Almonds belong to the rose family and are related to stone fruits such as peaches, apricots, and plums. In fact, almonds grow inside a fruit that is covered in a peach-like fuzz. When the velvety almond fruit ripens, it splits open to reveal the shell that envelops the almond nut. When roasted, almonds develop a rich, nutty flavor that goes well with both savory and sweet dishes.
Native to Asia, the almond has been consumed by humans for thousands of years. In fact, the almond is mentioned in the Book of Genesis numerous times. In the 1100s, the Phoenicians most likely introduced the nut to the Mediterranean region.
Dishes calling for almonds were common throughout Europe, and almond milk (ground almonds steeped in hot water) was used in soup and as a digestive aid.
Almonds were first introduced to the United States in the mid-19th century, and today are primarily grown commercially in California. They also are grown commercially in parts of the Mediterranean. Alas, almond trees need a great deal of water, and the crop has generated controversy during times of drought in California.
Like some other nuts, almonds are rich in vitamin E, and they also provide protein, riboflavin, iron, and magnesium. Their fat content is mostly monounsaturated fat, about 10 grams per ounce. Studies indicate that almonds and other nuts have a protective effect upon heart health, when part of a diet low in saturated fat.
In addition, almonds are an excellent source of fiber. Almonds supply 3 grams per ounce—more fiber than most other nuts. Although almonds are brimming with nutritional benefits, don’t go overboard with them, because, like other nuts, they are high in calories.
For a full listing of nutrients, see Almonds in the National Nutrient Database.
Types of Almonds
In addition to the common almond, there are a number of specialty almonds as well as almond butter, almond flour, and other almond products.
How to choose the best almonds
For the sake of freshness, buy almonds in sealed packages when possible. When buying from a bulk source, choose a store where there’s a rapid turnover and where the bulk foods are kept in covered containers. Smell the almonds to be sure that they’re fresh.
How to store almonds
Like all nuts, almonds have a high fat content, which makes them susceptible to spoilage. To keep them fresh if not using right away, freeze them in their original unopened package or in a tightly covered jar or a zip-close plastic bag. It’s not necessary to thaw the almonds before using them in cooked dishes.
How to blanch almonds
If a recipe calls for blanched almonds, you can easily blanch them yourself. Drop unblanched almonds into a pan of boiling water and boil 30 seconds. Drain and, with your fingers, pop the almonds out of their skins. Dry before using. You can also substitute unblanched almonds in the recipe. The dish will taste the same, but you may see some brown specks from the skin.
6 recipe ideas for almonds and almond butter
- Use almond butter in place of peanut butter in your favorite cookie recipe.
- Coat fish in coarsely ground almonds and bake or sauté until golden brown and cooked through.
- Add toasted sliced or slivered almonds to pasta dishes just before serving.
- Substitute almonds for pine nuts in a traditional pesto recipe.
- Stuff dates or prunes with whole almonds.
- Add toasted whole, sliced, or slivered almonds to chilis and stews just before serving, or use the almonds as a condiment to add at the table.
See also: How to Buy Nuts and Nut Butters.
Published December 07, 2015