The almond tree is native to the Middle East and southern Asia but today is grown in many regions enjoying a Mediterranean climate. There are both sweet and bitter almond varieties; consuming the bitter variety in large quantities can be highly toxic as it contains hydrogen cyanide or prussic acid. However, this is destroyed by heat so small quantities may be used in cakes, sweets and liqueurs such as amaretto. The sweet almond variety is most commonly used in cooking and is found in many cuisines ~ Italian, Indian, Pakistani, Moroccan and Greek, to name but a few.
Shelled almonds are available in many forms ~ raw, toasted, blanched, flaked, slivered or nibbed and ground. Almond flour is popular in wheat- or gluten-free diets as it can be used in place of conventional wheat flour in baking. Almond milk is popular in Europe, the Middle East and India and is a good lactose substitute.
Almonds are very nutritious. They are high in dietary fibre, vitamins B and E, mono- and polyunsaturated fats and protein including essential amino acids. It is thought that almonds may lower the risk of cancer, cholesterol and heart disease.
Almonds are used in a multitude of recipes both savoury and sweet. I like to toast flaked almonds and stir into Basmati rice with a curry or sprinkle over ice cream with a drizzle of chocolate sauce for a quick and easy dessert. I use both flaked and raw almonds in my Wheat-free, Toasted Muesli and blanched almonds to decorate my Festive, Fruity Christmas Cake.
Spread the almonds in a single layer on a baking tray and place in the oven, pre-heated to 180°C, for 8 – 10 minutes. Always use a timer because almonds can burn very quickly after they start to turn golden. Shorten the time if you are using a fan-assisted oven.
Take shelled, raw almonds and place in a bowl. Pour over boiling water and allow to stand for 2 – 3 minutes. Drain off the water and rub off the skins with your fingers. (It is easier to buy almonds ready blanched!)
A small handful of almonds is a delicious in-between snack to give you an energy boost during the day especially when eaten with some sliced apple or a few raisins.
Photos courtesy of Microsoft & Wikipedia