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Facts On Almonds

The Almond (Prunus dulcis, syn. Prunus amygdalus, or Amygdalus communis) is a small deciduous tree belonging to the subfamily Prunoideae of the family Rosaceae. An almond is also the fruit of this tree. It is classified with the peach in the subgenus Amygdalus within Prunus, distinguished from the other subgenera by the corrugated seed shell.

The fruit lacks the sweet fleshy outer covering of other members of Prunus (such as the plum and cherry), this being replaced by a leathery coat, called a hull, which contains the edible kernel, commonly called a nut, inside a hard shell. In botanical parlance, the reticulated hard stony shell is called an endocarp, and the fruit, or exocarp, is a drupe, having a downy outer coat.

The tree is probably a native of southwest Asia and north Africa, but has been so extensively cultivated for so long over the warm temperate regions of the Old World that its original natural distribution is obscure. It can ripen fruit as far north as the British Isles. It is a tree of moderate size; the leaves are lanceolate, and serrated at the edges; and it flowers early in spring.

Production
Global production of almonds is around 1.5 million tons, with a low of 1 million tons in 1995 and a peak of 1.85 million tons in 2002 FAO figures (pdf file). Major producers include Greece, Iran, Italy, Morocco, Portugal, Spain, Syria, Turkey, and the United States. In Spain, numerous commercial cultivars of sweet almond are produced, most notably the Jordan almond and the Valencia almond. In the United States, production is concentrated in California, with almonds being California's sixth leading agricultural product and its top agricultural export. California exported almonds valued at 1.08 billion dollars in 2003, about 70% of total California almond crop.

Pollination
The pollination of California's almonds is the largest annual managed pollination event in the world, with close to one million hives (nearly half of all beehives in the USA) being trucked in February to the almond groves. Much of the pollination is managed by pollination brokers, who contract with migratory beekeepers from at least 38 states for the event.

Sweet and bitter almond
There are two forms of the plant, one (often with white flowers) producing sweet almonds, and the other (often with pink flowers) producing bitter almonds. The kernel of the former contains a fixed oil and emulsion. As late as the early 20th century the oil was used internally in medicine, with the stipulation that it must not be adulterated with that of the bitter almond; it remains fairly popular in alternative medicine, particularly as a carrier oil in aromatherapy, but has fallen out of prescription among doctors.
The bitter almond is rather broader and shorter than the sweet almond, and contains about 50% of the fixed oil which also occurs in sweet almonds. It also contains a ferment emulsion which, in the presence of water, acts on a soluble glucoside, amygdaline, yielding glucose, cyanide and the essential oil of bitter almonds or benzaldehyde. Bitter almonds may yield from 6 to 8% of prussic acid (also known as hydrogen cyanide). Extract of bitter almond was once used medicinally but even in small doses effects are severe and in larger doses can be deadly; the prussic acid must be removed before consumption.

Almond oil
"Oleum Amygdalae", the fixed oil, is prepared from either variety of almond and is a glyceryl oleate, with slight odor and a nutty taste. It is almost insoluble in alcohol but readily soluble in chloroform or ether. It may be used as a substitute for olive oil. The sweet almond oil is obtained from the dried kernel of the plant. This oil has been traditionally used by massage therapists to lubricate the skin during a massage session, being considered by many to be an effective emollient.

Culinary uses
While the almond is most often eaten raw, it is used in some dishes. It, along with other nuts, is often sprinkled over desserts, particularly sundaes and other ice cream based dishes. It is also used in Baklava. There is also almond butter, a spread similar to peanut butter, popular with peanut allergy sufferers and for its less salty taste.

The sweet almond itself contains practically no starch and may therefore be made into flour for cakes and biscuits for patients suffering from diabetes mellitus or any other form of glycosuria. Almond extract is also a popular substitute for vanilla extract among people with diabetes. Sweet almonds are used in marzipan, nougat, and macaroons, as well as other desserts. Almonds are a rich source of Vitamin E, containing 24 mg per 100 grams [1]. They are also rich in monounsaturated fat, one of the two "good" fats responsible for lowering LDL cholesterol.

In China, almonds are used in a popular dessert when it is mixed with milk and then served hot.

Almond milk is a milky drink made from ground almonds, not unlike soy milk or rice milk. Unlike animal milk, almond milk contains no cholesterol or lactose and can be used as a substitute for animal milk in many recipes.

Historically, almond milk was consumed over a region stretching from the Iberian Peninsula to East Asia. In the middle ages, almond milk was known in both the Islamic world and Christendom, where its vegan composition made it suitable for consumption during Lent. The Viandier by Taillevent, a 14th century cookbook by the chef to the French kings Charles V and Charles VI, contains a recipe for almond milk. Before the influx of Mainland Chinese after the Chinese Civil War, almond milk was more commonplace in Taiwan than soy milk.
Commercial almond milk products come in plain, vanilla, or chocolate flavors. They are often enriched with vitamins. It can also be made at home by combining ground almonds with water in a blender. Vanilla flavoring and sweetener can be added. Historically, almond milk was also called amygdalate.

 

  Copyright © 2006 Andy's Market. This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article "Almonds".


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