On May 15, 1915, in the posh new Hotel Alexandria in Los Angeles, a cadre of California farmers gathered to decide the fate of a new crop.
The ahuacate, a pebbly-skinned, pear-shaped fruit, had been a staple food in Mexico, and Central and South America since 500 B.C. In the 16th century, Spanish conquistadors fell in love with the fruit after observing its prized status among the Aztecs.
Until the early 1900s, the ahuacate had never been grown commercially in the United States. By 1914, however, hotels in Los Angeles and San Francisco were ordering as many of the fruits as they could and paying as much as $12 for a dozen.
But the farmers faced a marketing problem. First, ahuacate was too hard for Americans to pronounce. Worse, it was the Aztec word for testicle, named for its shape and reputation as an aphrodisiac. Then there was the other unappealing name: "alligator pear."
The farmers came up with a new name: avocado. They informed dictionary publishers of the change -- and that the plural was spelled "avocados," not "avocadoes" -- and named their own group the California Avocado Association.
The approach worked. Today, California accounts for nearly 90 percent of all avocados grown in the United States.