I am totally nuts for nuts! I could eat them every day. Peanuts, pistachios, walnuts, pecans, hazelnuts, whatever! During the holidays, I’ve always got a big bowl of nuts on my coffee table with a nutcracker ready to go. (I should keep that going year round…hmmm.) But, there’s one nut in particular that I love as a snack or as part of a packed lunch, and it’s super duper good for you!
Where do almonds come from?
Almonds as we know them are nuts (well, sort of…), but they actually are part of the almond fruit, which grow on almond trees! These trees are native to the Middle East and India. The fruit is eaten whole in other parts of the world, but here in America, we usually consume almonds as a nut.
The almond fruit sort of looks like a seed in itself. 1-2 inches in length, the almond fruit is green with a fuzzy exterior (like an apricot). There’s a bit of a crunchy, fleshy part, and within the center is a shell (how you’d find unshelled almonds, for which you’d need a nutcracker). Inside of that, of course, is the almond! But, it doesn’t always look like the hard little nut we are familiar with. In fact, it starts out as a white center filled with clear jelly. Say whaaaat?
Yes, the life cycle of an almond is strange. Once the almond trees are in bloom and are pollenated by bees (thanks, bees!), the fruits begin to grow. They can be picked and eaten whole, with the fleshy part and jelly-like center all together. Or, they can be left on the tree and allowed to ripen further. If left, the shell and seed inside will harden. The fleshy fruit will dry up and crack open, allowing the shell and seed to dry out. From here, the shells are collected, processed a bit (cleaned and shelled, if needed), and shipped out to a store near you! Most of our almonds in America come from farms in California!
So, technically, the almond is a seed. A drupe, actually. Here’s the difference – a nut consists of an outer shell that contains the fruit and seed within it. A drupe is a fruit which contains a shell which holds the seed. It’s a matter of where the shell is located, and what’s inside of it. But, since us Americans like to just simplify things, we’ll keep calling almonds nuts and call it a day. Just know that, unless you’re a botanist and I’m driving you totally crazy, it doesn’t really matter what you call them – they’re delicious!
Almonds are a great source of protein, fiber, and healthy fats. They have a ton of Vitamin E, which is a great antioxidant! For such little guys, they pack a powerful nutrition punch – but this means they also come with some serious calories! Enjoy them in moderation! (The given amount of one ounce is about the amount that will fit in the palm of your hand!)
Purchasing and Storing Almonds
Almonds can be purchased in bulk, shelled or unshelled, in individual “100 calorie” packages (you pay a big premium for those convenient little packages, by the way!), as almond butter, almond flour, almond milk, or almond oil. They can be sliced, slivered, whole, roasted, or raw. It’s just a matter of what you’re using them for!
I personally go to the bulk section of my grocery store and snag a bunch of shelled raw almonds. I can always roast them at home, or eat them just as they are!
Since almonds have great antioxidants in them, they’ll last quite a long time if you store them right. Raw almonds should be kept in a cool, dry place. I use airtight containers for mine! In perfect conditions, you’re looking at up to two years storage, but how could you go that long without eating them!? Roasted almonds shouldn’t be exposed to oxygen, as they’ll go bad much faster than their raw counterparts.
Using Almonds in the Kitchen
You can grab a handful of whole almonds to munch on, but that’s just one way they can be used!
Sliced almonds can top oatmeal or salads as a pretty and delicious garnish.
Almond butter can be spread on toast or used in a smoothie. The same goes for almond milk (the smoothie part, don’t try to spread almond milk on toast…).
Use almonds in a stir fry to provide a nutty flavor and crunchy texture to your veggies!
Almond flour can be used to replace traditional wheat flour, and will provide extra nutrition and a slightly nutty flavor. Yum!
Salt and Skillet Recipes
How do you guys use almonds? Do you bake with them, or top your salads with them? Did you have any idea that they came from a tree and started out as an ooey-gooey jelly mess? Let me know in the comments! 🙂