To call an almond a nut would be incorrect. It is not a true nut, but the seed of the almond tree, related to peaches and apricots.
The almonds we use in cooking are sweet almonds.
Bitter almonds (wild almonds) should be avoided as they produce hydrogen cyanide (prussic acid) when crushed, chewed or damaged. They are deadly, so don’t eat wild almonds. They are used in some products but are processed to removed the toxins.
Native to mediterranean part of the middle east, almonds were cultivated as far back as 3000BC and were found as part of the food in Tutankhamen’s tomb.
Nowadays the USA is by far the largest growers of almonds, which are provided to consumers in several varying degrees of processing. This is an incredibly versatile product as well as being nutrient rich. The almonds produced in the US are “sweet” varieties.
The almond fruit is a drupe and grows with and outer hull, with and inner shell containing the seed, similar to a peach pit.
- Unshelled almonds are often found in those mixed bags of nuts you buy at Christmas. They are the shiny teardrop shaped ones you can never open with nutcrackers.
- Shelled almonds are exactly that, the shell has been removed to give up the inner seed – what we generally thing of as almonds.
- Blanched almonds are shelled almonds that have been blanched in boiling water to soften the seed coat (the brown skin) so it can be removed easily, leaving the white seed.
- Flaked or sliced almonds have been sliced very thinly across their widest diameter
- Slivered almonds differ from flaked almonds, in as much as the seed is cut into thin sticks
- Ground almonds are blanched almonds that have been ground into a flour
Here’s a list of some of the wonderful products made with almonds:
Frangipane – a paste made from ground almonds, butter, sugar and eggs, which can be used as a filling for a host of sweet pastries such as Bakewell tart and amandine tarts. So easy to make and so easy to eat.
Marzipan – traditionally used in the UK to cover celebratory cakes, especially Christmas, marzipan which is made up from ground almonds, sugar, egg whites and almond extract is used internationally to create cakes and sweets usually in the form of fruits or animals. Just like an edible modelling clay.
Muesli – this breakfast mix of oats, dried fruit and nuts (and other stuff you like) often have flaked almonds as an ingredient.
Passanda – This mild “curry” sauce with tender lamb or chicken, has velvety texture and flavoured is with ground almonds, cardamom, tomatoes and cream.
Amaretto liqueur – as with most abundant and historic produce, mankind usually finds a way to turn it into a form of alcohol. Interestingly amaretto is the generic name for almond based liqueurs, but some are actually made from apricot pits or a mixture of both.