Almonds are one of the most popular nuts in the country, especially now that they are being used as nutritional alternatives by the health food set. But how much do we really know about them? Here are some interesting things that I discovered about almonds.
Some varieties are poisonous.
The original almond variety was the bitter almond, which is still around today. This variety contains a chemical known as glycoside amygdalin, which is what gives the nut its bitter flavor in the first place. Said chemical breaks down into a substance known as cyanide. Yes, the same poison we all know. Though some studies suggest that cooking a bitter almond can remove the chemical, it’s best to just leave them alone. Though the edible (sweet) variety also contains cyanide, the levels are so small that it does not pose a threat to human health.
They are used in witchcraft.
Pagans have all sorts of traditions surrounding the almond. Climbing an almond tree is said to make you successful in business. In fact, the almond is associated with money and prosperity and is used in spells for these purposes. Almond wood also is used to make wands. The nuts supposedly cure fevers and drunkenness.
They are important symbols in the Christian religion, too.
In this case, almonds are said to represent divine favor and approval. The fact that the nut is concealed in an outer skin is said to relate to the essence of Christ hidden in the mortal human form. Almonds are also mentioned in numerous places throughout the Bible.
They are an important staple of California’s economy.
Almond growing and production accounts for around 110,000 jobs in the state, mostly in the Central Valley, where the nuts are grown. The industry adds somewhere between $6 and $9.2 billion to the economy every year. The United States is the world’s number one grower of almonds and California contributes up to 82% of the world’s almond crop.
They are being threatened by climate change.
Low water availability due to recent droughts in California, as well as record high temperatures in the region, have contributed to a decline in the almond growing industry in the last decade. Several farmers are leaving the business and almond orchards are being abandoned for less water-intensive crops, driving the price of the nut up. Following the droughts of the 2010s, orchards began to be planted in areas with no water availability, and in 2021 the crop yield estimates were drastically dropped following the arrival of a second drought. Critics say that the almond business is not sustainable in our current environment. However, industry leaders are working on ways to make almond growing more environmentally sound.
They have many uses.
Almonds can be made into milk, yogurt, creamer, and flour, which is used by health food enthusiasts and those who are allergic to milk or gluten. Almond oil is not only used in cooking, but also helps maintain healthy skin and hair, as well as treating wounds. Hulls from almonds are used as livestock feed and the shells for bedding. According to the Almond Board of California, even the trees are recycled into wood when they pass their usefulness as fruit bearers.
They are very nutritious.
Almonds are a good source of many nutrients, including vitamin E, magnesium, riboflavin, and phosphorus. They also contain calcium, iron, potassium, and niacin. Each serving has up to 13 grams of the “good” monounsaturated fat and only a single gram of saturated fat. Also, they have up to 6 grams of protein. Definitely a good nut to snack on!
They are related to many different fruits.
Almonds fall into the genus Prunus. This means they are closely related to plums, cherries, apricots, peaches, and nectarines. If you can’t see the relationship, just crack open a peach pit and look at its guts. There is a little almond-shaped seed inside. You can also see the relationship by looking at the trees, which very much resemble cherry or plum trees.
They come from Persia.
That’s right, almonds are native to Iran and surrounding territories, and some sources also say that they grow wild in China. Though they are a lot fewer and farther between today, you can still find wild almond trees growing in the country. Even more interestingly, almonds may have been one of the world’s first domesticated trees, and Iran is where it started.
They are still grown in Iran today.
The United States is, of course, the leader in the almond industry, growing around 2,370,021 tons of the nuts a year. Iran, however, is a leader in the farming of almonds. According to Science Agriculture, the other top five are Spain (416,950 tons), Australia (221,886 tons), Iran (164,348), and Turkey (159,187). Other leading growers are found in the Middle East and around the Mediterranean.
Of the many things that grew in our yard when I was a little kid were almonds. I remember getting in trouble for pulling green almonds off the tree and dissecting the husks to see what I found. Grandpa later introduced me to almond butter and I became a fan. The almond certainly an interesting fruit, and a delicious one. This particular article is also making me hungry, so I think I'm going to go get a snack.
The Livestrong Foundation- www.livestrong.org
University of Michigan- www.umich.edu
The Almond Board of California- www.almonds.com
The Sustainability Alliance- www.sustainabilityalliance.us
Encyclopedia Iranica- www.iranicaonline.org
Vern’s Toffee- www.vernstoffee.com
The Science Agriculture- www.scienceagri.com
Cunningham’s Encyclopedia of Magical Herbs, Scott Cunningham, 2003