Are you nuts about almonds? Happy humans have been munching on the crunchy delights since the beginning of writing. They are thought to have originated in China and Central Asia before spreading to Biblical Egypt, Greece, Turkey, and the Middle East – all the lands that lay along the fabled Silk road which connected the Mediterranean with Asia.
Before we go any further, to set the record straight, botanists – plant scientists – categorize the almond not as a nut but as a stone fruit. That’s right: almonds are related to cherries, plums, and peaches.
Almond trees thrived in the hot and dry climates found in Spain and Italy, and elsewhere along both sides of the Mediterranean seacoast. Ancient documents noted that almonds were a highly-valued ingredient in breads served to the Egyptian pharaohs.
Franciscan Padres is credited with bringing the almond tree to California from Spain in the mid-1700s to Christian missions along the American West Coast. But the cooler, foggy conditions next to the Pacific Ocean did not provide a good growing environment.
Only in the 1800s did California almond growers plant trees further inland in the fertile soils west of the Sierra Nevada mountains:
“By the 1870s, research and cross-breeding had developed several of today’s prominent almond varieties. By the turn of the 20th century, the almond industry was firmly established in the Sacramento and San Joaquin areas of California’s great Central Valley.”
Centuries before that, the Biblical Book of Numbers says that when Moses “went into the Tabernacle of the Covenant the next day, he found that Aaron’s staff, representing the tribe of Levi, had sprouted, budded, blossomed, and produced ripe almonds!” Some biblical scholars interpret this recorded event as a miraculous symbol of divine approval for the almond.
The ancient Romans (before their Fall) substituted almonds, representing fertility, for the rice now pelted at newlyweds leaving for their honeymoon. Today, many Americans give wedding guests a bag of sugared almonds to symbolize abundance, happiness, children, romance, good health, and great fortune.
One traditional Swedish custom is to serve a Yuletide rice pudding flavored with cinnamon with one single raw almond stirred into one single dessert serving. The person lucky enough to discover the almond hiding within their sweet after-dinner treat (called Risgrynsgröt) will be next to be married.
Did you know that California is the only place in North America where almonds are grown commercially? Over the past 30 years, almond harvests from the Golden State have increased four-fold, with over 450,000 acres in the San Joaquin and Sacramento valleys under cultivation.
Over 90 nations buy California almonds. Outside the U.S., Germany is the largest almond importer, eating up (literally) approximate one-quarter of the American export crop. Japan ranks second, gobbling up about 12 percent of West Coast almonds.
Almonds have been ranked #1 for nutritional food value and eating only a handful a day can give you loads of benefits, including:
- Better digestion
- Moister skin
- Protection from heart disease
- Reduced food cravings
- Shinier hair
- Healthier cells
- Lower cholesterol
- Reduced risk of diabetes
- Lower blood pressure
- Feeling full (satisfied appetite)
Because almonds are so high in protein, carbohydrates, and fiber, eating some every day can help with weight loss goals. They are a much better snack choice than chips or even popcorn.
Eating almonds satisfies the appetite, reduces food cravings and the urge to splurge on junk calories between meals, and actually provide nourishment the body needs – unlike junk foods.
Look how much goodness a mere 1/4 cup of almonds – about a handful – contains:
7 grams of carbohydrates
5 grams of fiber
5 grams of protein
5 grams of sugar
4 milligrams of riboflavin
16 milligrams of vitamin E
8 milligrams of manganese
97 milligrams of magnesium
33 milligrams of iron
96 milligrams of calcium
172 milligrams of phosphorus
Enjoy almonds just about any way imaginable: straight-up whole and raw, chopped by hand or in a blender or food processor, purchased sliced (for cooking or baking), ground into a flour, made into a butter (which is absolutely fabulous as a substitute for peanut butter), or juiced (called almond milk).
Eat these dried fruits all by themselves or in any of their many forms, as a distinctive and welcome addition to any meal or munch – morning, noon or night.
American actress Michelle Forbes, admired by science fans around the world for her role as Ensign Ro Laren in Star Trek: The Next Generation, admitted she does just that:
“One of my last few vices is coffee, but with a spot of almond or soymilk, it’s never tasted better!”