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Almonds: Kitchen Basics

Almond on tree1

Almond on treeThe almond harvest happens in late summer, but you will find almonds at the farm market almost all year long.

Almonds originated in Asia and North Africa, and the almond tree—which resembles a peach tree—can grow as high as 20 to 30 feet (6-9 m) tall. Because the almond is very sensitive to cold, the tree thrives in the Mediterranean-climate regions of Europe, Australia, South America and California.

The fruit of the almond contains an oval, off-white seed that is covered with a brownish skin. The shell itself is covered with a tough, fibrous green husk which breaks open when the fruit is fully mature.

There are actually two types of almonds: one bitter and one sweet. The sweet almond is the one that you will find at the farm market and the one you will use in the kitchen. (The bitter almond is strong flavored and after being processed to remove a toxic acid is used to flavor extracts.)

Sweet almonds can be found blanched or not, whole, sliced or slivered, chopped, candied, smoked, and in paste form. The mild flavor of almonds complements almost every kind of food. You can add almonds to cereals, salads, cakes, cookies, pastries, and ice cream. Whole, split, or ground almonds can be served with fish, chicken, and vegetables.

Choosing. Almonds still in their shells will not spoil quickly. When choosing shelled almonds, look for almonds that are uniform in color and that are not limp or shriveled. Almonds sold with their papery skin intact are called natural almonds. Almonds that have had the skin removed are called blanched almonds. A fresh almond will smell sweet and nutty.

Storing. Unshelled almonds can be kept in a cool, dark, dry place. Shelled almonds can be placed in a plastic bag and stored in the refrigerator or freezer for up to 6 months.

Blanching. Blanching will remove the thin layer of brown skin that surrounds the seed. Plunge the almond into boiling water for 2 to 3 minutes. When the skin starts to swell, rinse the almonds under cold water, then remove the skin by pinching the almonds between your thumb and finger.

Roasting. Place a single layer of almonds on a baking sheet. Heat them in the oven to 350°F (175°C) until they turn golden brown. Turn and stir them to ensure that they are evenly roasted. The time to roast will vary depending upon the size of the almonds. Remove the almonds from the oven and place them in a container to cool.

Written by Stephen Albert

Stephen Albert is a horticulturist, master gardener, and certified nurseryman who has taught at the University of California for more than 25 years. He holds graduate degrees from the University of California and the University of Iowa. His books include Vegetable Garden Grower’s Guide, Vegetable Garden Almanac & Planner, Tomato Grower’s Answer Book, and Kitchen Garden Grower’s Guide. His Vegetable Garden Grower’s Masterclass is available online. Harvesttotable.com has more than 10 million visitors each year.

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  1. Kathy, almonds come with either soft or hard shells. The Nonpareil, for example, has a shell so soft you can open it with a twist of you fingers. Others, like the Mission or Peerless need the help of a nut cracker or hammer. The Peerless is the one you find inshell in nut assortments at the holidays. Some of the newer varieties have shells that are in between these. There are a few self fertile varieties. Perhaps yours is one of those. You didn’t say what the quality of the nuts is. I hope that helps.

  2. Here in Palestine we eat them right of the tree when they are still green – they are considered a delicacy and we eat them with a bit of salt. It is supposed to be very healthy and its sour/sweet taste is to die for!!

  3. Almond nuts will not reach maturity if summers are cool and humidity is high. They require warm, dry summers. Might this be the problem? The vast almond orchards of California bake through 90 degree plus summer days and experience no rainfall for months on end.
    As well, almonds grow best in regions where there is relatively no frost during the blooming period and early spring when the nuts begin to form. Immature almond nuts are more frost sensitive than almond blossoms. As for pollination, most, but not all, almond varieties require cross-pollination with another variety to produce a crop. So apart from the climate, the almonds on your tree may be not mature simply because they have not been pollinated, a sort of “false fruit.” Do you know the variety of your almond? It may be worth the effort to find a suitable pollinizer. Let me know if I can help further.

  4. I have a question. I bought an almond tree about 5 years ago and it has really grown and has tons of almonds on it. I have been getting almonds for 3 years now, more each year. I live in northwest in Idaho in a warmer climate than most areas in Idaho. My question is I picked the almonds last year and let them dry for 1-2 weeks. When I tried to crack the shell it was impossible. I only have the one tree and I read you have to have 2 trees to produce almonds. Do trees produce almonds if they are not pollinated?

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