Ingredient of the Month 7: Almonds
|Flaked almonds- great for decorating cakes|
Almonds come from trees of the species prunus dulcis, but are actually drupes (a kind of fruit) rather than true nuts. There are two types; sweet almonds and bitter almonds, from which sweet almonds were bred. Both trees originated in the Middle East, and now almonds are also grown in the USA, Far East and Southern Europe. Bitter almonds, however, contain cyanide and are therefore poisonous unless the cyanide is removed before consumption. For this reason, they are rarely used today, although they have been used in medicine in the past.
- Almonds contain about 20% protein, including essential amino acids. Their high fibre content makes them especially suitable for those on low-carb diets. As with other nuts, they also contain phytosterols, which can lower chloresterol.
- Almonds are about 50% fat, but it'a "good" oil: 62% of it is omega-9, 24% omega-6 and 6% saturated fatty acid. Don't worry about that last one, though; it makes almond oil one of the more stable (and therefore safest) oils for baking and frying, with a smoke point of 420F/ 216C. It's also assimilated very readily by the skin, making it excellent for massage and as a carrier for essential oils.
- Almonds are rich in Vitamin E: 100g contains about 175% of your RDA.
- Almonds also contain most of the B vitamins (not B12 though) in various proportions.
- Calcium and iron are significantly high in almonds, as are magnesium and phosphorous.
- .Almonds also contain potassium and zinc.
- Almonds can be bought in their shells, as whole shelled nuts, blanched (whole, skins removed), flaked or ground. Whole almonds can easily be blanched, toasted or ground at home. Do not store ground almonds too long once opened as they can go rancid. I often grind my own for use in recipes.
- Ground almonds are an incredibly versatile ingredient which add texture and nutrition to vegeburgers and pates, cakes and smoothies. They are, of course, essential for marzipan.
- Soaked then added to a stir-fry or couscous, almonds make a crunchy change from tofu.
- Almond "milk" was well-known in Medieval Europe, where it was used as a dairy substitute on Christian fasting days, can be made by grinding and straining soaked almonds- as can almond "cream".
- Flaked almonds, toasted or raw, make great garnished and toppings for both sweet and savoury bakes, crumbles, sweets and cakes.
- Almond butter is even nicer than peanut butter, especially if you make it yourself!
- Almond flour is a great substitute for wheat flour in baking for those who cannot tolerate wheat.
- I remember one Winter/ Spring when I was living in Crete the old farmers who would come into the restaurants and bars carrying baskets of green almonds for sale as snacks. (I never tried any, but I hear they are rather sour.)
- And let's not forget the many uses of almonds in Indian cuisine: with rice, in pasanda curries, as a drink and in mithai etc...