|Almond tree with ripening fruit. Majorca, Spain.|
The almond (Prunus amygdalus, syn. Prunus dulcis, Amygdalus communis, Amygdalus 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.
- 1 Description
- 2 Origin and history
- 3 Production
- 4 Sweet and bitter almonds
- 5 Culinary uses
- 6 Nutrition
- 7 Oils
- 8 Aflatoxins
- 9 Mandatory pasteurization in California
- 10 Cultural aspects
- 11 See also
- 12 References
- 13 External links
The almond is a deciduous tree, growing 4–10 m (13–33 ft) in height, with a trunk of up to 30 cm (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.
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 the plum 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 two occur.
Origin and history
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.
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 taxon Amygdalus 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 the Early 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 alemande, Late Latin *amandula, derived through a form amygdala from the Greek ἀμυγδαλή (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 form mandorla; 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), mandorlo (Italian), amêndoa (Portuguese), 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 an ellipse. See, for example, the brain structure amygdala, which uses a direct borrowing of the Greek term amygdalē.
The world produced 2.00 million tonnes of almonds in 2011 according to Food and Agriculture Organization, with United States the largest producer at 0.73 million tonnes. The apparent 50% decrease in production by the United States led to a calculated percent of world production decrease from 56% to 36%; however, a 2013 news article indicated that the United States produced at least 80% of the world's supply.
|Top Ten Almond with Shell Producers
in 2010, with 2011 data
|Country||Production 2010, 2011
|Yields 2010, 2011
|USA||1.41 0.73||4.85 4.50|
|Spain||0.22 0.21||0.40 0.40|
|Iran||0.16 0.17||2.97 1.91|
|Italy||0.11 0.10||1.26 1.39|
|Morocco||0.10 0.13||0.98 1.52|
|Syria||0.073 0.13||1.49 2.52|
|Afghanistan||0.056 0.061||5.00 4.50|
|Turkey||0.055 0.070||3.23 3.41|
|Tunisia||0.052 0.061||0.32 0.32|
|Algeria||0.039 0.050||1.16 1.80|
|World Total||2.51 2.00||1.62 1.27|
Spain has one of the most diverse commercial cultivars of almonds. 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. 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.
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 'Tuono', 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 offers 60–65% edible kernel per nut. The 'Tuono', however, has thicker, hairier shells and offers only 32% of edible kernel per nut, but having a thick shell has advantages. 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 the 'Nonpareil', resulting in hybridized varieties of almond trees that are self-pollinated and maintain a high nut quality. The new, self-pollinating hybrids possess quality skin color, flavor, and oil content, and reduce almond growers’ dependency on insect pollination.
Almond trees can be attacked by an array of damaging organisms, including insects, fungal pathogens, plant viruses and bacteria. Symptoms can vary depending on the organism attacking the plant.
Sweet and bitter almonds
The seeds of Prunus dulcis var. dulcis are predominantly 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 glucosides, amygdalin and prunasin, yielding glucose, cyanide 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 sold as food in the United States are of the "sweet" variety. However, The US Food and Drug Administration reported in 2010 that some fractions of imported sweet almonds were contaminated with bitter almonds. Eating such almonds could result in vertigo and other typical bitter almond (cyanide) poisoning effects.
Certain health food stores sell "bitter almonds," or "apricot kernels," labeled as such.
|This section needs additional citations for verification. (October 2010)|
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 marzipan, nougat, many pastries (including jesuites), cookies (including French macarons, macaroons), and cakes (including financiers), 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. They are available only from mid-April to mid-June in the Northern Hemisphere; pickling or brining extends the fruit's shelf life.
- 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. 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 Puglia and 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 of Essaouira 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 Indian cuisine, almonds are the base ingredients of pasanda-style curries. Badam 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 Pakistani cuisine, almonds are the base ingredients of many food items. Meat dishes containing almonds include pasanda-style or Mughalai curries. Badam 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. 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, and the shell of the nut is 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.
|This section needs additional citations for verification. (October 2010)|
The Grocer's Encyclopedia (1911) noted, "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.
|Nutritional value per 100 g (3.5 oz)|
|Energy||2,408 kJ (576 kcal)|
|- Starch||0.74 g|
|- Sugars||3.89 g|
|- Lactose||0.00 g|
|- Dietary fiber||12.2 g|
|- saturated||3.731 g|
|- monounsaturated||30.889 g|
|- polyunsaturated||12.070 g|
|- Tryptophan||0.214 g|
|- Threonine||0.598 g|
|- Isoleucine||0.702 g|
|- Leucine||1.488 g|
|- Lysine||0.580 g|
|- Methionine||0.151 g|
|- Cystine||0.189 g|
|- Phenylalanine||1.120 g|
|- Tyrosine||0.452 g|
|- Valine||0.817 g|
|- Arginine||2.446 g|
|- Histidine||0.557 g|
|- Alanine||1.027 g|
|- Aspartic acid||2.911 g|
|- Glutamic acid||6.810 g|
|- Glycine||1.469 g|
|- Proline||1.032 g|
|- Serine||0.948 g|
|Vitamin A||1 IU|
|- beta-carotene||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%)|
|Choline||52.1 mg (11%)|
|Vitamin E||26.2 mg (175%)|
|Vitamin K||0.0 μg (0%)|
|Calcium||264 mg (26%)|
|Iron||3.72 mg (29%)|
|Magnesium||268 mg (75%)|
|Manganese||2.285 mg (109%)|
|Phosphorus||484 mg (69%)|
|Potassium||705 mg (15%)|
|Sodium||1 mg (0%)|
|Zinc||3.08 mg (32%)|
|Link to USDA Database entry
Percentages are roughly approximated
using US recommendations for adults.
Source: USDA Nutrient Database
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. 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. They are also rich in dietary fiber, B vitamins, essential 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.
Potential health benefits, which have not been scientifically validated, include improved complexion and possibly a lower risk of cancer. Preliminary research associates consumption of almonds with elevating blood levels of high density lipoproteins and lowering low 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 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 syndrome, contact urticaria) to systemic symptoms including anaphylaxis (e.g., urticaria, angioedema, gastrointestinal and respiratory symptoms).
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% is linoleic 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 dried kernel of sweet almonds.
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 of salmonellosis 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 Almond Board of California claims “PPO residue dissipates after treatment”; however, the EPA reports “Propylene oxide has been detected in fumigated food products; consumption of contaminated food is another possible route of exposure.” PPO is classified by the EPA as a “Group B2, probable human carcinogen.”
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.
In the Hebrew Bible, 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. The Arabic name for almond is "laoz". In some parts of the Levant it is pronounced "loz", which is very close to its Aramaic origin.
- Fruit tree forms
- Fruit tree propagation
- Fruit trees
- List of edible seeds
- Pruning fruit trees
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- This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain: Ward, Artemas (1911). The Grocer's Encyclopedia.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Almonds (Prunus dulcis).|
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- The Almond Doctor University of California Cooperative Extension Website on Almond Production
- Almond Production Manual Published by University of California Agriculture and Natural Resources, this handbook includes amongst other chapters a history of almonds, trends in orchard management, and almond farm economics.
- CSIC, Spain A Government of Spain website for European publications on tree nuts including almonds