Wonderfully delicious, almonds have long been revered as an epitome of wellness and health. The kernels are among the richest sources of health-benefiting nutrients essential for optimum health.
Botanically, they are the fruits obtained from medium size tree belonging to the family of Rosaceae, in the genus: Prunus. The plant is a deciduous tree, probably originated mineral-rich West-Asian mountain ranges that provide fertile conditions favorable for their growth. In recent years, it is being cultivated in many regions of the world, including the USA, as an important commercial crop.
Scientific name: Prunus dulcis.
|Delicious nuts (kernels)-shelled.||Raw, green almond fruits.
(Photo courtesy : Stepheye)
During each spring season, an almond tree bears pinkish-white flowers that subsequently develop into fruits by autumn. In structure, the fruit is a "drupe" with centrally placed edible "almond nut" (kernel) surrounded by a hard shell. Almond kernel features brown outer skin, oval to conical in shape, measures about 2 cm long and 1 cm wide, and weigh about 1 to 1.5 g.
Almond nuts are rich sources of vitamins, and minerals and packed with numerous health promoting phyto-chemicals. These nuts compose of well-balanced food principles that are essential for optimum health and wellness.
Almonds are one of the complete sources of energy as well as nutrients. The nuts, especially, are rich in mono-unsaturated fatty acids like oleic, and palmitoleic acids that help in lowering LDL or "bad cholesterol" and increasing HDL or "good cholesterol" in the human body. Research studies suggest that Mediterranean diet, which is excellent in monounsaturated fatty acids, help to prevent coronary artery disease and strokes by favoring healthy blood lipid profile.
The nuts are an excellent source of vitamin E; hold about 25 mg per 100 g (about 170% of RDA). Vitamin E is a powerful lipid soluble antioxidant, required for maintaining cell membrane integrity of mucus membranes and skin by protecting it from harmful effects of oxygen-free radicals.
Almonds are free from gluten protein, and for the same reason, they are one of the popular ingredients in the preparation of gluten-free food formulas. Such formula preparations are, in fact, healthy alternatives in people with wheat food allergy, and celiac disease.
The nuts are packed with many important B-complex groups of vitamins such as riboflavin, niacin, thiamin, pantothenic acid, vitamin B-6, and folates. Altogether, these vitamins work as co-factors for enzymes during cellular substrate metabolism inside the human body.
Furthermore, almonds are also an incredible source of minerals such as manganese, potassium, calcium, iron, magnesium, zinc, and selenium.
Almond oil, extracted from the nuts, can be employed as an emollient. When applied regularly, it helps keep skin well protected from dryness. Additionally, the oil is used in cooking in Iran, and Turkey. It is also used as “carrier or base oil” in various traditional medicines, in aromatherapy, pharmaceutical, and cosmetic industries.
A handful of almonds a day provides much of recommended levels of minerals, vitamins, and protein. Besides, almond oil extracted from the nuts has been used in cooking, and medicine.
|Raw almonds unshelled. Note for the edible almond kernel inside.|
Almonds can be available in the markets' year around. In the stores, however, different forms of nuts are displayed for sale such as shelled, un-shelled (with outer shell), salted, sweetened, or powdered (almond flour), etc. Try to buy completely shelled or unshelled raw nuts instead of processed ones.
While buying, look for kernels that feature bright brown color, compact and uniform in size, and feel heavy in hand. They should be free from cracks/cuts, mold, and spots, and rancid smell.
Unshelled almonds can be placed in cool dry place for several months. However, shelled kernels should be kept inside an airtight container, and stored in the refrigerator to avoid them turn rancid.
Raw whole nuts are generally cut open at processing units using larger sheller machines. Smaller nut sheller equipment or hand held pliers usually are being employed for domestic purposes.
Here are some serving tips:
Almonds can be enjoyed either on their own , salted or sweetened.
Almonds are one of the most sought after among nuts employed in various rice dishes, savory and sweet preparations in the Middle-East region.
Almond splits/sliver are often sprinkled over desserts, particularly sundaes and other ice cream based preparations.
They are widely employed in the confectionery, as an addition in cookies, biscuits, sweets, energy bars, and cakes. In France, frangipane is a popular cake made of almond meal.
Green almonds are edible, young, tender nuts, hitting the farmer markets by late spring. Outer green shell cut open using a paring knife and sweet, cream-white kernel inside enjoyed!
Almond nut allergy, although not so common as other tree nut allergies like cashew, pistachio etc, may often cause hypersensitivity cross-reactions in some people to food substances prepared using these nuts. The type and severity of symptoms may vary, and may include vomiting, diarrhea, pain abdomen, swelling of lips, and throat leading to breathing difficulty, and chest congestion. Therefore, caution should be exercised in those with nut allergic syndrome while consuming food items prepared almond nuts. (Disclaimer).
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2. The Almond Board of California.