Suppression

Almonds

Category: Food

Type

Voluntary

Introduction and description

 

The almond  (Prunus dulcis, syn. Prunus amygdalus, Amygdalus communis, Amygdalus dulcis) (or badam in Indian English, from Persian: بادام‎‎) is a species of tree native to the Middle East and South Asia.

"Almond" is also the name of the edible and widely cultivated seed of this tree. Within the genus Prunus, it is classified with the peach in the subgenus Amygdalus, distinguished from the other subgenera by the corrugated shell (endocarp) surrounding the seed.

The word "almond" comes from Old French almande or alemande, derived through a form amygdala from the Greek ἀμυγδαλή (amygdalē) (cf. amygdala), an almond.  The adjective "amygdaloid" (literally "like an almond") is used to describe objects which are roughly almond-shaped, for example, the brain structure amygdala.

Distribution

 

The Almond tree is a native of the Mediterranean climate region of the Middle East, eastward as far as the Indus River in Pakistan, but it has been extensively distributed over the warm temperate region of the Old World, and is cultivated in all the countries bordering on the Mediterranean. It was very early introduced into England, probably by the Romans, but chiefly for its blossom.  In Iran, India, Afghanistan and Pakistan, it is known as bādām.

World production of almonds was 2.9 million tonnes in 2013, with the United States as the largest producer of 1.8 million tonnes.  In 2015, environmental problems in California affected the almond supply, contributing to higher almond prices worldwide. Australia is the largest almond production region in the Southern Hemisphere, and second largest producing country.

Turkey, Italy, the Middle Eastern countries, Spain and Greece all produce almonds, but there are far more varieties grown here than in the USA or Australia.  Greece, for example produces 'Ferragnes' which has a sweet taste and is premium quality. Because of its quality, it is used as a luxury nut. In contrast, California's almonds are grown on an industrial monoculture scale.  Close to one million hives of honey bees (nearly half of all beehives in the USA) are trucked in February to the almond groves for pollination. This has been heavily affected by ‘colony collapse disorder’ – sick bees.

Description

The almond is a deciduous tree, growing 4–10 m (13–33 ft) in height, with a trunk of up to 30 cm (12 in) in diameter. The young twigs are green at first, becoming purplish where exposed to sunlight, then grey in their second year.

 

The leaves are 3–5 inches long, with a serrated margin and a 2.5 cm (1 in) petiole.

The flowers are white to pale pink, 3–5 cm (1–2 in) diameter with five petals, produced singly or in pairs and appearing before the leaves in early spring.

The almond fruit measures 3.5–6 cm (1–2 in) long. In botanical terms, it is not a nut, but a drupe. The outer covering or exocarp, fleshy in other members of Prunus such as the plum and cherry, is instead a thick, leathery, grey-green coat (with a downy exterior), called the hull. Inside the hull is a reticulated, hard, woody shell (like the outside of a peach pit) called the endocarp. Inside the shell is the edible seed, commonly called a nut. Generally, one seed is present, but occasionally two occur.

 

Almond grows best in Mediterranean climates with warm, dry summers and mild, wet winters. The optimal temperature for their growth is between 15 and 30 °C (59 and 86 °F) and the tree buds have a chilling requirement of 300 to 600 hours below 7.2 °C (45.0 °F) to break dormancy.

Almonds begin bearing an economic crop in the third year after planting. Trees reach full bearing five to six years after planting. The fruit matures in the autumn, 7–8 months after flowering.

Types

There are two principal forms of the Almond – the Sweet and the Bitter almond.

  • Sweet Almond – The seeds of Prunus dulcis var. dulcis are predominantly sweet.  This tree has entirely pink flowers.  It synonym is  Amygdalus communis, var. dulcis. The Sweet Almond is the earliest to flower, and is extensively cultivated. It is valuable as a food and for confectionery purposes, as well as in medicine. This is the almond we eat now, but there were once serious problems with bitter almonds creeping into the sweet almond supply.
  • Bitter almond  - the other, A. communis, var. amara, with flowers slightly larger, and the petals almost white towards the tips, deepening into rose at the base. It is only the Bitter Almond in the use of which caution is necessary, especially with regard to children, as it possesses dangerous poisonous properties.  Also called Prunus dulcis var. amara , the fruits from this tree are always bitter.  The bitter almond is slightly broader and shorter than the sweet almond, and contains about 50% of the fixed oil that occurs in sweet almonds. It also contains the enzyme emulsin which, in the presence of water, acts on soluble glucosides, amygdalin, and prunasin, yielding glucose, cyanide and the essential oil of bitter almonds, which is nearly pure benzaldehyde, the chemical causing the bitter flavor. Bitter almonds may yield from 4–9 mg of hydrogen cyanide per almond] and contain 42 times higher amounts of cyanide than the trace levels found in sweet almonds.
 

The wild form of domesticated almond grows in parts of the Levant; almonds must first have been taken into cultivation in this region. The fruit of the wild forms contains the glycoside amygdalin, "which becomes transformed into deadly prussic acid (hydrogen cyanide) after crushing, chewing, or any other injury to the seed."  Eating even a few dozen in one sitting can be fatal.

Selection of the sweet type, from the many bitter types in the wild, marked the beginning of almond domestication. It is thought that a genetic mutation caused an absence of amygdalin, and this mutant was selected and possibly grown from seed.  We will never know how it happened as despite speculation, all this happened before even the Early Bronze Age (3000–2000 BC), as the archaeological sites of Numeria (Jordan), contains an archaeological example of the sweet almond, as does Tutankhamun's tomb in Egypt (c. 1325 BC).

Medicinal uses and nutrition

The observations below indicate that the almond is exceptionally nutritious and has many interesting medicinal properties.  If we first take a look at the amino-acids and fatty acids, we see the following :

Nutritional value per 100 g (3.5 oz)

Saturated

3.731 g

Monounsaturated

30.889 g

Polyunsaturated

12.070 g

Amino acids

 

Tryptophan

0.214 g

Threonine

0.598 g

Isoleucine

0.702 g

Leucine

1.488 g

Lysine

0.580 g

Methionine

0.151 g

Cystine

0.189 g

Phenylalanine

1.120 g

Tyrosine

0.452 g

Valine

0.817 g

Arginine

2.446 g

Histidine

0.557 g

Alanine

1.027 g

Aspartic acid

2.911 g

Glutamic acid

6.810 g

Glycine

1.469 g

Proline

1.032 g

Serine

0.948 g

 

 

 

Now the vitamins.  Although almonds have no Vitamin C or D and only a trace of Vitamin A, they are very high in vitamins such as Vitamin E and high in the B vitamins.

Vitamins

Vitamin A

1 IU

Thiamine (B1)

0.211 mg

Riboflavin (B2)

1.014 mg

Niacin (B3)

3.385 mg

Pantothenic acid (B5)

0.469 mg

Vitamin B6

0.143 mg

Folate (B9)

50 μg

Choline

52.1 mg

Vitamin C

0 mg

Vitamin D

0 μg

Vitamin E

26.2 mg

Vitamin K

0.0 μg

 The almond is a rich source of the essential minerals calcium, iron, magnesium, manganese, phosphorus, and zinc; and a good source of the essential mineral potassium.

Minerals

Calcium

264 mg

Iron

3.72 mg

Magnesium

268 mg

Manganese

2.285 mg

Phosphorus

484 mg

Potassium

705 mg

Sodium

1 mg

Zinc

3.08 mg

 

 

Method

Marzipan fruits

Whole almonds may be smoked, toasted, and salted.  

Blanched almonds are shelled almonds that have been treated with hot water to soften the seedcoat, which is then removed to reveal the white embryo.

They may be sliced (flaked or slivered), and ground. If ground very finely they become a flour. One of the recent wonderful discoveries is that ground almonds or almond flour – being gluten free -  can be used instead of wheat flour.  Both are actually tastier than flour and add a great deal of richness to cakes as well as savoury dishes.  If added to soups they thicken and add texture.

Almonds are used in nougat [chopped], French macarons/macaroons, noghl, and other sweets and desserts. They are also used to make almond butter, a spread similar to peanut butter, popular with peanut allergy sufferers and for its naturally sweeter taste.

Marzipan or almond paste is made from ground almonds and in the UK is used to decorate Christmas cakes and wedding cakes, royal icing is placed over the marzipan.  In mainland Europe, marzipan is used to make marzipan ‘fruits’ at Christmas. 

almond 'fruits'

In Apulia and Sicily, pasta di mandorle (almond paste) is used to make small soft cakes, often decorated with pistachios, or chocolate. Southwestern Berber regions of Essaouira and Souss are also known for amlou, a spread made of almond paste, argan oil, and honey. Almond paste is also mixed with honey, olive oil or butter, anise, fennel, sesame seeds, and cinnamon to make sellou (also called zamita in Meknes or slilou in Marrakech), a sweet snack known for its long shelf life and high nutritive value.

The young, developing fruit of the almond tree can be eaten whole ("green almonds") when they are still green and fleshy on the outside and the inner shell has not yet hardened. The fruit is somewhat sour, but is a popular snack in parts of the Middle East, eaten dipped in salt to balance the sour taste. Also in the Middle East they are often eaten with dates. They are available only from mid-April to mid-June in the Northern Hemisphere; pickling or brining extends the fruit's shelf life.

Gluten free Chocolate & Almond Cake

Chocolate & Almond Cake is a community recipe submitted by SophieSophieSophie and has not been tested by Nigella.com”.  This is an Austrian recipe.  The sugar can be replaced by honey.

5 eggs

200 grams butter

200 grams sugar

200 grams plain chocolate

200 grams ground almonds

 

Melt the chocolate and butter together, then mix in the almonds. Set aside to cool a little.

Separate 4 of the eggs. Mix 1 whole egg and 4 yolks with the sugar. Blend this with the chocolatey mixture.

Beat the 4 remaining egg whites until they are stiff. Using a metal spoon, carefully fold the egg whites into the chocolatey mixture.

Pour into a non-stick spring-form baking tin and bake at 175-180 for 45 mins.

 

 

Gluten free rich fruit cake

This can be covered with glace fruits as a decoration or with marzipan and marzipan fruits.  It can also be used to make a Simnel cake, which has a marzipan topping and filling, along with apricot or peach jam in both the filling and topping.  The jam is used to fix the marzipan to the top of the cake.

1 cup finely ground blanched almonds
½ cup raw sugar
1 teaspoon ground cardamom
½ teaspoon ground nutmeg
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon sea salt
¼ teaspoon baking soda
¼ teaspoon baking powder
1 cup chopped pecans
1 cup chopped walnuts
1 cup chopped almonds
2 cups finely chopped figs
½ cup chopped dried cherries
½ cup dried cranberries
3 large eggs, lightly beaten
¼ cup maple syrup
1 tablespoon brandy, almond extract, or vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 300°F. Lightly grease a bread loaf pan; line with parchment paper.

Mix together ground almonds, sugar, cardamom, nutmeg, cinnamon, salt, baking soda and baking powder in a large bowl. Stir in mixed nuts and dried fruits.

In a separate medium bowl, whisk together eggs, maple syrup and brandy until smooth. Add to fruit/nut mixture; mix well until fully combined (batter will be thick). Spread batter into prepared pan evenly.

Bake until fruitcake is brown and pulls away from sides of the pan, about 65 to 75 minutes. Remove from oven; cool on a wire rack 10 to 20 minutes. Remove from pan and cool completely on wire rack. Keeps for 2 to 3 weeks at room temperature, covered lightly

 

 Simnel cake

Norma MacMillan’s Chicken and banana korma

Korma recipes use ground almonds and there are all sorts of variations on this basic theme.  Chicken, mushroom and spinach korma, for example, using ground cardamom seeds, cinnamon and ground instead of fresh ginger. All use yoghurt, the creamier the better.  The following is a simple recipe.  Even with this you can ring the changes using mango instead of banana.  Serve with basmati rice and crispy grilled poppadoms or naan bread.

1 large mild onion, roughly chopped

1 large fresh red chilli, seeded

5 cm (2 in) piece fresh root ginger, chopped

3 garlic cloves

2 tbsp sunflower oil

1 tbsp garam masala

450 ml (15 fl oz) chicken stock

55 g (2 oz) ground almonds

8 skinless boneless chicken thighs, about 450 g (1 lb) in total

150 g (5½ oz) plain low-fat yogurt

2 tsp cornflour

2 large bananas

2 tbsp chopped fresh coriander, plus extra to garnish

2 tbsp toasted flaked almonds (optional)

 

Lime and apple raita

grated zest and juice of ½ lime

2 red-skinned apples, cored and roughly chopped

1 small red onion or 2 shallots, finely chopped

2 tbsp finely chopped fresh coriander

 

 

Put the onion, chilli, ginger and peeled garlic in a food processor and process to a smooth purée. Alternatively, very finely chop the onion, chilli, ginger and garlic with a sharp knife.

Heat the oil in a large non-stick pan and fry the onion mixture for about 10 minutes or until softened, stirring more frequently towards the end of the cooking time to prevent the mixture from sticking.

Add the garam masala and stir to mix. Pour in the stock and stir in the ground almonds. Add the chicken thighs. Cover the pan and leave to simmer gently for 25 minutes.

Meanwhile, take 1 tbsp of the yogurt and place in a bowl with all the ingredients for the lime and apple raita. Stir to mix. Set aside.

Mix the cornflour into the remaining yogurt. Add this mixture to the curry and simmer, stirring constantly, until thickened.

Peel and slice the bananas, then add to the curry with the chopped coriander. Cook for just a few more minutes to warm the bananas. Serve the curry hot, sprinkled with chopped coriander and the toasted almonds, if using, with the raita alongside.

 

 

 

 

Madhur Jaffrey’s Royal Lamb with a creamy almond sauce

Madhur Jaffrey also has a wonderful recipe along similar lines for a whole leg of leg deeply scored with a sharp knife which is then marinaded in the paste overnight covered in clingfilm. 

The clingfilm is removed and the lamb is then slow roasted in the oven until just pink.

 

 

8 garlic cloves
2.5cm (1in) cube fresh ginger, peeled and chopped
50g (2oz) blanched, slivered almonds
7 tablespoons vegetable oil
900g (2lb) boned lamb from the shoulder or leg, cut into 2.5cm (1in) cubes
10 cardamom pods
6 cloves
2.5cm (1in) stick cinnamon
200g (7oz) onions, finely chopped
1 teaspoon ground coriander
2 teaspoons ground cumin
½ teaspoon cayenne pepper
1¼ teaspoons salt
300ml (½ pint) single cream
¼ teaspoon garam masala  

Put the garlic, ginger, almonds and 6 tablespoons water into a blender and process to a paste.

Put the oil in a wide, heavy non-stick pan and set over medium–high heat.  When the oil is hot, put in just enough meat pieces so that they lie in a single uncrowded layer. Brown the meat pieces on all sides, then remove them with a slotted spoon and put them in a bowl. Brown all the meat this way.

Put the cardamom pods, cloves and cinnamon into the hot oil in the pan.  Within seconds the cloves will expand. Now add the onions and stir-fry until they turn a brownish colour. Reduce the heat to medium. Add the paste from the blender as well as the coriander, cumin and cayenne. Stir-fry for 3–4 minutes or until browned somewhat.

Add the meat cubes to the pan, along with any liquid that might have accumulated in the meat bowl, the salt, the cream and 120ml (4fl oz) water. Bring to a boil. Cover, reduce the heat to low and simmer for 1 hour until the meat is tender. Stir frequently during cooking.

Skim off any fat that floats to the top and fish out the cinnamon stick. Sprinkle in the garam masala and mix

 

 

Very Easy broccoli and almond soup

 This can be served with little pieces of stilton cheese sprinkled over the top, which makes it tangy and a bit creamier. Or grated cheese can be whisked in with the almonds.  The stock needs to be well flavoured.

50g (1/2 cup) ground almonds
900ml Vegetable or chicken stock
675g Broccoli
Sea salt and ground black pepper

 

Cut broccoli into small florets and place in saucepan.
Add the stock and bring to the boil.

Simmer for 6 – 7 minutes until tender.
Add the ground almonds and blend with a hand held blender until smooth.
Add salt and pepper to taste. Pour into serving bowls and serve immediately

 

 Sarah Browne’s Even Better Courgette & Almond Soup 

 This soup is good sprinkled with chopped crispy bacon or pancetta.

2 tbsp butter

2 medium white onions

2 cloves garlic

8 small courgettes

4 tbsp ground almonds

800ml – 1 L very light vegetable or chicken stock

salt & pepper

Heat the butter in a saucepan to melt.  Chop the onions roughly and add them to the butter.  Sprinkle with sea salt, cover with a lid and leave to sweat over a low heat for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally.
When the onions are lovely and soft add the garlic – finely chopped and the courgettes – chopped into even pieces.  Cook for 5 minutes with the lid off.  
Sprinkle with a little more sea salt and add the light stock – enough to cover the vegetables.  Bring to the boil and simmer until the courgettes are just tender – 10 minutes or so.  Be careful not to overcook so that none of the vibrant green colour is lost.  At this stage stir in the ground almonds and remove the pot from the heat.  
Blitz the soup to a puree – taste and season with salt and pepper.  If it’s too thick add a little more stock.  If it doesn’t seem creamy enough, try adding a little more ground almonds. Heat gently to serve

Raw marzipan cake with chocolate topping

Crust
1 cup macadamia nuts
¼ cacao powder
8 dates

Marzipan
400 g ground almonds (aprox 4 cups)
8 tbsp maple syrup (not raw)
2 tsp organic vanilla essence

Chocolate topping
¼ cup cacao liquor
¼ cup cacao butter
¼ cup maple syrup
1 tsp vanilla

 

Start by making the crust. Soak the dates for few minutes to make them a little bit softer. Blend all the ingredients in a food processor or blender till it sticks together. Take a cake form (I used 9 inch) and press the batter at the bottom. Leave in the freezer while you’re making marzipan.

To make the marzipan , place all the ingredients in a large bowl and knead with your hand till you get a firm dough. You can use slightly less or more maple syrup (or agave or honey) depending on the taste you want. Take the cake from from the freezer, press the marzipan dough onto the crust and spread it equally. Leave it in a fridge.

For the chocolate topping start with shaving the cacao butter and cacao liquor (also called cacao paste) into a small bowl. Place the butter and liquor over a larger bowl of warm water and stir until melted. Make sure the mixture doesn’t come in contact with water or else it will curdle. Add the maple syrup and vanilla and stir to incorporate. Pour over the marzipan layer and leave the cake in the fridge for the chocolate part to harden. Decorate with berries or nuts or whatever you please.

 

References and further reading

Valda

There are some absolutely stunning recipes that use ground almonds and which are some of the yummiest desserts and sweets we have seen for a long time, on a site called Raw Raw cakes.  Follow the link.

The site was created by a lass called Valda, who was born and raised in Latvia, and who currently lives in Dublin, Ireland. Valda says that "if you want me to make that delicious healthy cake for your special occasion, I’d be happy to discuss that. I’m also open to invitations to workshops and seminars. And definitely contact me if you are interested in sponsoring my ‘uncook’ recipe book".

Raw spider cookies for Halloween

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