|Almond tree with ripening fruit. Mallorca, Spain.|
Almond tree with ripening fruit. Mallorca, Spain.
The Almond (Prunus dulcis, syn. Prunus amygdalus Batsch., Amygdalus communis L., Amygdalus dulcis Mill.) is a species of Prunus belonging to the subfamily Prunoideae of the family Rosaceae; within Prunus, it is classified with the Peach in the subgenus Amygdalus, distinguished from the other subgenera by the corrugated seed shell. An almond is also the seed of this tree.
It is native to southwest Asia, from northwestern Saudi Arabia, north through western Jordan, Israel, Lebanon, western Syria, to southern Turkey. It is a small deciduous tree, growing to 4–10 m tall, with a trunk up to 30 cm diameter. The young shoots are green at first, becoming purplish where exposed to sunlight, then grey in their second year. The leaves are lanceolate, 4–13 cm long and 1.2–4 cm broad, with a serrated margin and a 2.5 cm petiole. The flowers are white or pale pink, 3–5 cm diameter with five petals, produced singly or in pairs before the leaves in early spring.
The fruit is a drupe 3.5–6 cm long, with a downy outer coat. The outer covering or exocarp, fleshy in other members of Prunus such as the plum and cherry, is reduced to a leathery grey-green coat called the hull, which contains inside a hard shell the edible kernel, commonly called a nut in culinary terms. Generally, one kernel is present, but occasionally two. However, in botanical terms, an almond is not a true nut. In botanical parlance, the reticulated hard stony shell is called an endocarp. It is mature in the autumn, 7–8 months after flowering.
Origin and history
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". Before cultivation and domestication occurred, wild almonds were harvested as food and doubtless were processed by leaching or roasting to remove their toxicity. The domesticated form can ripen fruit as far north as the British Isles.
However, domesticated almonds are not toxic; 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 the Early Bronze Age (3000–2000 BC) of the Near East, or possibly a little earlier. A well-known archaeological example of almond is the fruits found in Tutankhamun's tomb in Egypt (c. 1325 BC), probably imported from the Levant.
Global production of almonds is around 1.5 million tonnes, with a low of 1 million tonnes in 1995 and a peak of 1.85 million tonnes in 2002 according to Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) figures (pdf file). Major producers include Greece, Iran, Italy, Morocco, Portugal, Spain, Syria, Turkey, and the world's largest producer, the United States. In Turkey, most of the production comes from the Datca peninsula. In Spain, numerous commercial cultivars of sweet almond are produced, most notably the Jordan almond (imported from Málaga) and the Valencia almond. In the United States, production is concentrated in California, with almonds being California's sixth leading agricultural product and its top agricultural export. California exported almonds valued at 1.08 billion dollars in 2003, about 70% of total California almond crop.
Because of cases of Salmonella traced to almonds in 2001 and 2004, in 2006 the California Almond Board proposed and the USDA approved rules regarding the nature of almonds available to the public. From 1 September 2007, raw almonds will technically no longer be available in the United States. Controversially, almonds labeled as "raw" will required to be steam pasteurised or chemically treated with propylene oxide.
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 38 states for the event.
Sweet and bitter almonds
There are two forms of the plant, one (often with white flowers) producing sweet almonds, and the other (often with pink flowers) producing bitter almonds. The kernel of the former contains a fixed oil and emulsion. As late as the early 20th century the oil was used internally in medicine, with the stipulation that it must not be adulterated with that of the bitter almond; it remains fairly popular in alternative medicine, particularly as a carrier oil in aromatherapy, but has fallen out of prescription among doctors.
The bitter almond is rather broader and shorter than the sweet almond, and contains about 50% of the fixed oil which also occurs in sweet almonds. It also contains the enzyme emulsin which, in the presence of water, acts on a soluble glucoside, amygdalin, yielding glucose, cyanide and the essential oil of bitter almonds or benzaldehyde. Bitter almonds may yield from 6 to 8% of hydrogen cyanide. 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.
While the almond is most often eaten on its own, raw or toasted, it is used in some dishes. It, along with other nuts, is often sprinkled over desserts, particularly sundaes and other ice cream based dishes. It is also used in making baklava and nougat. There is also almond butter, a spread similar to peanut butter, popular with peanut allergy sufferers and for its less salty taste. The young, developing fruit of the almond tree can also be eaten as a whole ("green almonds"), when it is still green and fleshy on the outside, and the inner shell has not yet hardened. The fruit is somewhat sour, and is available only from mid April to mid June; pickling or brining extends the fruit's shelf life.
The sweet almond itself contains practically no carbohydrates and may therefore be made into flour for cakes and biscuits for low carbohydrate diets or for patients suffering from diabetes mellitus or any other form of glycosuria. A standard serving of almond flour, 1 cup, contains 20 grammes of carbohydrates, of which 10 g is dietary fibre, 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.
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.
Almonds can be processed into a milk substitute simply 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, vegans, and so on. Raw, blanched, and lightly toasted almonds all work well for different production techniques, some of which are very similar to that of soymilk and some of which actually use no heat, resulting in "raw milk" (see raw foodism).
Sweet almonds are used in marzipan, nougat, and macaroons, as well as other desserts. Almonds are a rich source of Vitamin E, containing 24 mg per 100 g. They are also rich in monounsaturated fat, one of the two "good" fats responsible for lowering LDL cholesterol.
The Marcona variety of almond, which is shorter, rounder, sweeter, and more delicate in texture than other varieties, originated in Spain and is becoming popular in North America and other parts of the world. Marcona almonds are traditionally served after being lightly fried in oil, and are also used by Spanish chefs to prepare a dessert called turrón.
"Oleum Amygdalae", the fixed oil, is prepared from either variety of almond 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. It may be used as a substitute for olive oil.
The sweet almond oil is obtained from the dried kernel of the plant. This oil has been traditionally used by massage therapists to lubricate the skin during a massage session, being considered by many to be an effective emollient.
Grocer's Encyclopedia 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.Template:Grocers
Possible health benefits
Edgar Cayce, a man regarded as the father of American holistic medicine, also highly favoured the almond. In his readings, Cayce often recommended that almonds be included in the diet. Claimed health benefits include improved complexion, improved movement of food through the colon and the prevention of cancer.  Recent research associates inclusion of almonds in the diet with elevating the blood levels of high density lipoproteins and of lowering the levels of low density lipoproteins.
In Ayurveda, the Indian System of Medicine, almond is considered a nutritive for brain and nervous system. It is said to induce high intellectual level and longevity. Almond oil is called Roghan Badam in both Ayurveda and Unani Tibb (the Greco-Persian System of Medicine). It is extracted by cold process and is considered a nutritive aphrodisiac both for massage and internal consumption. Recent studies have shown that the constituents of almond have anti-inflammatory, immunity boosting, and anti-hepatotoxicity effects.
The almond is highly revered in some cultures.
The tree grows in Syria and Israel, and is mentioned numerous times in the Bible. The Hebrew name, "shaked", means industrious or vigilant, which is appropriate, as the almond is one of the first trees to flower in Israel, usually in early February, coinciding with Tu Bishvat, the Jewish arbor day.
In ancient Israel, the almond was a symbol of watchfulness and promise due to its early flowering, symbolizing God's sudden and rapid punishment of His people; in Jeremiah 1:11-12, for instance. In the Bible the almond is mentioned ten times, beginning with 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 usually translated as "hazel", but some believe it is another name for the almond (Luz in Arabic means Almonds). In India, consumption of almonds is believed to be good for the brain, while the Chinese consider it a symbol of enduring sadness and female beauty.
The word 'almond' comes from Old French almande or alemande, late Latin amandola, derived through a form amingdola from the Greek αμυγδαλη (cf Amygdala), an almond. The al- for a- may be due to a confusion with the Arabic article al, the word having first dropped the a- as in the Italian form mandorla; the British pronunciation ar-mond and the modern Catalan ametlla and modern French amande show the true form of the word.
- Almond milk, a milky drink made from ground almonds, similar to soy milk
- Almond Biscuit
- Almond Joy, a candy bar
- Turrón, a nougat-like Spanish dessert made from almonds
- Fruit trees
- Fruit tree forms
- Pruning fruit trees
- Fruit tree propagation
- List of edible seeds
- Germplasm Resources Information Network: Prunus dulcis
- Rushforth, K. (1999). Trees of Britain and Europe. Collins ISBN 0-00-220013-9.
- Huxley, A., ed. (1992). New RHS Dictionary of Gardening. Macmillan ISBN 0-333-47494-5.
- Zohary, D., & Hopf, M. (2000). Domestication of plants in the Old World, p. 186. Third edition, Oxford University Press.
- Diamond, J. (1999). Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies, p. 118. New York: Norton.
- Marketing Order 981: California Almonds. Federal Register, Docket No. FV06-981-2 FR
- Cantor, D., Fleischer, J., Green, J., & Israel, D. L. (2006). The Fruit of the Matter. mental_floss 5 (4): 12.
- White, G. Vitamin E and Minerals: Nutrition from Nuts. AllAboutVision.com. Retrieved August 20, 2006.
- Marcona almonds
- Davis, P. A., & Iwahashi, C. K. (2001). Whole almonds and almond fractions reduce aberrant crypt foci in a rat model of colon carcinogenesis. Cancer Letters 165 (1): 27-33. Available online
- Almonds and cholesterol at scienceblog.com
- Positive effect of almonds on blood lipids at the Journal of the Americal College of Nutrition
- Puri, H.S. (2003) RASAYANA: Ayurvedic Herbs for Longevity and Rejuvenation. Taylor and Francis, London, almond pages 59-63.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Prunus dulcis dulcis.|
- The Almond Board of California
- The Almond Board of California - fact sheet
- "Almonds Are In" Health and Nutrition site (The Almond Board of California)
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