Ingredient of the Month: Almond

Name Almond
Alternative names Prunus dulcis
Grows in California (over 80%), Spain, Australia, Iran, Morocco, Italy, Turkey, Tunisia, Algeria, etc.
The UK imports from California, Spain
Short history Evidence of cultivated almonds from 3000 BC has been found in Jordan and Egypt, including in the tomb of Tutankhamen. They are thought to have originated in the Levant area, favoured by Eastern Mediterranean climate. The almond has remained an important cultural and religious symbol through the ages. It is mentioned in the Torah, the Jewish Holy Book, and referred to in the Bible as being ‘amongst the best of fruits’. There are also references in Greek Mythology and evidence that the almond has inspired Persian rug making and Religious art of the Renaissance, amongst other art forms. In all cases, the almond is associated with hope, beauty, value and re-birth. The almond tree was brought from Spain to California by the Franciscan Padres in the mid-eighteenth century, but was grown successfully only a century later.
Fun facts
  • The almond is a drupe rather than a nut – a fruit in which an outer layer surrounds a hard shell with a seed inside it (like cherries, peaches and plums)
  • Many of the best nutrients are concentrated in the brown layer of skin
  • Immature green almonds can be preserved and pickled, a popular delicacy in some countries
Top health benefits
  • Balances cholesterol, reduces blood pressure and reduces the risk of heart disease through a uniquely high content of Vitamin E
  • Contains antioxidants that reduce the risk of ageing diseases such as cancer and Alzheimer’s
  • Regulates blood pressure and blood sugar levels due to high levels of magnesium

Almonds, like many foods, are highly dependent on pollination by honey bees. In the Central Valley of California there are approximately 6,500 almond farms but only a quarter of the bees required to pollinate them. To address this, almond farmers “rent” hives from around the country. Each year, bee keepers and their bees from all over America come to California for the largest controlled bee pollination in the world.

Since 2006, beekeepers have been reporting bees disappearing from hives en masse. This phenomenon, named Colony Collapse Disorder, has been attributed to a number of interwoven factors. Climate change has caused flowers to bloom earlier, while the bees are still in hibernation. Pesticides sometimes harm bees rather than just pests and parasites are thought to have attacked bee populations. Commercial development has exacerbated these problems by causing habitat loss. Accordingly, there has been a movement to protect bee colonies, especially in countries where the economy is reliant on pollinated crops.

Almonds make a great standalone snack. Almond milk, which has grown in popularity, can be used as a replacement to cow’s milk in many smoothie recipes, providing many of the health benefits listed above. To experience the almond all its glory, try out the recipes below:

  1. Moroccan spiced cauliflower and almond soup

With just six ingredients, this wonderfully creamy soup comes together quickly and easily. The Harissa paste and cinnamon spice up the cauliflower. Meanwhile, the toasted almonds play an important role in thickening the soup and finishing it off with a sprinkle of crisp garnish.

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  1. Roasted red pepper, quinoa and almond salad

This salad is characterised by its variety of textures. The soft quinoa, melt-in-your-mouth roasted peppers and smooth spinach are complemented by contrastingly crunchy almonds. The honey, ginger and garlic dressing, which I blended with olive oil rather than soy sauce, bring cohesion to the ingredients. Prepare to be dazzled by this protein-rich salad with a sophisticated sweet twist.

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  1. Orange, blueberry and almond cake

This cake is a reminder that gluten-free cakes can be for everyone. Ground almonds and polenta replace flour to create a lighter cake, which is further softened by natural yogurt. The partnership of tangy orange and sweet blueberries make the cake burst with rich, fruity flavours. If you enjoy this recipe, keep exploring other almond-based cakes, such as lemon or rose and pistachio.

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6 thoughts on “Ingredient of the Month: Almond

  1. Kate says:

    Great article – I love almonds! Since becoming a vegetarian, nuts have become a big part of my daily diet – usually with yogurt and fruit for breakfast or as part of a salad for lunch. I’ll have try your recipes, they look delicious!
    I remember reading an article, a year or so ago, that criticised the use of almond milk over other milk alternatives due to its huge pressure on water security in California in particular (where, as you mention, the majority of almond trees are grown). Although, I suppose all types of milk have their own distinct impact on the environment…

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    1. Sonya Likhtman says:

      I’m glad you enjoyed, Kate! Sounds like you manage to get lots of nuts into your diet. I find that they are easy to slip into many dishes to keep us vegetarians high on protein in a delicious way.
      Thanks for raising the environmental impacts of almond milk. This Guardian article definitely confirms your point: https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/shortcuts/2015/oct/21/almond-milk-quite-good-for-you-very-bad-for-the-planet
      It also suggests that almond milk is only 2% almond and otherwise water, sugar and various additives. Sounds like almonds in their raw form, with skins, are the way to go.

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  2. Katrina Likhtman says:

    Very nutty post, thank you :). Really I mean meaty, i.e. full of content, but since you are a vegetarian have to avoid such words :):).I buy this nut mixture and love almonds there. But they come all peeled there! Need to tell them to bring the skin back. Almond – shape eyes are also feature of the Levant. I sometimes sprinkle toasted almonds on baked salmon or other fish (oops,, another words i should not use :):)

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    1. Sonya Likhtman says:

      Haha! Thank you for your nutty and vegetarian-friendly post, Mum. Yes, you should write to Customer Services and tell them to keep the skins on. That would also save them time and money in peeling them, so everyone wins. Mmmm, toasted almonds on fish. Maybe I can have a fish-shaped roasted pepper with your sprinkled almonds on top? 😉

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