Almonds: The Nut With A Distinction
Tasty, satisfying, and versatile. These best describes Almonds. Whether sprinkled over sundaes and ice cream, added to low-fat yogurt, included in a healthy trail mix, stuffed in chocolate bars, or munched on their own, almonds have a toasty crunch that's perfect for any time of day, and for many other foods.
The almond tree is similar to peach tree in its general size, manner of growth, blossoms, and leaves. Almond blossoms, however, appear earlier in the spring than peach blossoms. The almond fruit also resembles the peach in structure, although it lacks the sweet fleshy outer covering. Instead, it has a leathery coat, called a hull, which contains the edible kernel, commonly called a nut, inside a hard shell. This hull splits at maturity, revealing the usually thin shell with its edible kernel inside. We eat the flesh of the peach and discard the pit and enclosed kernel, while the hull of the almond is discarded and the kernel of the nut is eaten. Almond nuts may be consumed raw, roasted, or toasted, whole or sliced, alone, or in candy, confections, or prepared dishes.
Global production of almonds is around 1.5 million tons. Major producers include Greece, Iran, Italy, Morocco, Portugal, Spain, Syria, Turkey, and the world's largest producer, the United States. 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.
An almond tree may remain in production 50 years or more. The trees are usually planted 20 to 30 feet apart. Almonds prosper where summer temperatures are hot and dry, but they require chilling during dormancy, with a minimum of freezing weather. During flowering, fair weather with daytime temperatures is essential to permit flight of pollinating insects.
Sweet and bitter almonds
There are two types of almonds, the sweet almonds (often with white flowers) and the bitter almonds (often with pink flowers).
Sweet almonds have soft-shelled covering, which are porous, highly fragile shell. Sweet almonds are generally of an oval, flattened or roundish shape, are tender and have a sweetish flavor. Bitter almonds are generally smaller and more pointed than sweet almonds and have an astringent, bitter flavor.
The sweet almond is the earliest to flower, and is cultivated more largely than the bitter almond. Sweet almonds are mainly eaten raw and are also used to produce bakery products, confectionery, marzipan and dessert powder and for roasting, as well as in medicine, being rich in a bland oil, and sustaining as a nutriment. The seeds of bitter almonds are used chiefly as a source of Almond Oil, but also yield a volatile oil, which is largely employed as a flavoring agent.
Great care should be exercised on using the bitter almonds, especially with regard to children, as it possesses dangerous poisonous properties. Although boiling or baking of the bitter almonds drives off most of the poisonous contents, hydrocyanic acid, so that there is no need to fear any harmful effects from eating them once cooked.
Culinary and Medicinal Uses of Almonds
Crunchy, handy almonds have been sighted in many new breakfast, snack, and salad products. While the almond is most often eaten on its own, raw or toasted, it is used in some dishes. Along with other nuts, it is often sprinkled over desserts, particularly sundaes and other ice cream based dishes. There is also almond butter, a spread similar to peanut butter.
The sweet almond contains practically no carbohydrates and is made into flour for cakes and biscuits for low carbohydrate diets or for patients suffering from diabetes mellitus or any other form of glycosuria. This also makes almond flour very desirable for use in cake and bread recipes by people on carbohydrate-restricted diets.
Almond extract is also a popular substitute for vanilla extract among people with diabetes. Sweet almonds are used in marzipan, nougat, and macaroons, as well as other desserts. Almonds are a rich source of Vitamin E, they are also rich in monounsaturated fat, one of the two "good" fats responsible for lowering LDL cholesterol.
In China, almonds are used in a popular dessert when it is mixed with milk and then served hot.
Several research studies continue to show the healthful qualities of almonds as a perfect nutritional "boost" to meals and snacks. These researches found out that:
- Almonds are one of the most heart-healthy foods around, with its ability to lower cholesterol.
- Almonds are the most nutritionally dense nut. A one-ounce, 164-calorie serving of almonds, or about a handful, is an excellent source of vitamin E and magnesium, and a good source of fiber. It also offers heart-healthy monounsaturated fat, protein, potassium, calcium, phosphorous and iron.
- Eating almonds may help maintain or even lose weight. Almonds' heart-healthy monounsaturated fat is very satiating, helping satisfy the appetite and prevent patients from overeating.
The fixed Oil of Almonds is extracted from both bitter and sweet Almonds. If intended for external use, it must be prepared only from Sweet Almonds.
The almond nuts are ground in a mill after removing the reddish-brown powder adhering to them and then subjected to hydraulic pressure, the expressed oil being afterwards filtered and bleached, preferably by exposure to light.
Almond oil is a clear, pale yellow, odorless liquid, with a bland, nutty taste. It consists chiefly of Olein, with a small proportion of the Glyceride of Linolic Acid and other Glycerides, but contains no Stearin. It is thus very similar in composition to Olive Oil (for which it may be used as a pleasant substitute), but it is devoid of Chlorophyll, and usually contains a somewhat larger proportion of Olein than Olive Oil.
Almond oil is used in trade, as well as medicinally, being most valuable as a lubricant for the delicate works of watches, and is much employed as an ingredient in toilet soap, for its softening action on the skin. It is also a good remedy for chapped hands.