The Almond is a species of tree native to the Middle East and South Asia. Almond is also the name of the edible and widely cultivated seed of this tree.
The fruit of the almond is not a true nut, but a drupe, consisting of an outer hull and a hard shell with the seed (“nut”) inside. Shelling almonds refers to removing the shell to reveal the seed. Almonds are commonly sold shelled, i.e. after the shells are removed, or unshelled, i.e. with the shells still attached. Blanched almonds are shelled almonds that have been treated with hot water to soften the seedcoat, which is then removed to reveal the white embryo.
Almonds contain approximately 49% oils, of which 62% is monounsaturated oleic acid (an omega-9 fatty acid), 24% is linoleic acid (a polyunsaturated omega-6 essential fatty acid), and 6% is palmitic acid (a saturated fatty acid).
“Oleum Amygdalae”, the fixed oil, is prepared from either variety of almond and is a glyceryl oleate, with a slight odour and a nutty taste. It is almost insoluble in alcohol but readily soluble in chloroform or ether. Sweet almond oil is obtained from the dried kernel of sweet almonds.
The oil is good for application to the skin as an emollient, and has been traditionally used by massage therapists to lubricate the skin during a massage session. It is a mild, lightweight oil that can be used as a substitute for olive oil.
Almond oil is also used as a wood conditioner of certain woodwind instruments, such as the oboe and clarinet.
The sweet almond contains about 26% carbohydrates (12% dietary fiber, 6.3% sugars, 0.7% starch and the rest miscellaneous carbohydrates), and may therefore be made into flour for cakes and cookies (biscuits) for low-carbohydrate diets or for patients suffering from diabetes mellitus or any other form of glycosuria. Almond flour is gluten-free and therefore a popular ingredient in place of wheat flour for gluten-sensitive people and people with wheat allergies and coeliac disease. A standard serving of almond flour, 1 cup, contains 20 grams of carbohydrates, of which 10 g is dietary fiber, for a net of 10 g of carbohydrate per cup. This makes almond flour very desirable for use in cake and bread recipes by people on carbohydrate-restricted diets.
Almonds are a rich source of vitamin E, containing 24 mg per 100 g. They are also rich in monounsaturated fat, one of the two “good” fats responsible for lowering LDL cholesterol.
Claimed health benefits of almonds include improved complexion, improved movement of food through the colon (feces) and the prevention of cancer. Recent research associates the inclusion of almonds in the diet with elevating the blood levels of high density lipoproteins and of lowering the levels of low density lipoproteins.
A controlled trial showed that, in spite of the high fat content of almonds, using them in the daily diet reduced a number of risk factors for heart disease, including cholesterol and blood lipids.
In Ayurveda, an ancient system of health care that is native to the Indian subcontinent, almond is considered a nutrient for the brain and nervous system. It is said to induce high intellectual level and longevity. It is extracted by cold process, and is considered a nutritive aphrodisiac both for massage and internal consumption. Recent studies have shown that the constituents of almond have anti-inflammatory, immunity boosting, and anti-hepatotoxicity effects.
In a study printed in the Journal of Agriculture and Food Chemistry, experts discovered that almonds contain phenolics and flavonoids (a combination of flavonols, flavan-3-ols, hydroxybenzoic acids and flavanones) in their skins analogous to those of certain fruits and vegetables. For instance, a one-ounce helping of almonds holds a similar quantity of total polyphenol as ½ cup of cooked broccoli.
Almonds may cause allergy or intolerance. Cross-reactivity is common with peach allergens (lipid transfer proteins) and tree nut allergens. Symptoms range from local symptoms (e.g. oral allergy syndrome, contact urticaria) to systemic symptoms including anaphylaxis (e.g. urticaria, angioedema, gastrointestinal and respiratory symptoms).