If you’ve been paying attention, you likely already know that Avocados aren’t exactly the cheapest or most environmentally-friendly foodstuff you can spread on your toast instead of buying a house. But recent research shows that the massive seeds we regularly discard could contain valuable chemical compounds with far-reaching implications.
At the American Chemical Society’s national meeting in Washington D.C. this Monday, a team of researchers from the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley led by Debasish Bandyopadhyay presented research that shows avocado seed husks contain more than 130 chemical compounds, some of which have medicinal or industrial applications. Among them were behenyl alcohol (used in antiviral medications), heptacosane (which could potentially slow the growth of tumor cells), and dodecanoic acid, which could reduce the risk of atherosclerosis. Other natural compounds could be used in the process of making everything from shower curtains to cosmetics.
To conduct the research, Bandyopadhay and his University of Texas Rio Grande Valley team crushed the seed husks of 300 avocados (generously donated from a lab technician’s tree) into a fine powder, which yielded both seed husk oil and wax. Using a process called gas chromatography—mass spectrometry analysis, they identified 116 unique compounds in the oil, and 16 more in the wax.
Bandyopadhyay says the research was driven by a desire to find out if the waste from America’s food of the moment could serve a practical purpose, and expressed surprise that nobody had bothered to investigate avocado waste this closely in the past. “Avocado seed husks... are actually the gem of gems because the medicinal compounds within them could eventually be used to treat cancer, heart disease and other conditions." He also said that these natural compounds could be safer and more valuable than their synthetic alternatives, which can often cause side effects.
This discovery is just the first step in the process, and Bandyopadhyay’s team will look to modify some of these compounds for use in medication next. It could take years before the chemicals in these seed husks wind up in an FDA-approved drug. But with Americans consuming more than 1.9 billion pounds of avocados annually, there will be plenty of raw material to work with in the meantime.