California’s Central Valley produces most of the world’s almonds, as much as 80 percent. In the U.S., one would think our Native American peanut, or even walnuts, would be the most consumed nut in the world. I was surprised to learn it is actually almonds, and they are all grown in California. Not all, but all those grown commercially.
A friend in California tells me the large growers do get water during this drought, but it’s the small farmers that get hurt—apparently it is all quite political. No surprise there, but it did surprise me that it takes 1.1 gallon of water to produce just one almond. Despite forecasts of the biggest harvest in years, this recent drought is having a huge impact on the nut industry as a whole.
Nutritionally, almonds are one of the best foods a person could eat, and nuts in general are a superfood. Technically, they are not a nut but the seed of the almond tree. Almonds contain protein, iron, calcium, potassium, fiber, biotin and other nutrients good for your overall health. In fact, they are the best source of vitamin E from a nut. Eat them to increase brain activity as they contain both riboflavin and L-carnitine, brain helpers.
There are sweet almonds and bitter almonds. Usually the sweet almonds are edible, and the bitter almonds are used to make almond oil. Good for you on the inside and good for you on the outside. The oil is used to flavor some food and liqueurs. Almond oil is also used in many skin products and almond milk is added to many soaps.
Where do they come from? It is said that 75 percent of the world’s foodstuffs come from either North or South America but history suggests almonds originated in Western Asia or North Africa. Centuries ago, almond trees were brought to California by Spanish missionaries but they were abandoned when the missions were closed. In 1840, more trees were brought over from Europe and planted in New England where they did not do well because of the climate. They were brought to California where they are now established and thriving.
Aside from beauty aids and flavorings, almonds are delicious plain or in recipes. I always have a small bag of roasted, slivered almonds on hand for cooking and baking. Use a mix of slivered almonds, brown sugar and some melted butter as a topping for quick breads or on puddings.
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Dale Carson, Abenaki, is the author of three books: “New Native American Cooking,” “Native New England Cooking” and “A Dreamcatcher Book.” She has written about and demonstrated Native cooking techniques for more than 30 years. Dale has four grown children and lives with her husband in Madison, Connecticut.