Scientifically known as the Prunus dulcis, the almond tree is the cousin of the peach, cherry and the apricot trees. It bears fruits, which have stone like seeds within, and it is these seeds, which are better known as the almond nuts. The tree is a small deciduous tree that grows to a height ranging from about 4 meters to 10 meters.
Its shoots are green at first but later turn into a purple colour, when they are exposed to sunlight. The fruit is a drupe, which is about 3.5 to 6 cm long. The outer covering or the exocarp, is a leathery green-grey coat called the hull, which houses the hard shell, which contains the edible kernel. The shell is referred to as the endocarp and matures approximately seven to eight months after flowering.
Almonds are believed to be a native of Western Asia and North Africa. They have been consumed by human beings since ancient Greek and Roman times. At present they are widely grown in the Mediterranean countries and also in Spain, Italy, Portugal, Morocco and California.
In addition to being eaten raw, almonds are a wonderful addition to a variety of recipes from salads to baked and cooked foods. Inclusion of almonds in our daily lives can do wonders for our health. Almonds provide us with a good source of Vitamin E and manganese. They also contain ample amounts of copper, riboflavin, magnesium, copper and phosphorous. Though almonds are a food rich in fat, but most of the fat present in them is the heart-healthy monounsaturated fat.
A wide variety of edible almonds are available in the market in different flavours. Some of the flavours may be enumerated as follows:
- Salted Almonds
- Sweetened Almonds
- Smoked Almonds
- Roasted Almonds
- Dry-roasted Almonds
- Honey Coated Almonds, etc.
Almonds are either sweet or bitter, and this largely depends on the colour of the flowers borne by the almond tree. It has been noted that the almond tree with white flowers often produces sweet almonds, whereas the tree bearing pink flowers produces bitter almonds. The bitter almonds are used to make almond oil, which is used in the production of a liquor. The bitter almonds are broader and shorter than the sweeter ones. The bitter variety may yield about 6 to 8 percent of hydrogen cyanide, and larger dozes of the oil extracted from them, can even prove deadly. This is the reason why almond oil fell from the prescription list of the doctors in the late 20th century.
Almond and Its Significance
Though the exact history of the almonds cannot be traced, but they are believed to have originated in China and Central Asia. Almonds find a mention as far back in history as the Bible. They were an important ingredient in breads served to Egypt’s Pharos. Through the flourish of trade, explorers ate this healthy nut while traveling via the “silk route” and it was not long before almond trees flourished in the Mediterranean region, especially in Spain and Italy. In the mid 1700′s, the almond tree was brought to California from Spain. Over the years through cross breading and research, many varieties of almonds are now grown in many regions across the globe.
Almonds hold a of religious, ethnic and social significance in many cultures. In the Bible’s “Book of Numbers”, Aron’s rod blossomed and bore almonds, thus making almonds a symbol of divine approval. In Rome, the newly wed couple were showered with almonds as a fertility charm. Even today, the Americans as a token of love, happiness, good health, etc. give sweetened almonds to guests at weddings. In Sweden, there is a Christmas tradition of hiding an almond in cinnamon-flavoured rice pudding; the one who finds the almond has good fortune throughout the year.
Health Benefits Obtained From Almonds
- As almonds are full of monounsaturated fats, (the good fats), they help in lowering bad cholesterol and reduce the risk of developing any heart ailments
- Good amount of Vitamin E present in the almonds results in an anti-oxidant effect, and further lowers the chances of any heart related problems
- Almonds are high in magnesium content, which is an essential element that helps in relaxing arteries and veins and improves blood flow in the body
- The potassium present in this wonder nut helps keep the blood pressure under control, and also facilitates a smooth functioning of a healthy heart
- Almonds also help in keeping diabetes under check, by lowering after-meal surges in blood sugar. They provide essential anti-oxidants to aid with the clean up of the free radicals in the body, thereby making them a great after meal snack
- Research has shown that women, who eat almonds regularly have a 25% lower risk of developing gall stones
Almonds are a nutritious snack, and are extremely effective in keeping many ailments at bay. Apart from the culinary uses that they possess, they also have a variety of cosmetic uses.
- The creamy texture of almond paste makes it an ideal ingredient in many body and face creams meant for the oily skins
- freshly ground almonds mixed with fresh cream are an ideal home made scrub, which lends you a flawless glowing skin
- Almond paste and honey, when applied to the face are ideal for removing a stubborn tan
- Regular application of almond oil on the body makes it smooth and supple
- Almond oil is also believed to work wonders for the hair, as it prevents hair fall and nourishes the roots for further growth of hair.