Almonds have a delicious, buttery flavor and can be eaten on their own, raw or toasted. They make a wonderful addition to salads for a little extra crunch. They are good sources of dietary fiber, vitamin E, copper, magnesium and phosphorous.
Almonds are now grown in many of the countries that border the Mediterranean Sea including Spain, Italy, Portugal and Morocco. They are also harvested in California, the only state in the U.S. where they are grown commercially. Almond trees were originally brought to California in the mid-1700s by the Franciscan monks, but cultivation of the trees was abandoned when the missions were closed. Almond trees were later planted in New England, but they did not grow well there. In the 19th century, almond trees were reintroduced to California where they have thrived ever since. Today, California is one of the world leaders in almond production.
Almonds are the fruit seeds of Prunus dulcis, a tree closely related to the peach and plum that bears fragrant pink and white flowers. Just as the peach and plum tree bear fruit with seeds, so does the almond tree; the seed of the almond fruit is what we refer to as the almond nut. Almonds are off-white in color, covered by a thin brownish skin, and are protected by a hard shell. They are classified into two categories: sweet almonds and bitter almonds. Sweet almonds are the oval nuts with a crunchy texture and buttery flavor still in their shell or shelled whole, sliced, slivered or blanched without their skin. Bitter almonds are used to make almond oil that is used as a flavoring agent for foods and liqueurs such as Amaretto.