Although there are different varieties of almonds, most of the nuts sold in the stores are simply labeled “almonds.” You can buy them shelled, or in the shell. They’re sold “natural” (with their brown skin on) and blanched (with the skin removed). Almonds are also sold sliced, slivered, or chopped.
Packaged almonds are widely available all year round. Almonds in the shell are easiest to find in fall and early winter. Green almonds are available in mid to late summer.
Roasted, flavored, and candied almonds are popular snacks. But whether raw or roasted, all almonds grown in North America are required by law to be pasteurized to prevent foodborne illnesses.
In addition to the common almond, here are a number of specialty almonds:
- Bitter almonds: Because raw bitter almonds contain traces of hydrogen cyanide, they can’t be sold in the United States. However, in their processed form, they are used to make almond extract and other almond-flavored products, such as almond liqueurs.
- Chinese almonds: These aren’t true almonds, but the kernels of several varieties of apricot that are grown specifically for their seeds. They are similar in flavor to bitter almonds, and also like bitter almonds, are mildly toxic if eaten raw. They should always be blanched or roasted before eating.
- Green almonds: These almonds have a green furry covering, much like a fuzzy peach. The furry covering is actually the almond “fruit,” and the almond is the seed within. In harvesting mature almonds, the fruit portion is discarded. But in the almond’s green stage, you can eat the whole fruit. The flesh of the fruit is crunchy and tastes like an unripe peach. The almond itself, since it hasn’t yet hardened into a seed, is soft and jellylike, with a faint almond flavor.
Other almond products
- Almond butter: Almonds are ground until they give off their own natural oils and become pasty. Almond butter can be used in place of peanut butter.
- Almond extract: Used in baking, this flavoring is produced by combining bitter almond oil with ethyl alcohol. It is quite strong and a little goes a long way.
- Almond flour: Almond flour is ground from the solids that remain after the nuts have been pressed for oil. The flour can be used in baking, or for breading fish or chicken.
- Almond oil: Made from roasted almonds, almond oil has the flavor of almonds, and can be used in baked goods, pastas, or drizzled over vegetables or bread.
- Almond paste: This rich paste is a combination of blanched ground almonds, sugar, and glycerin, which is added to help prevent crystals from forming. It is primarily used in baking and candy making. Marzipan is similar and often contains egg whites.