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Avocado adventures - by Professor Alice Roberts

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Close up of an avocado hanging from a tree branch with leaves

For our 20th anniversary, we've teamed up with Professor Alice Roberts, the renowned science communicator, academic and broadcaster. Alice has been collaborating with us throughout 2017 as our official science communication advisor and brand ambassador, helping us to continue our legacy of using nature and science in balance.

In her second guest blog for Green People, Alice takes a closer look at avocados, one of our favourite ingredients to use in organic skin, hair and body care products.


I’ve got a little obsessed with finding out where things come from, and there are so many plant-based ingredients in Green People products that it’s hard to know where to start. But I started with a tube of their fantastic Quinoa & Avocado Hair Serum and wondered what quinoa actually was, and where it came from. The quinoa in the serum - the Andean ‘mother of grains’ - is paired up with avocados, and at the end of my last blog, I promised to take a look at these odd, thick-skinned pears. Avocados are a popular part of modern diets - but just how long have they been used in skin care too?

Where do avocados come from?

  

avocado sliced in half on a white background

The avocado tree, Persea americana, now grows around the world - but it originally hailed from the New World. The first human hunter-gatherers arrived in the Americas at the very end of the last Ice Age - as the ice sheets that covered much of North America began to melt. Avocados would have been an attractive food for hunter-gatherers, and when com-munities began to settle down and farm, avocado trees would have been grown. As the climate became drier, between 6000 and 4000 years ago, avocados may have become much rarer in the wild - growing them in gardens could have been a form of early conservation.

The fruits had a cultural importance too. The Mayans believed that their ancestors died to be reincarnated as fruit trees. The sarcophagus of the Mayan king Pacal the Great, who ruled in southern Mexico in the 7th century CE, shows a female ancestor emerging from a crack in the ground - carrying an avocado tree. But it’s also rumoured that the ancient Aztecs, Incas and Mayans didn’t just eat avocados - they used the pulp cosmetically as well, as a face-mask.

When the Spanish arrived in the Americas in the late 15th century CE, they found avoca-dos being grown in Mexico, Ecuador and Peru. Spanish explorers described the fruits, their thick skins and buttery flesh, and were surprised at the huge seeds they contained. So it was the conquistadors who brought avocados from the New World to the Old - one of the many species that crossed the Atlantic after the European discovery of the Ameri-cas. Turkeys and tomatoes, pumpkins and potatoes, Muscovy duck and maize - not for-getting quinoa, of course - travelled from the New World to the Old. Cattle and coffee, sheep and sugar cane, chickens and chickpeas, wheat and rye went the other way. The so-called ‘Columbian Exchange’ has been described by some as the most significant ecological event on the planet since the demise of the dinosaurs. And it was the begin-ning of globalisation: the world became not just interconnected but interdependent. And yet, all these centuries later, with the avocado growing all around the world, Mexico - its ancient homeland - is still the main producer and exporter of the fruit.

Avocado in cosmetics

In the 1930s avocado oil - extracted from the flesh of the pear - began to be used in com-mercially-produced cosmetics. The oil was considered to be easily absorbed by the skin, as well as being soothing. During the second half of the twentieth century, supplies of avocados became more readily available, and more cost-effective ways for extracting the oil were developed. By the 1970s, avocado oil had become a staple ingredient in beauty products - making its way into creams, beauty milks and massage oils, and eventually, as we know, into Green People’s hair serum, moisturisers, sun lotion and - in a nod to the ancient Aztecs - even their Vita Min Mask.


Read Alice's first blog post about the origins of quinoa here.


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