Almonds pack a nutritional punch. Along with their fiber, vitamin and mineral content, they contain unsaturated fatty acids and phytochemicals, which may help in the prevention of chronic diseases such as cancer and heart disease. Almonds have less saturated fat than any other tree nut.
One ounce (about 23 almonds) contains 160 Calories, most of which come from heart-healthy polyunsaturated (20%) and monounsaturated (51%) fats, along with 3 g fibre. That same serving is also a significant source of plant protein - 6 g per ounce. It also contributes to your daily vitamin and mineral needs: 35% of daily recommended vitamin E; 20% magnesium; 15% phosphorus; 8% calcium; 6% iron; 4% folate.
Almonds are a key component of the Portfolio Eating Plan which is currently being developed and studied by researchers at the University of Toronto. The Plan promises to help lower LDL (bad) cholesterol levels, through a daily intake of almonds, viscous (soluble) fiber, plant sterols and soy protein. In this plan, almonds are prized for their high vitamin E content, fibre and vegetable protein.
Almonds come in two main types: sweet and bitter. Sweet almonds are delicately flavoured and slightly sweet. Bitter almonds are more strongly flavoured and contain traces of prussic acid, which is lethal when the almonds are raw, but the toxicity of which is destroyed when they are heated. This toxicity makes bitter almonds illegal for sale in the United States, but processed bitter almonds are used to flavour extracts, liquers and orgeat (OHR-zhat) syrup (a blend of almonds, sugar and rose water).
The majority of sweet almonds grown in California fall into the following 4 categories:
Nonpareil: These almonds are used for the widest range of products, since they are readily blanched and cut for processed forms. They are used for their attractive, blemish-free appearance.
Mission: Mission almonds have dark brownish-red hued skins, and are more strongly flavoured than Nonpareil varieties. Mission varieties are frequently used in snack mixes and ice creams, because of their robust flavour, which is enhanced by roasting and their wrinkled, wide kernels help them hold seasonings and other flavours.
California: All California varieties are blanchable, are of medium thickness, and their skins are slightly darker than Nonpareil varieties. They are used in a variety of applications.
Carmel: The Carmel is a popular member of the California variety that has a soft shell and is often used in blanching and roasting.
Almonds are available blanched or not, whole, sliced, chopped, candied, smoked, as a paste and in many flavours. Blanched almonds are those that have been treated briefly with boiling water and the skins removed.
The freshness and nutritonal quality of almonds are affected by heat and light - their high unsaturated fat content makes them susceptible to storage. Therefore, it is preferable to purchase them in sealed containers, rather than from bulk bins where they may have been exposed to heat and light for unknown periods.
Choose almonds that look and smell fresh, and for bulk purchases, avoid purchasing where foreign materials such as twigs or stones are present. Avoid musty or rancid smelling almonds.
Mildly flavoured almond oil, which may be available in North American specialty stores and markets, is made by pressing sweet almonds. Huile dÃ¯Â¿Â½amande, the French version of almond oil, is more strongly flavoured (although still delicate), with a higher price tag to match (tres chere). Pure almond paste is made of blanched ground sweet almonds, sugar and glycerin. Marzipan is actually a sweeter and slightly less coarse version of almond paste, and may also contain egg whites. Bitter-almond paste is used to flavour amaretti cookies.
The high unsaturated fat content of almonds makes them quite perishable. Store almonds in a cool, dry place, away from heat sources, and avoiding prolonged exposure to direct sunlight. Roasted or toasted almonds in vacuum-sealed tins store well for extended periods of time, particularly in cold storage. Keeping almonds in the freezer extends their shelf life. For freezer storage, package almonds in air-tight bags to protect them from ice formation and moisture, which can result in mold.
Never keep almonds where they can be permeated by strong odours Ã¯Â¿Â½ store them separately from pungent foods such as onions and fish.
Toasted almonds are crunchier and more intensely flavoured than blanched almonds. Toasting can also keep almonds from sinking in bread or muffin batter.
- Saucepan method: Place almonds in a heavy, ungreased skillet. Stir often over medium heat until golden brown. Remove from pan to cool.
- Oven method: Preheat oven to 350Ã‹Å¡F. Spread nuts in one layer on ungreased shallow baking pan. Bake for 10 to 15 minutes, stirring occasionally, until golden. Remove from pan to cool.
- Microwave method: Place 1/2 cup slivered almonds and 1 tablespoon margarine or butter in a 9-inch microwave-proof pie plate. Microwave on high, stirring every minute until brown, 4 to 5 minutes.
Almond powder can be made by placing blanched almonds in a food processor and pulsing them. Almond powder can be used wherever you want the taste and nutritional benefits of almonds without the crunch, such as in smoothies, hot cereals and bread crumb coatings.
Almond milk can be used in recipes or enjoyed as a beverage with honey and vanilla. To make almond milk, place 1 cup freshly roasted almonds in a glass jar and cover with 4 cups water. Tightly close the jar and refrigerate for at least 1 day or no more than 2 days. Pour into blender and blend until smooth, then using a cheesecloth, strain liquid from pulp, applying pressure to squeeze out all liquid. The almond pulp can be saved and used to top cereal, vegetables or rice.
Almond paste or mazipan is used in a variety of sweet and dessert recipes. To make your own almond paste, place 1 cup almonds and 1/2 cup powdered sugar in a food processor. Blend into a paste, then add one beaten egg white and blend. Add 1 tbsp water and a small drop of almond extract and blend again.
Enjoy almonds on their own, blanched or toasted, or in a recipe. Almonds lend themselves well to a variety of dishes - from snacks to main courses, from beverages to dessert.
The Food Allergy Network estimates that approximately 0.7% of the American population has an allergy to tree nuts (which includes almonds, cashews walnuts, pecans, brazil nuts, and hazelnuts), along with 0.7% being allergic to peanuts (legumes).
Healthy Ways to Enjoy Almonds:
- Blend up a smoothie containing toasted slivered almonds, honey, and low-fat milk.
- Sprinkle chopped almonds (toasted or not) onto breakfast cereal.
- Ground almonds add a boost of flavour to hot cereals.
- For a decadent breakfast, cook up Ham and Eggs Supreme or Hungarian Breakfast Palacsintas (see recipes).
- Chopped, sliced or slivered almonds add a healthful crunch to a variety of salads - try them blanched or toasted in tossed greens, grain, bean or pasta salads.
- Use almond butter in place of peanut butter in a sandwich.
- Top steamed vegetables with toasted slivered almonds.
- Mix equal parts finely chopped almonds and bread crumbs with salt, pepper and your choice of herbs and spices for a crispy coating for chicken or fish.
- Add chopped or slivered almonds to stuffing.
- The flavour of rice, couscous, barley and kasha sides can be enhanced with chopped or slivered almonds.
- Have a handful of almonds with a piece of fruit or a small fruit salad Ã¯Â¿Â½ the additional fat, fibre and protein will help keep you feeling full and your energy levels up!
- Toss together a trail mix of almonds and other nuts, with seeds and dried fruit. Prepare trail mix into individual portions in resealable plastic bags and toss them into lunch bags for a snack on the way home.
- Layer low-fat yogurt with fruit and chopped almonds for a quick - but fancy - parfait.
- Add chopped almonds to low-fat muffin mixes.
- Dress up desserts with toasted almonds - they are a crunchy and flavourful topping for low fat frozen yogurt, angel food cake, fruit cobblers and crisps.
Did You Know?
- The almond is actually a fruit! Almonds are the seeds of a plumlike fruit, or drupe (a fruit that has both flesh and stony layers surrounding the seed). Almond trees are close relatives of plum and peach trees.
- The term "amandine" (AH-mahn-deen or a-mahn-DEEN) is French, meaning "garnished with almonds", and is often misspelled "almondine".
- Amaretto, a liqueur with the flavour of almonds, is often made with the kernels of apricot pits instead of almonds.
www.almondboard.com - The Almond Board of California
www.nutsforalmonds.com - The Nut Farm
www.bluediamond.com - Blue Diamond brand almonds
www.awesomealmonds.com - Awesome Almond brand almonds
www.portfolioeatingplan.com- Portfolio Eating Plan - Cholesterol lowering, research based diet plan with almonds as a main focus
www.getyourE.org - How almonds and other vitamin E-containing foods contribute to a healthy diet
ucce.ucdavis.edu - University of California, Fruit and Nut, Research and Information Centre - Photos of almond trees
www.foodallergy.org - Information on almond allergy and other anaphylactic allergies.