Nuts About Almonds
We’ve told you all about grains, legumes, herbs and seasonal produce. In this new series we’ll explore the nuts we're crazy about -- let’s get cracking!
Almonds originated in central Asia and their cultivation has been traced back to Biblical times. In ancient Egypt, almonds were left in King Tut’s tomb to keep him nourished in the afterlife. These crunchy goodies were brought over to the United States from Spain in 1700. Two hundred years later, the almond industry was booming in California.
Almonds are the seeds of a fruit tree that’s related to the rose family. They’re grown in California, Australia, the Mediterranean and South Africa. There are two main types of almonds: sweet and bitter. Sweet almonds have a delicate and slightly sweet flavor and are the variety that most folks eat. Bitter almonds contain a toxic chemical called hydrocyanic acid and can be lethal when eaten raw. The chemical is destroyed once it is heated and the almond is then safe to eat. Bitter almonds aren’t allowed to be sold in the United States, though processed bitter almonds are used in flavor extracts and liqueurs.
An ounce of almonds (23 almonds or ¼ cup) has 162 calories, 14 grams of heart-healthy unsaturated fat, and 6 grams of protein. There is naturally no salt in almonds, but salt is often added during processing or packaging. Almonds are an excellent source of the antioxidant vitamin E, providing almost 40 percent of your daily recommended dose. They're also a good source of fiber, riboflavin, magnesium, phosphorus and copper.
Almonds also have the flavonoids quercentin and kaempferol, which have been shown to help prevent cancer growth and decrease the risk for heart disease. Studies have shown that almonds may also play a role in improving memory in those with Alzheimer’s disease, but further research is needed.
Almonds come slivered, sliced, chopped and ground. Whole almonds are a delicious snack on their own. Choose raw or blanched as opposed to those cooked in oil. Since almonds are calorie-heavy it’s important to keep portions at about 1 ounce.
Slivered almonds can be added to salads, grain salads, stuffing, oatmeal and yogurt. To get an even richer flavor, toast almonds in the oven for 8 to 10 minutes before adding them to your favorite recipe.
Crushed almonds also make a deliciously crunchy coating for fish. Ground almonds into flour and use it in your favorite pastry recipes or add almond pieces to your baked goodies like cookies, cakes and muffins. Almond pieces or slivers can also be sprinkled on scones or bread. Before baking, brush with milk or an egg-wash, then sprinkle on almonds.
Shopping and Storage Tips: Almonds are typically available in the baking or snack aisle or the produce section of the market. Look for almonds that are white throughout. Avoid rancid almonds which are usually yellow in color. If purchasing almond in their shells, be sure they don’t rattle when you shake them (an indication that they’re old). Unopened containers of almonds can be stored in the fridge or pantry for up to 2 years. Once opened, store in a cool, dry place in an airtight container for up to 3 months.