Webb Report: Let’s talk about how weird avocados are


Yeah, you heard me. “Alligator pears.”

You know avocados, and you love avocados. They sacrifice themselves for guacamole, which features prominently in any Texan’s daily life. They add some bright green “wow” to any taco. Heck, we even put them in margaritas. Is it any surprise that a food so versatile would hold secrets within its scaly, egg-shaped form?

Here are a few things you might not know about the chartreuse champion of your salad.

• OK, the “alligator pear” thing: Dictionary.com delved into the “provocative nomenclature” of the avocado. According to them, the name comes from the Nahuatl word “ahuacatl.” If you had heard legends that that word also means “testicle,” at least one Nahuatl scholar saysthat’s not the case. Magnus Pharao Hansen, an anthropologist and linguist studying the language, wrote on his blog in 2016 that ahuacatl could have been used in the past as a euphemism for male genitalia, based of the similarity in shapes, but that they’re not literally the same word.

Back to the dictionary people. The Spanish “aguacate” became “avogato,” an early English version, and a few weird etymological steps later, here we are. Aztecs called it “fertility fruit” (duh, if you read the above paragraph), and an early English name was “alligator pear,” according to Dictionary.com. They also say that in South America, the avocado is sometimes called “la manzana del invierno,” or “the apple of the winter.”

They might help fight cancer: A group of researchers in South Texas is exploring the properties of the avocado’s husk, or the outer layer of the pit. According to news station KENS, a University of Texas-Rio Grande Valley research team found that the husk contains compounds that are also used “to treat debilitating diseases, including cancer and heart disease.” But in an O. Henry-worthy twist, the husk also contains cancerous compounds. Keep working at it, y’all.

Yes, it’s a fruit: Just because it’s green and doesn’t taste like it would be a good soda flavor doesn’t mean an avocado is a vegetable. According to the California Avocado Commission (lol), our green pals (genus Persea in the Lauraceae family) are a nutrient-dense fruit, and also, they’re technically berries! Fleshy pulp plus seed equals berry, the commission says. But nutritionally, avocados are more like vegetables and are often listed as such, according to the Hass Avocado Board. (The avocado lobby is very good at organizing.)

It’s got layers: Everything that’s not the pit in an avocado is called the “pericarp,” which is divided into three distinct parts, the Hass board says. There’s the endocarp (that maybe-cancerous-but-maybe-anti-cancer husk we talked about), the mesocarp (green stuff! you eat!) and the exocarp (the rind on the outside that looks like it would make a handsome Louis Vuitton bag).

It was at the center of international trade drama: You probably think of Mexico when you think of avocados, and with good reason. The region is the ancestral home of the jade juggernaut, and BBC reports that 45 percent of the world’s avocados come from Mexico. But! Did you know! Mexican avocados were banned by the U.S. government in the early 20th century because California growers were worried that fruit flies would come along with them, according to politics news site the Hill. Eventually, U.S. growers couldn’t meet rising demand, and then NAFTA opened the door for avocados to cross the border in the 1990s. In case you missed it, renegotiating NAFTA is a thing the Trump administration talks about a lot. Depending on what happens there, avocado imports to the U.S. would likely be affected.

Conservation of Hass: According to travel site Atlas Obscura, the Hass avocado is the most prevalent variety in the U.S. A California mailman named Rudolph Hass discovered it after some botanical tinkering and patented his tree in 1935. You could still visit the mother tree until 2002, when it succumbed to root rot, Atlas Obscura reports.

One of ‘The Lucky Ones’

Camila Valdez was just trying to get ready for a birthday party for her grandma when she answered the door.

When she opened it, she was met by two people wearing Texas Longhorns attire. Valdez just assumed they were there to personally welcome her to the University of Texas.

The staff members brought her a backpack, filled with a notebook, padfolio and a T-shirt. But then they pulled out a big check. She had received a four-year scholarship to UT worth $48,000.

“It was kinda like winning a Maserati,” Valdez said. “I didn’t even know I was going to win it, so when it comes it was a complete shock.”

A senior at Alexander High School in Laredo, she credits her Longhorn sibling for influencing her college decision. Her sister Sofia studies mechanical engineering at UT and they’re very close.

“It just felt very welcoming and the vibe overall was really nice,” Valdez said. “I really love the city.”

A video of the surprise meeting posted on her sister’s Twitter account racked up more than 200 retweets and nearly 1,500 likes.

Valdez said her family members were incredibly supportive. Her siblings knew about the surprise and spent the morning teaching their mom how to record video on her phone. Her favorite responses to the videos have been the people who wrote that they got emotional watching them.

“It’s so surreal to see people saying that about my video. I’m happy that I was able to share that experience with them,” she said.

The video prompted replies from all over Longhorn nation, including Texas’ athletic director Chris Del Conte, the McCombs School of Business and the school’s dean, Jay Hartzell.

In another video, Caroline Enriquez of the Office of Admission tells Valdez she was one of about 35 to 40 people in the state of Texas receiving the scholarship. Valdez said she heard two other people in the Laredo area would be a part of the group.

The scholarship winners announced so far have formed a group chat called “The Lucky Ones.” Valdez said the group added her and they congratulate each other and discuss things like financial aid and where to live at UT.

In addition to ranking in the top 3 percent of her high school class, Valdez also participated in volleyball and extracurricular groups like Health Occupations Students of America, Amnesty International, UIL Accounting. She was also the president of her school’s film club.

Her mom knew about the scholarship surprise visit and had told her just the day before “good things are coming.”

“We’re always talking about the future,” Valdez said. “She said ‘the universe will help you out.’ I said ‘hopefully soon.’”

— Maribel Molina, American-Statesman staff

Whatever works, man

There’s a K-Cup for everything these days.

If you have a Keurig and you’re afraid of being taken down by this year’s vicious flu strain, well, CVS wants to help.

The pharmacy is selling a single-serve cup compatible with all Keurig machines, and inside the cup is a cocktail of cold and flu treatments: pain and fever relief, cough suppressants and antihistamine.

The cups, which are $8.49 for a pack of eight, come in honey lemon-infused chamomile and white tea flavors.

— Katey Psencik, American-Statesman staff



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