Did you know that almonds are now the most popular source of non-dairy milk in the United States? Almonds are a rich source of protein and, with their lactose-free status, are now a staple of many contemporary recipes.
By: Becci Blascak, Jane Hemmelgarn and Emma Penzenstadler
Background: The almond is a stone fruit similar to the cherry, plum and peach. The ancestry of almonds is not completely known but they are thought to have originated in China and Central Asia. Almonds became an important source of food to nomadic tribes as they provided a feeling of fullness. Wild almond trees often grew near trade routes, allowing the spread of wild almonds to easily occur.
Faith and Culture: Almonds are significant for both the Jewish and Christian faiths, appearing multiple times in the books of the Hebrew and Christian Bible. The Hebrew word for almond is shakeid, which comes from the same root as the words that mean “to watch or to wake”. In biblical texts, God used the almond tree and the almond branch to show Jeremiah that God was watching over him: “Moreover the word of the Lord came to me, saying, ‘Jeremiah, what do you see?’ And I said, ‘I see a branch of an almond tree.’ Then the Lord said to me, ‘You have seen well, for I am watching to perform My word.’” (Jeremiah 1:11-12) This message is repeated in Jeremiah and in Daniel to show God’s watchfulness over the Israelites and God’s promise to them. Additionally, when brought back to Hebrew roots, almonds symbolize awakening, because the almond tree is often the first to bloom after winter. It is seen as a symbol of life and plays an important role in the Jewish festival of Tu B’Shevat, the new year for trees. The book of Exodus also shows that the Menorah was designed in the shape of an almond branch and is a symbol of the Tree of Life.
Growing and Processing Almonds: Almond Trees are native to the Middle East and South Asia due to their hot and arid climate. They do best with middle winters and are not adaptable to other conditions. Almonds go through a six-step process in their growth and life-time:
Dormancy: Since almond trees do not handle colder weather, they go dormant during the colder winter period of May to July.
Blossoming: Almond trees blossom during the time period of July to early September. Orchards are often set up with two to three varieties planted around each other because almonds do not self fertilize, with the exception of a variety called 'All-in-one', which is partially self fertile and perfect for the home gardener. Bees are utilized for cross pollination.
Maturing Crop: Once the petals fall off, a fuzzy green fruit begins to grow at a rapid pace during the months of September through to December. The fruit matures and hardens during the end period and continues to increase in weight.
Hull Split: Eventually the fruit finishes growing around early January (Summer-time) and the hull starts to split apart. The hull continues to open up for a duration of a month leading to the almond shell becoming visible. Once this happens, the shell starts to dry and the fruit begins to ripen for harvest.
Harvest: Harvest occurs over the three-month period of February to April, once the nut reaches a moisture level that is acceptable. Orchard floors are cleared out and shakers are brought in to release the fruit from the trees by sending a vibration up the trunk. The almonds continue to dry on the orchard floor and then are placed in rows. They are then picked up and prepared for storage.
Processing: The hull or the shell and hull are removed from almonds. Almonds are then further prepared during manufacturing by either being sliced, diced, split, or left whole.
Rebecca Burn-Callander, "How the UK is going crazy for almond milk", The Daily Telegraph, 17 November 2014.