Saturday, December 12, 2009

Almond Goodness

Almond (Prunus dulcis, syn. Prunus amygdalus) is native to the Middle East. It is believed to be one of the first trees cultivated by humans, as it requires no grafting and can be grown directly from the seed. The Jews consider it to be one of the 7 species with which the land of Israel is blessed. The word for almond, “Shaqed”, is spelled the same and sounds similar to the word that means to study well and with due diligence.

Although in culinary terms, the almond is often referred to as a “nut” the part of almond used is considered a kernel in botanical terms. It is the seed of the almond fruit, similarly to the kernels of apricots, peaches, plums etc. If you live in an area where almonds are grown, you may get a chance to eat them as a fruit in late spring or early summer; at that time, the fruit is young and unripe, still green, ands resembles a little fuzzy unripe peach and is eaten as is, or dipped in salt, or even can be pickled. It has a mildly sour taste and an interestingly crunchy and fuzzy texture. In late summer, the kernels are crunchy but milky in flavour, and taste a lot like blanched almonds. When the fruit is finally ripe the kernel hardens and has a brown skin that is edible but can be removed by blanching in hot water or soaking in cold water overnight.

Almonds are an excellent source of calcium and vitamin E and is rich in monosaturated fat. Similarly to olive oil, it helps reduce the levels of LDL cholesterol in the blood. Almond has an interesting and mild flavour and texture which makes it ideal for pastries and desserts. Almond paste is very important in many classical Italian and French dessert recipes that have become popular world-wide (i.e.: macaroons). Also, almond meal can be also used as a partial substitute for flour in recipes thus reducing the amount of carbohydrates in pastries and desserts. An almond milk can be prepared by grinding blanched almonds, soaking them in water and than straining. The almond fat and other nutritional components will emulsify into the water and create a beverage that has a milky appearance and texture. Rosatta is a popular fragrant North African beverage prepared from an almond syrup of both bitter and sweet almonds, diluted in water. Orange flower water can be added as well. Almond butter is a delicious substitute for peanut butter for those suffering from peanut allergies. Almonds are also very popular in ice cream desserts and Indian kulphi. However, almond also lends itself beautifully to savoury meals, added to salads, garnishes for rice dishes.

The raw almonds are the most nutritious way to enjoy your almonds health benefits and flavour. Unfortunately, due to almonds grown in the USA are pasteurized so there are no true raw almonds that come from the USA. Roasted almonds, although some prefer their flavour, are often salted, and also the heat involved in the process transforms the monosaturated oils in the almonds into less advantegous types of oils. This is true for most nuts as well – they are best eaten raw.

Almond oil is expressed from the edible almond kernels and has a very mild, slightly sweet and nutty aroma and a sweet mild flavour. It is an excellent emollient that softens and conditions the skin and is used in many bath and skin products, including soap. It can be used on its own or blended with other oils for a full body massage. It is also a great moisturizer with a neutral scent and is relatively fast absorbing. Try using it as is instead of a body lotion or simply add a tablespoon of almond oil to your bath to get a soft, clean skin.

Although I don’t use it in my kitchen, almond oil is said to be a versatile oil to use as a substitute for olive oil in salad dressing. Having a high smoke point of 495ºF, it can also be used as a cooking oil (albeit not a cheap one!). I would be curious to see how it works in desserts such as moist cakes that call for vegetable oil instead of butter. If you have any experience cooking with almond oil I would love to hear your ideas and if you can share a recipe – all the better!

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At December 15, 2009 10:02 AM, Anonymous Scent Hive said...

Ayala, you and I are so on the same wavelength it's a little scary. I have been craving almond for the past 3-4 months and just posted about it. Had no idea you did too :-)

And also tobacco....

Hope you are having a lovely Hanukkah!



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