Latin name: Prunus dulcis
Uses: nuts, butters, meal (flour), milk, oil, flavorings
Almonds are believed to be the first tree ever domesticated by humans, starting around 12,000 years ago. They’re related to peaches and other stone fruit, which makes perfect sense if you’ve ever seen whole almonds on the tree —they look like tiny green peaches with large pits.
Why is almond healthy?
Almonds provide a complete macronutrient profile, combining monounsaturated fats, dietary fiber, and antioxidants in one tasty bite. A perfect (and portable) snack, their many benefits may include enhanced brain function, heart disease prevention, reduced inflammation, bone health maintenance, improved digestion, and diabetes management. Try soaking raw almonds in water overnight, which begins the sprouting process, to increase the nutrient content even more.
What does almond taste like?
The primary component of almond’s signature smell is the organic compound benzaldehyde, which is also used to flavor almond extract and maraschino cherries. There’s a warm, spicy top note and toasty-brown nuttiness in roasted almonds, and a sweet creaminess to raw ones.
Where does almond grow?
Almonds are native to Iran but spread via human trade and migration throughout the Middle East, North Africa, the Mediterranean, and the Levant. Today, world production is mainly in the Central Valley of California. The pollination of California’s almond orchards is the largest annual human-managed pollination event in the world.
How do I prepare almond and what do I pair it with?
Almonds have hundreds of sweet and savory uses. You’d be hard-pressed to find a European pastry that doesn’t have some kind of almond in it; macarons, Bostock, marzipan, biscotti, and amaretti all place almonds on their rightful pedestal. Almonds go especially well with chocolate, and candied almonds are a traditional wedding favor meant to symbolize a sweet future for the marriage. Almonds are an integral ingredient in Middle Eastern and Central Asian pilafs; they’re also central to Mughlai curries and any dish labeled “amandine.”
Mix chopped or slivered almonds and brown butter sauce with green beans, asparagus, or pasta (though you’ll typically see trout or chicken amandine on menus). Add sliced, toasted almonds to a salad to give a bit extra protein and crunch, and almond extract amplifies the cherry flavor in anything with cherries (which share the same Prunus genus). Orgeat syrup lends a certain panache to tiki cocktails that you can’t get from pineapple juice and rum alone.
The progenitors of today’s almond were bitter and toxic due to amygdalin, also found in peach and apricot kernels, a compound that converts to cyanide when eaten. Sweet almonds — the only ones we cultivate for eating — produce very little of this compound.