CTFA Name: Prunus Amygdalus Dulcis
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Photo © Steven Foster
The almond tree grows to 23 feet and blooms with hundreds of white flowers in early spring.1 The leathery skinned inedible fruit contains the almond seed (nut) at its center.2 The tree is native to North Africa, Western Asia, and the Mediterranean and is now also found in North America, the Middle East, and Australia.1,3 Sweet almonds should not be confused with bitter almonds which have a toxic component and are inedible.2
History and Cultural Significance
The oldest written account of almond cultivation is in the Bible. Aaron’s rod was made of almond wood that surprisingly bore white flowers and fruit.1 In Greece, guests are given uneven numbers of almonds at christenings, weddings, and the ordinations of priests for good fortune and happiness.3
Historically, the whole almond nut was used as a folk remedy to relieve heartburn.4 More recently, almond oil has been used externally for its cleansing and protective properties for the skin.3
The varied content of fat, carbohydrate, and protein along with many other nutrients, makes almonds a common food of choice when weight gain is desired. When taken orally, almond oil is easily digested and absorbed. It is absorbed through the skin more slowly. The cosmetic industry has found that both almond oil and almond meal tend to not irritate the skin, making them appropriate for cosmetic and skin care products. Products containing almond include lotions, creams, makeup, skin cleansers, and suntan lotions.2
Some research on almonds suggests that daily intake may help lower cholesterol.5,6
The almond industry produces more than 1.7 million metric tons of in-shell almonds per year with California currently being the largest producer.7 Reduced yield can be caused by disease and undesirable weather. A new disease infecting trees in Lebanon, almond phytoplasma, was first reported in the Bekaa region and found later to have spread to the north and south regions as well. The cause is unknown at this time but insects are suspected of spreading this disease that can kill trees within 5 years.8 Aside from major weather catastrophes and disease, there are no other known threats to the almond industry at this time.
1 Davidson A. The Oxford Companion To Food. New York: Oxford University Press; 1999.
2 Leung AY, Foster S, eds. Encyclopedia of Common Natural Ingredients Used in Food, Drugs, and Cosmetics. 2nd ed. New York: John Wiley and Sons, Inc; 1996.
3 Onstad D. Whole Foods Companion. White River Junction, VT: Chelsea Green Publishing Company; 1996.
4 Grieve M. A Modern Herbal. Vol 1. New York: Dover Books; 1971.
5 Abbey M. Partial replacement of saturated fatty acids with almonds or walnuts lowers total plasma cholesterol and low-density-lipoprotein cholesterol. Am J Clin Nut. 1994;59:995-999.
6 Spiller GA. Nuts and plasma lipids: an almond-based diet lowered LDL-C while preserving HDL-C. J Am College of Nut.1998;17:285-290.
7 World Almond Situation & Outlook. USDA Web site. 2003. Available at: www.fas.usda.gov/htp/Hort_Circular/ 2004/12-10-04%20Almonds.pdf. Accessed May 5, 2005.
8 Almond witches’ broom phytoplasma. European and Mediterranean Plant Protection Organization Web site.2005. Available at: www.eppo.org/QUARANTINE/Alert_List/bacteria/almondphyto.htm. Accessed May 5, 2005.