Almond: The most important nut of the world

Updated: Apr 2

Introduction

Medicinal Benefits

Almond-producing countries

Sweet or bitter?

Kashmiri Almonds

Iranian Almonds

American Almonds


Introduction

Almonds are the edible seeds of 'Prunus dulcis', more commonly called the 'almond tree'. They are native to the Middle East, but now they are cultivated in many parts of the world. The tree blossoms in the early spring with beautiful white/pinkish flowers. The fruits ripen and get ready for harvest by midsummer.


The almonds you buy in stores usually have the shell removed, revealing the edible nut inside (called 'kernel'). They are sold either raw or roasted.

Almond
Almond

Medicinal benefits:

Almond is traditionally considered an essential nutrient for the nervous system and is extremely beneficial for treatment of nervous system disorders, general debility, low memory power, and sexual disorders.

Almonds are rich in Vitamin E, Vitamin B, and minerals like minerals such as manganese, potassium, calcium, iron, magnesium, zinc, and selenium. Research studies suggest that almonds help to prevent coronary artery disease and strokes by favoring healthy blood lipid profile. In addition, almonds are free from gluten protein, and therefore, are one of the popular ingredients in gluten-free food formulas.

Sweet almonds are widely used in Ayurveda (see here) and Unani Medicine (see here) as medicine and as an important part of a healthy diet.


Almond-producing countries

A list of the top producers of almonds is shown here. The data is for the year 2019.

As you see, about 55% of the global almond produce comes from California, on the western coast of the United States.

Spain and Iran stand second and third, producing 10% and 5% of the world's almonds, respectively.

India has a very small share of the world's production (about 0.4%). Indian almonds mainly come from Kashmir.



Sweet or bitter?

There are about 70 different varieties of almonds grown around the world.

  • A large number of almond varieties are sweet in taste. However, in some of the sweet almond varieties, naturally a percentage of the almond kernel is found to be bitter. An example is the Afghani gurbandi (ghorbandi) variety, in which about 15 to 20 percent of the kernels are bitter. Kashmiri sweet almonds are almost all-sweet, which means you will rarely find bitter kernels in them.

  • A number of the varieties of almonds are bitter. As the name suggests, these almonds are bitter in taste. Bitter almonds are used in the pharmaceutical and cosmetics industries. Caution: Eating more that 5 to 10 bitter almond kernels at a time can cause cyanide poisoning, and therefore it is not advisable to eat these almonds freely without the expert advice of your doctor.


Kashmiri Almonds

In Kashmir, several varieties are grown using traditional methods on a very small scale. Cultivation in Kashmir generally takes place organically. Kashmiri almonds are known for their high oil content. This fact makes the Kashmiri almonds very tasty and distinguished from their American counterparts.

Among the several native varieties, two of the best and commercially-grown varieties are: 'Kashmiri mamra' and 'Kashmiri butterpaper' almonds.


Kashmiri mamra almonds have semi-soft shells and one can break the shells with a little force of hand. Kashmiri mamra almonds are very tasty and full of oil. They are non-uniform, curved, and small to medium in size, but very tasty and nutritious. These almonds are almost all-sweet, which means you will rarely find bitter kernels in the lot.

Kashmiri almonds are normally sold without size segregation. It means you will see a mix of small and medium-sized kernels in the lot you buy.


Kashmiri mamra kaaghzi almonds
Kashmiri mamra almonds

Kashmiri Butterpaper almonds are soft-shelled ('kaaghzi') and you can break their shells easily with hand. These almonds are medium in size, full of oil, very tasty, and almost all-sweet.


Kashmiri butterpaper almond shell
Kashmiri butterpaper (kaaghzi) almonds in shell

In Kashmir, bitter almond is also traditionally grown. These almonds are a bit similar to Kashmiri mamra, but smaller in size, darker in color, and cruder in shape. Bitter almonds are mainly used for medicinal purposes and should be eaten or used judiciously.


Kashmiri bitter almonds
Kashmiri bitter almonds

Iranian almonds:

Iran is the third-largest producer of almonds in the world with about 5% of the world's almond production.


Many varieties of almonds are produced in Iran. Among these, one of the best is the famous "mamra". Mamra is a very tasty, natural, and highly nutrient variety. It is light brown (golden) in color, flat and curved.


Iranian mamra almonds
Iranian mamra almonds

Iranian mamra almond kernels are of small to large sizes. Iranian vendors segregate the almond lots according to size, and normally export the larger-sized kernels.


American almonds:

In the United States of America (California), about 30 varieties of almonds are produced, such as: Nonpareil, Monterey, Carmel, Butte, Fritz, Padre, Aldrich, Wood Colony, Price, and Sonora.

Among Californian almonds, "nonpareil" is the most widely planted and the best almond variety in California. Nonpareil almond kernels are sweet, big, and uniform in shape. "Carmel" is another commonly cultivated variety which is very similar to nonpareil.


Nonpareil almonds
Nonpareil almonds

Californian almonds are produced on a very large scale with industrial methods. As a result, they have flooded the world markets and the price of these almonds is 30-50% of high-quality and traditionally-grown almonds.


Are raw American almonds really raw?

Most of the Californian almonds which are sold as "raw almonds" are in fact not raw. In contrast, the raw almonds grown in other countries are really raw and are not pasteurized. the reason is that according to FDA rules, since 2007, most of the almonds produced in the USA are pasteurized before being sent to the market. This is to make sure they are free from bacteria like salmonella. Pasteurization can be done in several ways:

  1. Oil roasting, Dry roasting, or Blanching: This method is used to make almonds eaten as snacks. These almonds are clearly not raw.

  2. Steaming: The kernels are exposed to steam for a while and then are dried. This method requires highly sophisticated machinery. The resulting almonds will look like raw almonds.

  3. Chemical treatment: The almond kernels are fumigated with a chemical called Propylene Oxide (PPO). This is the cheapest and fastest method. But, it leaves traces of PPO on the almonds. United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has classified propylene oxide as a Group B2, probable human carcinogen. The resulting almonds will look like raw almonds.

  4. Emitting radiofrequency waves to the almonds


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