March 10, 2013

All about Almonds


Almond tree with ripening fruit. Majorca,Spain.
Scientific classification
P. amygdalus
Binomial name
Prunus amygdalus
The almond (Prunus amygdalussyn. Prunus dulcisAmygdalus communisAmygdalus dulcis), is a species of tree native to the Middle East and South Asia. "Almond" is also the name of the edible and widely cultivated seed of this tree. Within the genus Prunus, it is classified with the peach in the subgenus Amygdalus, distinguished from the other subgenera by the corrugated shell (endocarp) surrounding the seed.
The fruit of the almond is a drupe, consisting of an outer hull and a hard shell with the seed (which is not a true nut) inside. Shelling almonds refers to removing the shell to reveal the seed. Almonds are sold shelled (i.e., after the shells are removed), or unshelled (i.e., with the shells still attached). Blanched almonds are shelled almonds that have been treated with hot water to soften the seedcoat, which is then removed to reveal the white embryo.
The almond is a deciduous tree, growing 4–10 metres (13–33 ft) in height, with a trunk of up to 30 centimetres (12 in) in diameter. The young twigs are green at first, becoming purplish where exposed to sunlight, then grey in their second year. The leaves are 3–5 inches long, [with a serrated margin and a 2.5 cm (1 in) petiole. The flowers are white to pale pink, 3–5 cm (1–2 in) diameter with five petals, produced singly or in pairs and appearing before the leaves in early spring.
Almonds begin bearing an economic crop in the third year after planting. Trees reach full bearing five to six years after planting. The fruit matures in the autumn, 7–8 months after flowering.
Green almonds

Unshelled (left) and shelled (right) almonds

Blanched almonds
The almond fruit measures 3.5–6 cm (1–2 in) long. In botanical terms it is not a nut, but a drupe. The outer covering or exocarp, fleshy in other members of Prunus such as theplum and cherry, is instead a thick leathery grey-green coat (with a downy exterior), called the hull. Inside the hull is a reticulated hard woody shell (like the outside of a peach pit) called the endocarp. Inside the shell is the edible seed, commonly called a nut. Generally, one seed is present, but occasionally there are two.
Origin and history

Harvesting of the almond crop at Qand-i BadamFergana Valley(16th century)
The almond is native to the Mediterranean climate region of the Middle East, eastward as far as the Indus. It was spread by humans in ancient times along the shores of the Mediterranean into northern Africa and southern Europe and more recently transported to other parts of the world, notably California, United States.

A grove of almond trees in central California
The wild form of domesticated almond grows in parts of the Levant; almonds must first have been taken into cultivation in this region. The fruit of the wild forms contains the glycoside amygdalin, "which becomes transformed into deadly prussic acid (hydrogen cyanide) after crushing, chewing, or any other injury to the seed.
Almond is considered to be one of the earliest domesticated tree nuts. Wild almonds are bitter, the kernel produces deadly cyanide upon mechanical handling, and eating even a few dozen at one sitting can be fatal. Selection of the sweet type, from the many bitter types in wild, marked the beginning of almond domestication. How humans selected the sweet type remains a mystery. It is unclear as to which wild ancestor of the almond created the domesticated species. Ladizinsky suggests the taxonAmygdalus fenzliana (Fritsch) Lipsky is the most likely wild ancestor of the almond in part because it is native of Armenia and western Azerbaijan where it was apparently domesticated.
While wild almond species are toxic, domesticated almonds are not; Jared Diamond argues that a common genetic mutation causes an absence of glycoside amygdalin, and this mutant was grown by early farmers, "at first unintentionally in the garbage heaps, and later intentionally in their orchards". Zohary and Hopf believe that almonds were one of the earliest domesticated fruit trees due to "the ability of the grower to raise attractive almonds from seed. Thus, in spite of the fact that this plant does not lend itself to propagation from suckers or from cuttings, it could have been domesticated even before the introduction of grafting". Domesticated almonds appear in theEarly Bronze Age (3000–2000 BC) such as the archaeological sites of Numeria (Jordan), or possibly a little earlier. Another well-known archaeological example of the almond is the fruit found in Tutankhamun's tomb in Egypt (c. 1325 BC), probably imported from the Levant. Of the European countries that the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh reported as cultivating almonds, Germany is the northernmost, though the domesticated form can be found as far north as Iceland.
Etymology and names
The word "almond" comes from Old French almande or alemandeLate Latin *amandula, derived through a form amygdala from the Greek μυγδαλή (amygdalē) (cf. amygdala), an almond. The al- in English, for the a- used in other languages may be due a confusion with the Arabic article al, the word having first dropped the a- as in the Italian formmandorla; the British pronunciation ah-mond and the modern Catalan ametlla and modern French amande show a form of the word closer to the original. Other related names of almond include mandel or knackmandel (German), amandier or amande (French), mandorlo (Italian), and almendro (Spanish)
The adjective amygdaloid (literally "like an almond") is used to describe objects which are roughly almond-shaped, particularly a shape which is part way between a triangle and anellipse. See, for example, the brain structure amygdala, which uses a direct borrowing of the Greek term amygdalē

An almond shaker before and during a harvest of a tree
The world produced 2.51 million tonnes of almonds in 2010 according to Food and Agriculture Organization, with United States the largest producer at 1.41 million tonnes. The table below presents other significant producers.
Top Ten Almond with Shell Producers
in 2010
(million tonnes)
(ton/hectare) USA
4.85 Spain
4.08 Iran
0.93 Morocco
0.98 Italy
1.11 Syria
1.64 Tunisia
0.32 Turkey
3.23 Algeria
1.47 China
World Total
Spain has one of the most diverse commercial cultivars of almonds.[16] It is grown in Spain's Catalonia, Valencia, Murcia, the Balearic Islands, Andalusia, and Aragón regions. In Greece, most of the production comes from the region of Magnesia at the area of Almyros. The most cultivating types of almonds in Greece are ferragnes and Texas (mission) which are known for their sweet taste and premium quality. Because of its quality, it is used as a luxury nut. In Turkey, most of the production comes from the Aegean, Marmara, and Mediterranean regions.
In the United States, production is concentrated in California, with almonds being California's third leading agricultural product and its top agricultural export in 2008.[19]and 100% of the U.S. commercial supply. The United States is the dominant supplier of almonds. In 2011, the country exported about 637,000 metric tons, valued at US$2.8 billion. Almonds were mostly exported as shelled almonds (70%), with the remainder being either unshelled or processed.
Young almond fruit
Mature almond fruit
The pollination of California's almonds is the largest annual managed pollination event in the world, with close to one million hives (nearly half of all beehives in the USA) being trucked in February to the almond groves. Much of the pollination is managed by pollination brokers, who contract with migratory beekeepers from at least 49 states for the event. This business has been heavily impacted by colony collapse disorder, causing nationwide shortages of honey bees and increasing the price of insect pollination. To alleviate almond growers from the rising cost of insect pollination, researchers at the Agricultural Research Service (ARS) have developed a new line of self-pollinating almond trees. Self-pollinating almond trees, such as the Tuonoalmond tree, have been around for a while, but their harvest is not as desirable as the insect-pollinated California Nonpareil almond tree. The Nonpareil tree produces large, smooth almonds and offer 60–65% edible kernel per nut. The Tuono, on the other hand, has thicker, hairier shells and offers only 32% of edible kernel per nut. However, there are advantages to having a thick shell. The Tuono’s shell protects the nut from threatening pests such as the navel orangeworm. ARS researchers have managed to cross breed the pest-resistant Tuono tree with California’s attractive Nonpareil tree, resulting in hybridizedvarieties of almond trees that are self-pollinated and maintain a high quality of nut. The new, self-pollinating almond tree hybrids possess quality skin color, flavor, and oil content, and reduce almond growers’ dependency on insect pollination.
Main article: List of almond diseases

Flowering (sweet) almond tree

Blossom on bitter almond tree
The seeds of Prunus dulcis var. dulcis are predominately sweet,  but some individual trees produce seeds that are somewhat more bitter. The fruits from Prunus dulcis var. amara are always bitter as are the kernels from other Prunus species like apricot, peach and cherry (to a lesser extent).
The bitter almond is slightly broader and shorter than the sweet almond, and contains about 50% of the fixed oil that occurs in sweet almonds. It also contains the enzyme emulsin which, in the presence of water, acts on a soluble glucosidesamygdalin andprunasin,  yielding glucosecyanide and the essential oil of bitter almonds, which is nearly pure benzaldehyde. Bitter almonds may yield from 4–9 mg of hydrogen cyanide per almond.  Extract of bitter almond was once used medicinally, but even in small doses, effects are severe, and in larger doses can be deadly; the cyanide must be removed before consumption
All commercially grown almonds are of the "sweet" variety.
Culinary uses

Smoked and salted almonds
While the almond is often eaten on its own, raw or toasted, it is also a component of various dishes. Almonds are available in many forms, such as whole, sliced (flaked, slivered), and as flour. Almonds yield almond oil and can also be made into almond butter or almond milk. These products can be used in both sweet and savoury dishes.
Along with other nuts, almonds can be sprinkled over breakfasts and desserts, particularly muesli or ice cream based dishes. Almonds are used in marzipannougat, many pastries (including jesuites), cookies (including French macaronsmacaroons), and cakes (includingfinanciers), noghl and other sweets and desserts. They are also used to make almond butter, a spread similar to peanut butter, popular with peanut allergy sufferers and for its naturally sweeter taste. The young, developing fruit of the almond tree can be eaten whole ("green almonds") when they are still green and fleshy on the outside and the inner shell has not yet hardened. The fruit is somewhat sour, but is a popular snack in parts of the Middle East, eaten dipped in salt to balance the sour taste. Available only from mid April to mid June in the northern hemisphere, pickling or brining extends the fruit's shelf life.

Bottle for a Cream of Almond liquor from Mexico (beginning of 20th century) from the permanent collection of the Museo del Objeto del Objeto.

Marzipan is a popular Almond meal-based confection. It is artistically shaped into festive motifs, figures and fruit shapes such as those shown above in a Paris shop.
·         In Greece, ground blanched almonds are used as the base material in a great variety of desserts, usually called amygdalota(αμυγδαλωτά). Because of their white colour, most are traditionally considered "wedding sweets" and are served at wedding banquets. In addition, a soft drink known as soumada is made from almonds in various regions.
·         In Iran, green almonds are dipped in sea salt and eaten as snacks on street markets; they are called Chaqale bâdam. Also sweet almonds are used to prepare a special food for babies, named "harire badam". In Iran almonds are added to some foods, cookies and desserts, or are used to decorate foods. People in Iran consume roasted nuts for special events, for example, during New Year parties.
·         In Italy, the bitter almonds from apricots are the base for amaretti (almond macaroons), a common dessert. Traditionally, a low percentage of bitter almonds (10-20%) is added to the ingredients, which gives the cookies their bitter taste (commercially, apricot kernels are used as a substitute for bitter almonds). Almonds are also a common choice as the nuts to include in torrone. In Pugliaand Sicily, "pasta di mandorle" (almond paste) is used to make small soft cakes, often decorated with jam, pistacchio or chocolate. In Sicily Almond milk is a popular refreshing beverage in summer.
·         In Morocco, almonds in the form of sweet almond paste are the main ingredient in pastry fillings, and several other desserts. Fried blanched whole almonds are also used to decorate sweet tajines such as lamb with prunes. A drink made from almonds mixed with milk is served in important ceremonies such as weddings and can also be ordered in some cafes. Southwestern Berber regions ofEssaouira and Souss are also known for "Amlou" a spread made of almond paste, argan oil, and honey. Almond paste is also mixed with toasted flour and among others, honey, olive oil or butter, anise, fennel, sesame seeds, and cinnamon to make "Sellou" (also called "Zamita" in Meknes or "Slilou" in Marrakech), a sweet snack known for its long shelf life and high nutritive value.
·         In India, almonds are the base ingredients of pasanda-style curriesBadam halva is a sweet made from almonds with added coloring. Almond flakes are added to many sweets (such as sohan barfi), and are usually visible sticking to the outer surface.
·         In Pakistan, almonds are the base ingredients of many food items. Meat dishes containing almonds include pasanda-style or Mughalai curriesBadam halva is a sweet made from almonds with added coloring. Almond flakes are added to many sweets (such as sohan barfi), and are usually visible sticking to the outer surface. Almonds form the base of various drinks which are supposed to have cooling properties. Almond sherbet or 'Sherbet-e-Badaam' in Urdu, is a popular summer drink. Almonds are also sold as a snack with added salt.
Almonds can be processed into a milk substitute called almond milk; the nut's soft texture, mild flavour, and light colouring (when skinned) make for an efficient analog to dairy, and a soy-free choice for lactose intolerant people and vegans. Raw, blanched, and lightly toasted almonds work well for different production techniques, some of which are similar to that of soymilk and some of which use no heat, resulting in "raw milk" (see raw foodism).
The 'Marcona' almond cultivar is recognizably different from other almonds, and is marketed by name.[31] The kernel is short, round, relatively sweet and delicate in texture. It has been grown in Spain for a long time and its origin is unknown; the tree is very productive, the shell of the nut very hard.  'Marcona' almonds are traditionally served after being lightly fried in oil, and are used by Spanish chefs to prepare a dessert called turrón.
Almond flour
Almond flour is often used as a gluten-free alternative to wheat flour in cooking and baking.
Almond syrup
Historically, almond syrup was an emulsion of sweet and bitter almonds, usually made with barley syrup (orgeat syrup) or in a syrup oforange flower water and sugar.
The Grocer's Encyclopedia (1911) notes that "Ten parts of sweet almonds are generally employed to three parts of bitter almonds"; however, due to the cyanide found in bitter almonds, modern syrups generally consist of only sweet almonds.
Almonds, unroasted
Nutritional value per 100 g (3.5 oz)
2,408 kJ (576 kcal)
  - Lactose
Dietary fiber
Vitamin A
1 IU
1 μg (0%)
lutein and zeaxanthin
1 μg
Thiamine (vit. B1)
0.211 mg (18%)
Riboflavin (vit. B2)
1.014 mg (85%)
Niacin (vit. B3)
3.385 mg (23%)
Pantothenic acid (B5)
0.469 mg (9%)
Vitamin B6
0.143 mg (11%)
Folate (vit. B9)
50 μg (13%)
52.1 mg (11%)
Vitamin E
26.2 mg (175%)
Vitamin K
0.0 μg (0%)
264 mg (26%)
3.72 mg (29%)
268 mg (75%)
2.285 mg (109%)
484 mg (69%)
705 mg (15%)
1 mg (0%)
3.08 mg (32%)
Percentages are relative to
US recommendations for adults.
Source: USDA
The almond contains about 26% carbohydrates (12% dietary fiber, 6.3% sugars, 0.7% starch and the rest miscellaneous carbohydrates), and may therefore be made into flour for cakes and cookies (biscuits) for low-carbohydrate diets. A standard serving of almond flour, 1 cup, contains 20 grams of carbohydrates, of which 10 g is dietary fiber, for a net of 10 g of carbohydrate per cup. This makes almond flour very desirable for use in cake and bread recipes by people on carbohydrate-restricted diets.
Almonds are a rich source of vitamin E, containing 26 mg per 100 g (Table). About 20 percent of raw almond is high quality protein, a third of which are essential amino acids.  An ounce of almonds contains 12% of necessary daily protein.[citation needed]They are also rich in dietary fiberB vitaminsessential minerals and monounsaturated fat (see nutrient table), one of the two fats which potentially may lower LDL cholesterol. Typical of nuts and seeds, almonds also contain phytosterols, associated with cholesterol-lowering properties.
Amino Acids
g/100g Nuts
Glutamic acid
Aspartic acid
Potential health benefits, which have not been scientifically validated, include improvedcomplexion and possibly a lower risk of cancer.  Preliminary research associates consumption of almonds with elevating blood levels of high density lipoproteins and loweringlow density lipoproteins.  A preliminary trial showed that using them in the daily diet might lower several factors associated with heart disease, including cholesterol and blood lipids
Almonds contain polyphenols in their skins consisting in a combination of flavonolsflavan-3-olshydroxybenzoic acids and flavanones analogous to those of certain fruits and vegetables.
Almonds may cause allergy or intolerance. Cross-reactivity is common with peach allergens(lipid transfer proteins) and tree nut allergens. Symptoms range from local symptoms (e.g.,oral allergy syndromecontact urticaria) to systemic symptoms including anaphylaxis (e.g.,urticariaangioedema, gastrointestinal and respiratory symptoms).


Almond oil in a clear glass vial
Almonds are a rich source of oil, with values ranging between 36 to 60% of kernel dry mass  A study by Venkatchalam and Sathe suggests almonds contain approximately 44% oils, of which 62% is monounsaturated oleic acid (an omega-9 fatty acid), 29% islinoleic acid (a polyunsaturated omega-6 essential fatty acid), and 9% is saturated fatty acid.
"Oleum Amygdalae", the fixed oil, is prepared from either sweet or bitter almonds and is a glyceryl oleate, with a slight odour and a nutty taste. It is almost insoluble in alcohol but readily soluble in chloroform or ether. Sweet almond oil is obtained from the driedkernel of sweet almonds.
The oil is good for application to the skin as an emollient, and has been traditionally used by massage therapists to lubricate the skin during a massage session.
Almond oil can also be used as a wood conditioner of certain woodwind instruments, such as the oboe and clarinet.
Almonds, like other tree nuts, are susceptible to aflatoxin-producing molds.  Aflatoxins are potent carcinogenic chemicals produced by molds such as Aspergillus flavus and Aspergillus parasiticus. The mold contamination may occur from soil, previously infested almonds, and almond pests such as navel orangeworm. High levels of mold growth typically appear as gray to black filament like growth. It is unsafe to eat mold infected tree nuts.
Some countries have strict limits on allowable limits for aflatoxin contamination on almonds, and require adequate testing before the nuts can be marketed to their citizens. The European Union, for example, introduced a mandatory requirement since 2007 that all almond shipments to EU must be tested for aflatoxin. If aflatoxin does not meet the strict safety regulations, the entire consignment may be reprocessed to eliminate the aflatoxin or it must be destroyed.
The almond industry not only tests and processes almonds to ensure infected almonds do not reach the market, the industry also takes steps to prevent sources that cause contamination. These steps include proper orchard management, winter sanitation, early harvest, proper storage among others.
Mandatory pasteurization in California
The USDA approved a proposal by the Almond Board of California to pasteurize almonds sold to the public, after tracing cases ofsalmonellosis to almonds. The almond pasteurization program became mandatory for California companies in 2007.  Raw, untreated California almonds haven't been available in the U.S. since then.
California almonds labeled "raw" must be steam-pasteurized or chemically treated with propylene oxide. This doesn't apply to imported almonds  or almonds sold from the grower directly to the consumer in small quantities. The treatment also isn't required for raw almonds sold for export outside of North America.
The USDA-approved marketing order was challenged in court by organic farmers organized by the Cornucopia Institute, a Wisconsin-based farm policy research group. According to the Cornucopia Institute, this almond marketing order has imposed significant financial burdens on small-scale and organic growers and damaged domestic almond markets. A federal judge dismissed the lawsuit in the spring of 2009 on procedural grounds. In August 2009 farmers were appealing.
Cultural aspects
The almond is highly revered in some cultures.
The tree originated in the Middle East and is mentioned numerous times in the Bible.
In the Old Testament, the almond was a symbol of watchfulness and promise due to its early flowering. In the Bible the almond is mentioned ten times, beginning with Book of Genesis 43:11, where it is described as "among the best of fruits". In Numbers 17 Levi is chosen from the other tribes of Israel by Aaron's rod, which brought forth almond flowers. According to tradition, the rod of Aaron bore sweet almonds on one side and bitter on the other; if the Israelites followed the Lord, the sweet almonds would be ripe and edible, but if they were to forsake the path of the Lord, the bitter almonds would predominate. The almond blossom supplied a model for the menorah which stood in the Holy Temple, "Three cups, shaped like almond blossoms, were on one branch, with a knob and a flower; and three cups, shaped like almond blossoms, were on the other...on the candlestick itself were four cups, shaped like almond blossoms, with its knobs and flowers" (Exodus 25:33–34; 37:19–20). Similarly, Christian symbolism often uses almond branches as a symbol of the Virgin Birth of Jesus; paintings often include almonds encircling the baby Jesus and as a symbol of Mary. The word "Luz", which appears in Genesis 30:37, is sometimes translated as "hazel", may actually be derived from the Aramaic name for almond (Luz), and is translated as such in some Bible versions such as the NIV

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