If you are using almonds in breads or muffins, you'll find that toasting the almonds first not only brings out the wonderful flavor, but it will also keep them from sinking in the batter. Almonds can be used successfully in combination with most vegetables, fruits, and meats, but especially shine with fish, chicken, and rice savory dishes. Of course, almonds are a natural in desserts. If you have an allergy or dislike almonds, there's plenty of substitutes.
Almond Botanical Name
Part of the plum family, the almond tree (Prunus dulcis; Prunus amygdalus) is native to North Africa, West Asia, and the Mediterranean. The English word almond is derived from the French amande, which in turn is a derivative of the old Latin word for almond, amygdalus, literally meaning "tonsil plum." Ancient Romans also referred to almonds as "Greek nuts," since they were first cultivated in Greece. Botanically-speaking, almonds are a fruit. On the tree, the fruit or drupe looks like a small, elongated peach with a hard greenish-gray husk. When mature, the husk splits open to reveal the shell which in turn contains the nutmeat.
An Almond by Any Other Name
You'll find that almonds are referred to by many different names around the world. These might include Jordan almonds, bitter almonds, bajame, amandel, almendra, ametlla, badem, mandle, mandel, pili, manteli, amandes, améndoa, zanmann, mandula, möndlu, badam, mandorla, mandeļu, migdolas, migdałowy, amêndoa, migdală, almendra, mlozi, almon.
While browsing the aisles of the grocery store, you'll find that almonds can take many different forms. You'll find that sliced, whole, slivered, and blanched almonds are readily available as well as products such as almond butter, almond extract, almond flour, almond milk, almond oil, and almond paste.
You'll find almonds shelled with skins and blanched with no skins. If you find them in the shell, shake it. If it rattles a lot, chances are it's aging and shrinking. Purchase whole almonds and chop or slice them before each use for the freshest flavor. Aged almonds will turn rancid. To check for rancidity, slice the almond in half and look for a solid white texture throughout. If it is yellowish or has a honeycomb texture, it is way past its prime and should be discarded.
Packaged natural almonds can be stored in unopened packages in a cool, dark place up to 2 years. Unopened roasted almonds can be stored under the same conditions up to 1 year. Both will last even longer if refrigerated. Almond paste can be stored in the refrigerator for up to 2 years. Once packaged almonds are opened, be sure to store in an airtight container or sealed baggie with the air squeezed out in a cool, dry, dark place (ideally in the refrigerator) and use within 3 months.
Almonds and Your Health
High in monounsaturated fatty acids and cholesterol-free, almonds can help reduce cholesterol, thus reducing the risk of heart disease. They are also high in Vitamin E, a potent antioxidant which helps prevent the accumulation of plaque in the arteries. Since almonds are rich in arginine, they should be avoided by those who have a tendency toward cold sores or herpes infections. Arginine tends to activate the virus.