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Exploring Almonds: History and 8 Imaginative Recipes

Linda explores food facts, folklore, and fabulous recipes, one ingredient at a time.

Almonds are great for snacking, cooking, and baking

Almonds are great for snacking, cooking, and baking

How Almonds Moved From East to West

The migration began as early as the year 334 B.C. when Alexander III of Macedon and his army of 35,000 crossed the Dardanelles. (If you don't recognize his name, perhaps you know the gentleman as Alexander the Great).

Caravans began at Xi’an road, moving west along the Great Wall of China. Traversing the Pamir mountains they crossed present-day Afghanistan, and continued to the Levant and then to the Mediterranean Sea.

This is the story of the Silk Road, not a single highway but rather many east-west thoroughfares. Along the way, the travelers ate the fruits of the land and some stowed seeds in their pockets and packs. One of those seeds was the almond. And so the almond was spread from its native land in Asia, across the plains, and into Europe where it flourished in the climates of Italy and Spain.

Blossoms on an ancient almond tree

Blossoms on an ancient almond tree

In the 18th century, Franciscan monks from Spain established missions in California. That they might be self-sufficient, the monks introduced a wide variety of European fruits to the area, planting citrus, apples, peaches, grapes, figs, and (of course) almonds.

Monks, Bees, and Almonds in the 21st Century

Today a different community of monks tends to the almond trees of Central California. The monks of St. John Monastery in Manton, California (of the Orthodox Church of America), are beekeepers. In mid-summer blackberries and thistles provide nectar for the bees; in August and September, the sap of the incense cedar keeps the colony happy. In the winter months, they are fed sugar water and protein patties to renew their strength.

But in early spring the monks transport their 50 hives, each weighing 100 pounds, to the almond orchards. Almond growers rent the use of the hives. As a result, the trees are pollinated, the bees are fed, and the brothers of the monastery have a source of income. It's a win-win-win.

Almond Production in the United States

One million acres of land in the California Central Valley are devoted exclusively to the production and harvest of six almond varieties. The pollination of the trees is itself a massive undertaking; 1.4 million hives are trucked to the almond fields. The decline of bee populations is severely imperiling the almond industry and in response, researchers are in the process of developing self-pollinating trees.

There is another, even more dire problem affecting the sustainability of the almond industry in California. The 21st century has been a period of persistent drought. Almonds require an extreme amount of water; it is estimated that a single almond requires 1.1 gallons of water.

World Almond Production in Tonnes, 2018

Source: FAOSTAT (Food and Agriculture Organization Corporate Statistical Data Base) of the United Nations

CountryTonnes Produced (in the shell)

United States

1,872,500

Spain

339,003

Iran

139,029

Morocco

117,270

Turkey

100,000

Italy

79,808

Australia

69,880

Trivia

  • The almond is a member of the rose family and a close relative of the plum and the peach.
  • California is the largest producer of almonds in the world.
  • The Romans tossed almonds at newlyweds (instead of rice) as a fertility charm.
  • Some believe that eating almonds before imbibing will prevent hangovers.
  • Almonds are one of only two nuts mentioned in the Bible (the other is the pistachio).
  • Almonds have a long shelf life because they are low in polyunsaturated fats.
  • Chocolate manufacturers use 40 percent of the world’s almonds.
  • A mix of almonds and dried sardines is a popular snack in Japan.
  • It takes 1,000 pounds of almonds to make 1 pint of almond oil.

8 Sweet and Savory Recipes

Almond and Lemon Crusted Fish

Almond Crusted Chicken Bites

Almond Ricotta Cake

Almond Shortbread Bars

Easy Cinnamon Candied Almonds

Garlic Rosemary Meatballs

Homemade Almond Pasta

Spicy Parmesan Ranch Almonds

Almond and lemon crusted fish

Almond and lemon crusted fish

1. Almond and Lemon Crusted Fish

Fish need not be deep-fried and served with a side of chips. This almond and lemon crusted fish is oven-baked, making it a healthy and colorful alternative. The cooks at Eating Well suggest cod or halibut, but any mild white fish would work (I'm thinking tilapia).

Read More From Delishably

Some reviewers commented that the amounts of dill and lemon were too much, and I agree. Omit the dill, use half of the lemon, and note that the recipe calls for kosher salt. If you are using table salt, you will want to use just 1/2 teaspoon.

Almond crusted chicken bites

Almond crusted chicken bites

2. Almond Crusted Chicken Bites

Chicken nuggets are a favorite of kids and adults alike, but unfortunately, they are also one of the most heavily processed foods we put on our plates. They are so very tasty but so unhealthy. But you can make your own, like these almond crusted chicken bites. They are made from bite-sized cuts of real boneless chicken, not minced meat and fat mixed with starches. Taylor coats them with one of my favorite snacks, smokehouse almonds. If you cannot find smokehouse (smoked) almonds at your grocery store, any lightly salted almond will do; simply add a teaspoon of smoked paprika to the coating.

These are oven-baked, not fried, so they're healthy, crunchy, and guilt-free.

Almond ricotta cake

Almond ricotta cake

3. Almond Ricotta Cake

This almond ricotta cake would be the perfect end-note for a traditional Italian-themed dinner. Ricotta makes the cake moist and tender. There's a triple-punch of almond flavor with finely chopped almonds and almond extract in the cake, and slivered almonds on top. Be sure to cream the eggs/ricotta mixture thoroughly in insure that the cake batter is light and fluffy.

Almond shortbread bars

Almond shortbread bars

4. Almond Shortbread Bars

I am not a great fan of sweets unless the sweet happens to be shortbread; I'm a sucker for that buttery crust. This recipe makes a generous 9x13-inch pan of blondies and features almonds in every bite. If you are feeling a tad ambitious (or smug about your culinary superpowers) follow the link to Sue's recipe for making your own almond paste.

Easy cinnamon candied almonds

Easy cinnamon candied almonds

5. Easy Cinnamon Candied Almonds

Almonds can be a nutritious snack, and these cinnamon candied nuts take only 10 minutes of cooking time. They would make wonderful gifts at Christmastime.

Garlic rosemary meatballs

Garlic rosemary meatballs

6. Garlic Rosemary Meatballs

These garlic rosemary meatballs will fit just about any diet plan—they're Whole 30, Paleo, gluten-free, grain-free, Keto, low-carb, and dairy-free. Most meatball recipes include bread crumbs as a binder and to prevent the meatballs from being too dense. Nicole uses almond meal (finely ground almonds). They bake in the oven with whole garlic cloves and sprigs of fresh rosemary. Your house will smell wonderful. Just add a side salad or vegetables for a complete meal.

Homemade almond pasta

Homemade almond pasta

7. Homemade Almond Pasta

I have a membership to one of those warehouse retail stores. I'm frugal to a fault and love a good bargain. I'm luckier than most—we have a large freezer and a walk-in pantry, so I'm blessed to be able to take advantage of bulk food purchases.

After a recent trip to the "unnamed" warehouse, I came home with a massive bag of sliced almonds. I made green beans almondine, I baked cakes and cookies, I breaded chicken, and there were still almonds to spare. What to do?

I donned my thinking cap and came up with this recipe for homemade almond pasta. A word of caution (or restraint)—don't drown these nutty noodles in red sauce. Doing so covers over their wonderful flavor. I would suggest just a simple browned butter, or a fruity extra-virgin olive oil to allow the flavor of the almonds to shine through.

Spicy Parmesan ranch almonds

Spicy Parmesan ranch almonds

8. Spicy Parmesan Ranch Almonds

I presented a recipe for cinnamon-sugar almonds for those of you with a sweet tooth, but I prefer a salty savory snack. These spicy Parmesan ranch almonds are so very easy; simply roast them in a slow oven. The hardest part is waiting for them to cool before you eat them.

Sources

© 2021 Linda Lum

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