Dictionary.com

Why avocados are called “alligator pears” and “fertility fruit”?

As you munch on guacamole and chips, chew on the etymology of the humble avocado. Its many names are as wacky as the fruit is yummy.

Guacamole is in the news because a study links the beloved dip to many cases of food poisoning. The reason? Raw ingredients that may not be washed properly or adequately refrigerated. Just be cautious.

This news doesn’t dampen our enthusiasm; rather it creates a reason to discuss the provocative nomenclature of the bumpy-shelled fruit. A biologist calls it persea americana, but avocado derives from the Nahuatl word ahuacatl, which also refers to a certain part of the male anatomy that the fruit somewhat resembles. In English, the word has almost the same pronunciation as the Spanish abogado, “lawyer.” In Mexico it is called the aguacate.

Use your imagination to understand why the Aztecs called it the fertility fruit. Legend has it that an early English description of “avocado” called it the “avogado pear,” leading to the misunderstanding of “alligator pear.”  The fact that the shell of the fruit looks vaguely crocodilian doesn’t hurt.

In South America, some call it la manzana del invierno, “the apple of the winter.”  But if you happen to be in North America, mash one up with some herbs and lime, perhaps you would call it ahuacamolli, ahuaca “avocado” and molli “sauce.” Hence, guacamole.

75 Comments

  1. Ginny Weasley -  December 4, 2015 - 4:29 am

    No offense to all the avocado lovers here, but I don’t usually enjoy eating them.

    This article is very irritating! I came to it to find out why avocados are called fertility fruit and it tells me to use my imagination.

    Reply
    • Charles -  December 7, 2015 - 5:55 pm

      you’re irritating. There is not point to your message. the world isn’t perfect and we don’t always get what we want. It’s the internet. Deal with it.

      Reply
    • Doug S -  May 27, 2016 - 7:56 am

      Ginny, the author is trying to be polite — the article says “avocado derives from the Nahuatl word ahuacatl, which also refers to a certain part of the male anatomy that the fruit somewhat resembles….” which is the also the part of the male that is the source of his fertility…sooooo…fertility fruit.

      Reply
  2. Magnate -  November 15, 2013 - 12:03 pm

    Ginny: Mangoes are a gift to the world from INDIA. They originated there, not in Mexico. And I’m not sure about other crops you mentioned. It seems your flag-waving is making you goof.

    Reply
  3. jey -  September 6, 2013 - 10:32 am

    we used to eat peanut butter and avocado sandwiches,oh my God.

    Reply
  4. jey -  September 6, 2013 - 10:30 am

    went to burger king get a double wopper take it home and add zabocat holala,comme c’est bon.

    Reply
  5. Cobi Havalash -  June 3, 2012 - 3:36 am

    Well i love Avacado, and i have to say it tasted great on its own. I was on the search to see if you can eat it when parts of it have gone black because i hate to waste it, and i found this site. A lot of interesting responses and great information about the Avacado too. I love Mexican food however i livein Scotland so it is not authentic and as “Baggins” pointed out our tastes are heavily influenced by sal and sweet additions to our meals. For us over here that could be the Roman influence however i would love nothing more than to go to Mexico and try an Avacado from a tree, how amazing would that experience be (once its ripe obviously).

    Reply
  6. Maggie_philippine -  July 24, 2011 - 5:43 am

    i love it avacado for dessert.

    Reply
  7. ginny -  July 28, 2010 - 1:25 pm

    Los aguacates varían en sabor dependiendo del lugar en el que se cosechan. AVOCADOS VARY IN FLAVOR DEPENDING ON THE PLACE WHERE THEY ARE HARVESTED. Recuerden que México está en Norteamérica, no Centroamérica, no Sudamérica. La tierra es muy fértil y geográficamente es ideal para muchos de los regalos de México para el mundo: mango, yuca, papaya,cacahuate, cacao, maíz, aguacate, tomate, tomatillo o tomate verde, vainillla, frijol, pimiento verde, papa, calabaza, calabacitas, camote, chayote, chile jalapeño, chile serrano, chile pasilla, chile chipotle, etc. KEEP IN MIND THAT MEXICO IS A COUNTRY IN NORTH AMERICA, NOT CENTRAL AMERICA, NOT SOUTH AMERICA. ITS LAND IS VERY FERTILE AND, GEOGRAPHICALLY SPEAKING, ITS LAND IS IDEAL FOR THE MANY GIFTS FROM MEXICO TO THE WORLD, SUCH AS: MANGO, YUCCA, PAPAYA, PEANUTS, COCOA, CORN, AVOCADO, TOMATO, GREEN TOMATO, VANILLA, A VARIETY OF COLORED BEANS, GREEN PEPPER, NUMEROUS HOT PEPPERS, POTATO, PUMPKIN, ZUCCHINI, SWEET POTATO, CHAYOTE SQUASH, ETC.

    Reply
  8. alefya -  July 25, 2010 - 5:59 am

    @ baggins thank for the information. It is quite valuable.
    Will have to try some avocado after reading all the comments (it has to be imported in Pakistan).

    Reply
  9. The One You Hate -  July 24, 2010 - 8:32 am

    I like them halved with the seed taken out and just sprinke a little salt on it. To grow an avocado plant, put three toothpicks equally around the avocado but not too deep. These should be 2/3 of the way up, towards the top. now put this in a cup of water, so the toothpicks are supporting the seed so it does not become completely submerged. Change the water every couple of days, and you get a couple of roots. Plant this and you get an avocado plant. I tried this like 10 times, all of them sucessful except every last seed was murdered by a squirrel. One day thy are there, the next they are *poof* gone- and I live on the top floor of a condo. So after a while, I gave up. Maybe someone will have better luck then my.

    Reply
    • Charles -  December 7, 2015 - 6:32 pm

      the squirrel saved you a lot of frustration. almost all seedlings are not going to produce fruit for about 5-10 years and the fruit will not be the same as the fruit you ate because they were a product of a cross pollination of two different fruit varieties. (natural genetic modification).

      I have 3 seedlings planted for 6 years now and no fruit but my crafts were bearing fruit the next years after planting (two year old crafts).

      Reply
  10. Jang -  July 24, 2010 - 4:44 am

    i love avocado…

    Reply
  11. Baggins -  July 24, 2010 - 12:01 am

    Avocado – what a wonderful fruit, healthy tasty and consumable in many different dishes. It is interesting to read the varied comments from Avocado lovers above, tho some are tinged with mis-understanding or ambiguity.
    The avocado has many names, and has often been known by local names, irrespective of the majority language in a country. This helps explain different names in European Spanish, and North, Central and South American Spanish, and amongst other Latin American nations. Referring to comments above, in some countries of South America, such as Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, Peru, and Uruguay, the avocado is known by its Quechua name, palta. In other Spanish-speaking countries, it is called aguacate, and in Portuguese it is abacate. (*Wikipedia)
    The native uncultivated avocado originates from Puebla in Mexico, is called criollo, and fossil evidence in caves in Coxcatlán, Puebla indicates consumption there for 12 millenia – ie since 10,000BC.
    The comments about tasteless-ness above probably (with all due respect) can be attributed to a combination of the particular cultivar being eaten, and the method of ripening. Avocados do not, and cannot be tree ripened. Rather they mature on the tree and ripen after picking or falling. The ripening can be delayed by refrigeration or cool storage – making it ideal for sea freight -or commercially hastened by the application of ethylene in the same fashion as bananas are gas ripened in the country of consumption. In fact avocado and banana are both tree maturers and post picking ripeners – the term is “climacteric”.
    I’m only guessing but perhaps consuming ethylene ripened Florida grown fruit might have resulted in a less than salutory gastronomic experience for the bland-sayers. Additionally the modern Western diet relies heavily on strong tastes, heavy salting and sugaring, and high animal fat concentrations. This is how they persuade us to eat highly processed foods :) As a consequence (again with all due respect) our adulterated tastebuds sometimes fail to rejoice at more delicate natural flavours.
    Consumption of avocados for as litle as 1 week on a regular basis have been proven to reduce blood serum levels of cholesterol by as much as 20% (yay), and additionally an avocado is a fruit unusually high in in-soluble fibre, something chronically lacking in our processed food diets, so scores well in this regard also.
    The etymology or origination of the term alligator pear is disputed. There are actually three conflicting theories: the first is the unlikely story that it is a corruption of the Spanish word abogado; the 2nd a reference to the bumpy scaly appearance of avocado skin in some cultivars, and its similarity to alligator skin; the third relies on a combination of the avocados need for a humid climate, high levels of water for optimum production, and that the same swampy areas that provide these conditions often provide habitat for our friendly crocodilian the alligator.
    I encourage anyone with a desire to expand their knowledge of avocados, the various cultivars, and the myriad culinary uses to which this delightful delicacy can be applied to read more at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Avocado. Now I’m off to indulge in an avocado chilli and corn chip face feeding exercise.

    Reply
  12. Azal -  July 21, 2010 - 8:48 am

    Just try and let the taste take you up to the sky. Either on the top a warm rice plat or with black or red beans…mmmm. don’t need salt or any of those make-it-tasty, because it has a taste of its own. The first “encuentra” may be different from what else you know. Thus, go by a bite and try again another time till you become “acostumbrado”=familiar with its taste. Nothing to lose I ensure you but a lot to gain.

    Reply
  13. Eugene -  July 19, 2010 - 8:20 pm

    @shiznottle, very much pinoy. :)

    @rui, i love them mashed with powdered milk. Put them in ice tray, freeze them and voila! delicious juicy pops for my kid! :)

    Reply
  14. Alan -  July 16, 2010 - 5:41 am

    I grow up in CA with a tree in my yard. I never thought of eating one until now.

    Reply
  15. Cindy Small -  July 16, 2010 - 5:37 am

    Very interesting article about avocados. I have a tree of them in my backyard.

    Reply
  16. adonis -  July 15, 2010 - 10:19 pm

    For all those who are curious as to why it is called a fertility fruit, the reason is that Avocado helps in the production of the female sex hormone estrogen.

    Reply
  17. RKZ -  July 15, 2010 - 3:07 pm

    My Floridian mother described eating the wild avocados during the depression as “those awful turpintine avocados”. Guess you’re right about the native Florida ones. The ones cultivated now are delicious!

    Reply
  18. Himm -  July 15, 2010 - 12:47 pm

    Very interesting article about avocados, here in Guatemala we have several kinds of them. IT’S DELICIOUS!

    Reply
  19. Josie -  July 15, 2010 - 10:43 am

    Mabel,

    Last time I read a map, Mexico was part of North America not Central America as you believe. Also, Spanish has slight differences in various countries so the article was correct avacados are aguacates in Mexico.

    Reply
  20. Dylan -  July 15, 2010 - 10:09 am

    That article was, wow, I don’t even know what to say…but what ever it would be (including this string of nothings) would be more informative than this snippet of an article.

    Reply
  21. RickO -  July 15, 2010 - 10:01 am

    I first ate avocados while living in Barbados. There you could pick them or buy them in the Saturday market. I like them halved, with a little salt and pepper, and the seed pocket filled with rice vinegar. I eat them many other ways, but that is my favorite.

    Reply
  22. Carolyn Garrett -  July 15, 2010 - 9:40 am

    It is an aquired taste to appreciated I don’t have a problem paying 2.00 rach which they are priced sometimes in the state of Texas big Haas they ae great with a sandwich or hamnurger or tomatoes and onions with a little lemon/lime jusice and salt and black peppers or with jalapenos

    Reply
    • david -  March 27, 2015 - 6:06 am

      avacado and turkey on sour dough bread, little mayo

      Reply
  23. frances rincon -  July 15, 2010 - 9:31 am

    in my family, my husband and children are dominican, and avocados are eaten daily…they are good alone especially when i cut them up into chunks, i add salt and vinegar for taste…i also add it in bacalao salad…i really enjoy eaten avocados…

    Reply
  24. Mark -  July 15, 2010 - 8:34 am

    In chile the are called ” Palta ” not aguacate.

    Reply
  25. Mabel -  July 15, 2010 - 7:46 am

    You said ” In Mexico it is called the aguacate.” It’s actually called aguacate in Spanish not in a particular country. Mexico is just one of the many countries that makes part of Central America. North Americans usually make the mistake of talking about this country like if it’s a separate continent. Some of the best ‘aguacates’ come from cuntries like Chile and the size of their aguacates is like putting 2 or 3 of the ones you can find in most supermarkets.

    Reply
  26. Miks -  July 15, 2010 - 7:16 am

    @Rui yeah… ABACATE!! hmm its freaking delicious!!
    @Seejay yeah… my guess is that avocado is flavorless.. that’s why we mix it with salt or sugar to make it better. ;)
    @Claire hahaha very funny! you crack me up!!

    Reply
  27. Emerlee -  July 15, 2010 - 6:37 am

    Yep, it’s named after testicles. They believed the fruit made them more fertile. It’s great living on an avo farm and having all the free avos I can possibly eat at any time…not to mention the amazing custard apples litchis and hippos I get to watch while eating! mmmmmmm

    Reply
  28. James -  July 15, 2010 - 6:31 am

    Helene – I live in SE Wisconsin & they range anywhere from 75 cents each to $2.99 each, at different times of the year. But I LOVE THEM!!! It’s DELICIOUS spread out on a piece of toast, as well as cut into slices & put on a turkey sandwich. I’ll also eat it alone, with a bit of LEMON JUICE. DELICIOUS!!!

    Reply
  29. Penny -  July 15, 2010 - 2:21 am

    In Spain you see trees full of them(Axarquia region) and then you go to the supermarket and they are E2,49 for 2.
    We eat them with tinned tuna and mayo or olive oil and lemon juice. The lemon is vital and good vitamin c.Good with salmon too or peppers for veggies.
    They contain essential fatty acids (thinny acids- read Yuo are What You Eat) and so not bad for your cholesterol. lots of calories though so 1/2 a day.
    I read that they do’t ripen on trees or is that just sweet pears?
    Anyway put near a banana or an apple and then they ripen quickly.
    Que aproveche!!!

    Reply
  30. shiznottle -  July 15, 2010 - 12:00 am

    @eugene, are u filo? :)

    Reply
  31. Eugene -  July 14, 2010 - 8:55 pm

    @ Ranurgis, go to the Philippines. Avocados are available all year-round. :)

    Reply
  32. Rui Albuquerque -  July 14, 2010 - 4:04 pm

    Here in Brazil, it’s called ABACATE, and it’enjoyed blended with milk and sugar. It’s really healthy to drink it for breakfast. It’s very cheap in Brazil.

    Reply
  33. Ranurgis -  July 14, 2010 - 3:17 pm

    Oh, right, in Germany I was proud to grow my own avocado plant from a seed. I had a dormer roof window under which I could place the plant. Of course, it bore no fruit since outside conditions weren’t favorable. But in the right climate, I’m sure it’s doable. That’s one of the few reasons I’d want to live in a constantly hot zone. Otherwise, no: I prefer 40- to 40+.

    Reply
  34. Ranurgis -  July 14, 2010 - 3:08 pm

    I just had half an avocado last night. It has healthy fat and is therefore not proscribed for people with weight or cholesterol problems.

    I first learned to eat it in either France or Italy. I’d never even seen any before in Canada where I live. Now our avocados seem to be cheaper than Michigan’s: a bag of 5 for about $3.50. Mine this week was $0.97, so a little on the expensive side, but they can be had for as low as $0.49 on sale. It’s sometimes hard to gage how ripe they are, but I prefer to get them on the hard side. I’d rather wait for them to ripen a little more than get them too soft. Then they get black, mushy and fibrous and are not as appetizing, especially the way I eat them.

    As I was going to say, I first ate avocado halved with the seed out. We then poured in a tasty dressing or just some lemon juice and had a delicious treat. That’s how I like them best. The guacamole I’ve had wasn’t as good, but I guess there are differences in making it.

    Reply
  35. Hector -  July 14, 2010 - 12:27 pm

    In your lesson you forgot to include “palta” which is the term in Argentina and other South American countries for the Avocado. This word derives from guarani.

    Reply
  36. bedazzelle -  July 14, 2010 - 12:10 pm

    When i was younger i was turned off by Guacamole because of the green colour. Now that i am older ( and wiser) i think guacamole is really yummy! Qdoba Restaurant has awesome guac!

    Reply
  37. Mary H. -  July 14, 2010 - 11:42 am

    Here’s the best tip yet to beat high price avocados. Plant a seed from your favorite type of avocado. My Father planted 2 trees which grew 2 different types. We have 1 tree today which grows sizes from a softball or BIGGER. My brothers cut them and they act as if they are GOLD BRICKS. Their soo good and we look forward eating them every year.

    To comment how good they are in Shrimp cocktails to die for. Ceviche tostadas..Yum–my mouth is watering already…lol. BLT’s w avo, try including a nice steak & tomatoes laced w/ italian dressing & sliced avo.

    Reply
  38. Liz -  July 14, 2010 - 11:42 am

    3 for $5!!! I withhold from purchasing when they reach $.50 each ’cause I thought that was too expensive…

    Reply
  39. jose alvarado -  July 14, 2010 - 11:34 am

    exellent fruit

    Reply
  40. Cheryl -  July 14, 2010 - 11:28 am

    They are a bit expensive in michigan. Meijers has them for 3 for $5. I love avocados!

    Reply
  41. Linda -  July 14, 2010 - 11:13 am

    Why the need to let us know that word, Robert?

    Reply
  42. Néstor Mtz -  July 14, 2010 - 10:09 am

    I love this comments, everybody gives some extra to the article, I live in Monterrey, México where is very common eat “guacamole” in a barbacue, there are many dishes where the avocado is included: in shrimp cocktail, salads, sandwichs, hamburguers, “burritos”, flautas, etc.

    There is a place where sandiwchs are prepared in a speacial bread named “margarita” with a big one avocado, ham, cheese, tomatoe and onion and when you bite it avocado drops for everywhere.

    There anothers fruits that resembles that part of the man anatomy: Nuts, pear, dry plum, Kiwis, grape.

    Reply
  43. AVOCADO | BLOGCHI@mayopia.com -  July 14, 2010 - 9:46 am

    [...] “ALLIGATOR PEARS”, “fertility fruit”, let’s hear it for guacamole — isat why it’s a hot word — the sex ting ain’t supposed to be holy. — the Goal and the Destination are all part of the journey — being scooped up with soylent green biscuits — once removed from the gurney. — The colors match, the time is ripe — that must be the way to go. — If you forget to wash your hands — you can become a scoop for an avocado. –>>Rupert L.T.Rhyme [...]

    Reply
  44. daniel -  July 14, 2010 - 9:45 am

    Avacados are healthy, nutritious, tasty, and easy to fix. The buttery flavor is unique. There is a technique to cutting them open. In the U.S., the best seem to be what are referred to as Haas Avacados. Florida avocados are tasteless, but bitter, and hard to cut open, etc. When ripe, mashj them, add a little lemon or lime juice, garlic and/or onion salt, a little pepper, and you have a great condiment, dip, or spread. I sometimes add a little mayo just for a smoother texture. Aprovecha!

    Reply
  45. rebecca -  July 14, 2010 - 9:37 am

    I agree-it’s not educational if you don’t say what you mean. I think you mean testicle…which is a perfectly fine word. Skip the euphemisms–those are for kids.

    Reply
  46. reme -  July 14, 2010 - 9:37 am

    wow, how interesting. I love eating avocado, but never thought of it like this way.

    Reply
  47. Claire -  July 14, 2010 - 9:10 am

    I think it’s called teh fertility fruit because of the seed inside the thingy that resembles the mans thingy.

    Reply
  48. feiseldad -  July 14, 2010 - 9:09 am

    @Seejay, my guess is that you haven’t had the luxury of having a tree-ripen avocado. The best ones I’ve had were from New Mexico when I lived there–yes, they do have flavor. (And so do my wife’s waffles; she uses her mother’s recipe, which includes cornmeal).

    So, how is it determined whether a food product is a fruit or vegetable? Just curious.

    Reply
  49. DRG -  July 14, 2010 - 8:09 am

    In French, the word is avocat, which is exactly the same word used for lawyer.

    Reply
  50. ceedee -  July 14, 2010 - 7:26 am

    Are you kidding Seejay? Avocados are delicious on their own! (even tho I luv guac). Add a little salt and pepper to some cut into chunks (like my grandmother did) and you have a meal! One of my other favorite ways is with shrimp or chicken salad.

    Reply
  51. Michael Ambrosio -  July 14, 2010 - 6:45 am

    As some Oriental people in Hawaii, people in Brasil (south America) also prefer the avocado sweetened with sugar or condensed milk.
    hmm… yummy!! I love that.. you should try that americans haha

    Reply
  52. Kristen Nicole -  July 14, 2010 - 6:40 am

    How expensive are avocados in Michigan? I was still living there when I first tried guacamole in Spanish class, but didn’t get into them until I moved to Georgia and found a boyfriend with South American heritage. ;)

    Reply
  53. Lottie Willoughyb -  July 14, 2010 - 6:18 am

    They are the best, A salad is not a salad with out Avocados. I could eat them at every meal. Of course I know they are not calorie free, but they are worth it.

    Reply
  54. Ari -  July 14, 2010 - 5:27 am

    Interestingly, the Chinese name for avocado, 鱷梨, literally means “alligator pear.”

    Reply
  55. bubba bob -  July 14, 2010 - 5:15 am

    Joly Cajones!
    “I Wish a Wok of Guacamole
    -Tastes so good ’tis nigh Unholy!”
    -I could almost BATHE in it.
    Slather me…Wontonly!

    Reply
  56. KQ - Singapore -  July 14, 2010 - 3:32 am

    hi! interestingly, in Chinese, the avocado is literally also known as ‘alligator pear’! i don’t know whether it’s a coincidence!

    Reply
  57. Katieken -  July 14, 2010 - 2:26 am

    Seejay – try them when ripe (sometimes hard to discern, without allowing them to overripen)Just slightly softer to the touch. I like the smaller ones, and right now the different names escape me. EAt them room temp on a salad, and you may taste more. Some people just never enjoy them – maybe it’s the texture!

    Reply
  58. Peter -  July 14, 2010 - 12:24 am

    Many years ago, I lived with my aunt and uncle in Florida for a year. The old man who lived in the house behind us had an avocado tree. He wouldn’t pick the avocados, or let anyone else pick them, because he thought it was “bad for the tree”. Instead, they would fall to the ground and rot. So one night, my uncle, my cousin and I staged a midnight raid. We got about 30 of them. You’ve gotta love guacamole!

    Reply
  59. iash -  July 14, 2010 - 12:18 am

    Sorry, but I don’t understand that the title states that an avocado is a fertility fruit yet no explanation supporting it is shown in the article.

    Reply
  60. harvey -  July 13, 2010 - 11:46 pm

    coz the time of the comments is up the screw – its July 14, 2010 at 4:45 here in Maryborough QLD Australia!

    Reply
  61. harvey -  July 13, 2010 - 11:38 pm

    who knos where this site is based?

    Reply
  62. clang -  July 13, 2010 - 11:36 pm

    …..i love to eat guacamole…..

    it’s the best healthy fruit that everybody likes to carry on it…..

    Reply
  63. Catherine -  July 13, 2010 - 11:30 pm

    The fruit has numerous, interesting names. But i love “guacamole”; sounds
    romantic in a weired kind of way…

    Reply
  64. Me -  July 13, 2010 - 11:09 pm

    Hey Seejay – SO true! – i like it WITH other stuff – NOT by itself!! :)

    Reply
  65. spiderman -  July 13, 2010 - 11:06 pm

    have a avo a day.

    Reply
  66. Robert -  July 13, 2010 - 9:47 pm

    Why so coy about using the word, Testicle?

    Reply
  67. Seejay -  July 13, 2010 - 7:33 pm

    I tend to find avacado to be quite flavorless. I suspect it’s just a vehicular substance for the delicious additions we mix with it, like the way flavorless waffles convey our yummy butters and syrups.

    Reply
  68. Oscar Narváez -  July 13, 2010 - 6:54 pm

    Thank you for sharing this valuable information. Many people tend to forget that many of the things we eat today were eaten thousands of years ago by Native Americans. Such is the case with avocados, corn, tomato, vanilla, beans, chilli peppers, potatoes, pumpkins, squash, and sweet potatoes, just to name a few.

    Reply
  69. Helene -  July 13, 2010 - 6:43 pm

    This is absolutely correct, and interesting. I figured that the obviously bumpy green skin was the reason for “alligator pear”. However, I wish they weren’t so expensive here in Michigan, I LOVE THEM!! LOL

    Reply
  70. Brandon Oxendine -  July 13, 2010 - 5:01 pm

    Twitter (@dictionarycom) promises an explanation for the term “fertility fruit,” but the article tells me to use my imagination to determine that.

    Hm…

    Reply

Leave A Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked (required):

Related articles

Back to Top