Among the things synonymous with childhood, food features at the top. For those who have been fussy eaters, you’d recall mom giving a generous handful of nuts to nibble on for those small hunger pangs. Peanuts, Roasted Bengal Gram (Chana in Hindi), Almonds have been the staple of most children even today, for that ‘Time-pass’ kind of hungers. But moms being moms, they knew exactly what they’re putting on the table and in the kids’ pockets. Almonds have by far been considered as ‘rich food’, both for its high nutrient index and for the price they command. One is reminded of its richness when you see almonds being sprinkled over premium foods like cookies, ice creams and sweets of all sorts. To this day, chilled almond milk is still my favorite!
Today when someone says Almonds, you’re reminded of California Almonds, such is the power of brand recall! In fact, that is the fact per se, because today, 95% of the world’s almonds are grown in California itself. One is surprised to know that almonds are part of the Rose family that also has peaches and apricots as members. Being solely dependent on wild bees for pollination, almonds will never grow where bees aren’t there.
Why have humans been fascinated by almonds that grow only in small areas of the world? Yes, an almond tree is one of the most difficult to propagate in climates other than that suitable for its growth. You can’t find an almond tree just about anywhere and thereupon begins its bragging about being ‘rich’ and very well deservedly so! So how far behind can we go tracing the almond tree? Well, suffice is to say that it was also found in the tomb of Tutankhamun (dating back to 1325 BC).
The almond tree has a scientific name ‘Prunus dulcis’ and the almond is its seed encased in a hard nutshell. Native to the Middle Eastern countries, particularly Iran, it can be found all over the world today. You can find scores of recipes in Arab and Mediterranean cuisine that make use of generous amounts of almonds- as nuts or as a paste or oil. Almonds travelled from Iran to the entire Middle- East, Africa and up to California. Almond is processed into flour (predominantly used in the preparation of marzipan) that is used instead of the usual flour to prepare certain sweets. Legend has it that the Marzipan originated in Germany and Italy but one can easily trace its origins to Eastern Countries. As of today, the United States remains the largest producer of almonds in the world.
Cakes, cookies, pies, bread, meringue and Avadhi-Mughlai meat dishes, all make generous use of almonds for their sharp, sweet nutty taste and nutritious benefits. One of the most famous dish that people cannot stop loving is the Marzipan, which is used often as a fondant in several cakes and sweet dishes. It is made with almond flour mixed with sugar and honey. Almonds come in handy when you have some lame dishes on the table. Crush some almonds or slice them into thin slivers to pep up a salad, a bare sponge cake, some ice cream without any dressing or even a sweet dish, and lo and behold, it’s instantly turned ‘rich’ and luxurious, not just with taste but also with health benefits.
People with lactose intolerance have benefited immensely with Almond milk which can be used in place of normal milk. Vegans love this almond milk for they don’t have to bear the guilt of an animal-based milk product. You could also soak few of them in cup of water overnight and eat them the next morning. It is said this helps in digestion and is also full of nutrients.
Ah! That reminds me. Have you found a bitter almond ever? I have. And have been scared to bones because bitter almonds contain certain chemicals, even traces of Cyanide, that result in poisoning or even vertigo. It is indeed interesting to know that there do exist both sweet and bitter almonds in the wild and it was humans who segregated and chose the sweet ones and cultivated them all over the world.
Health Benefits of Almonds
Almonds are considered as the king of nutrition. However, even if they have loads of oil (50% of its total mass is oil), they’re rich in proteins, Vitamin E, Manganese and Magnesium. A bowl of almonds (around 100 grams) yield a whopping 2423 calories of energy, coming mainly from half of its mass from oil itself. It is therefore natural to get anxious about the calories laden almonds. But don’t worry.
Studies show that almonds contain good percentage of Mono-unsaturated and Poly-unsaturated fat as compared with saturated fat and hence is good for health. In fact, modern day dieticians and nutritionists don’t tire to emphasize on the importance of having enough good fat in our daily diet. Absolutely eliminating fat from our diet results in several problems like skin and hair dryness, joint pain and others.
The Vitamin E in almonds is a boon for our skin and hair. This Vitamin E also has the antioxidant Tacopherol which prevents damage caused due to oxidation in the body. No wonder then that companies trumpet their hair oils, potions and skin creams that speak of containing almond oil and vitamin E. Our ancestors knew about the beneficial properties of almonds and hence it was an intrinsic part of a child’s diet that strengthened his skin and hair for life.
Pregnant and lactating mothers are also advised to include adequate quantities of almonds in their diet for the benefit of the progeny. In several parts of the world, almonds are considered to boost fertility among adults. It is also believed to enhance intelligence and hence is a must-have for school going kids. It is a much sought-after nut as a Diwali, Ramazan or New Year gift even in corporate circles. Having some almonds in your office or your bag helps satisfy those hunger pangs between meals without having to resort to the unhealthy chips or biscuits and without feeling guilty.
A fistful of almonds (roughly 30 gms) suffices for almost half of the daily recommended dietary portions of Vitamin E and good fat, along with fiber.
So the next time you go nuts about almonds, thank your instincts for picking this nut.
Disclaimer: The views in this post are solely of personal opinion. If you need or are looking for a professional opinion, I recommend you seek a healthcare professional or a dietician for more details.
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