, I was teaching college, and as part of a Mexican mythology unit, I brought some avocados to class to make guacamole. Several students were totally grossed out by the strange green mush.

Today, guacamole is everywhere…though sometimes, what's called guacamole is made without benefit of avocados.

Walking through the Oak Park Farmers' Market last weekend, I stopped by Stover's, one of the market's mainstay vendors, and bought a jar of asparagus guacamole. I ate it with some tortilla chips, and I liked it a lot more than I thought I would. Seasoned with garlic and cumin, thickened with pectin, it looked and tasted somewhat like guacamole. Though it lacked the lushness of avocado-based guacamole, it also lacked the calories. A jar of asparagus guacamole is only 70 calories; compare that to an average of 230 calories for one avocado, which may be mixed with sour cream and other caloric condiments on the way to becoming guacamole…or at least, avocado guacamole.

Apparently, the ancient Aztecs never trademarked the word "guacamole," because now there are a number of other sauces called "guacamole" that are prepared without avocado.

There's guacamole made with edamame, the soybeans typically served as an appetizer at sushi joints, and there's guacamole made with broccoli (no thanks) and even green peas. No less a foodie than former President Obama responded poorly to a New York Times story about using peas in guac, tweeting "respect the NYT, but not buying peas in guac."

Part of what people are reacting to with non-avocado guacamole is the fact that a sauce traditionally made with avocado is being made with something else. It's like the jack fruit "pulled pork," which contains no meat, and used to be served at the vegan/vegetarian Munch on Marion Street. I asked Munch owner Robin O'Hara why she named her fruit in barbecue sauce "pulled pork," which it somewhat resembles, and she said because "we want to give customers an idea of what it's going to taste like." That seems a reasonable rationale to me.

Similarly, calling this asparagus sauce "guacamole" does give you an idea of what this pureed vegetable dip is going to taste like. It's not traditional guacamole, but it's kind of like traditional guacamole, and it's better than calling the product "pureed asparagus," which sounds like baby food.

National Guacamole Day is September 16, which neatly coincides with Mexican Independence Day. Celebrate with any kind of guacamole you please. For me, I prefer the kind made with avocado.

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