Almonds arrived in Mediterranean Europe from Asia via the ancient Silk Road trading route, then traveled to the New World with Spanish missionaries in the 1700s. According to the Almond Board of California, that state's growers now produce 80 percent of the world's almonds, with the sweet nut beloved around the globe.
As gluten-free, paleo, keto, and other specialty diets become more common, options for alternative flours such as almond meal are proliferating in the baking aisles of grocery stores. While it's convenient to grab a bag, many products, especially those made from nuts, can spoil rapidly; that's why it makes sense (and saves cents) to make almond meal at home.
What Is Almond Meal?
It's common to see the terms "meal" and "flour" used interchangeably, but meal technically refers to a coarser grind, an easier result to achieve at home. You can make almond meal in recipe-specific quantities at a fraction of the cost of store-bought. The process requires almonds, a coffee bean grinder, and a flour sifter; it takes less than 5 minutes.
Almond meal is a key ingredient in marzipan, frangipane, macarons, and many fruit tart recipes. It makes a delicious substitute for wheat flour in gluten-free baked goods but it also adds nice flavor and texture when swapped out for breadcrumbs in savory recipes. For the Jewish holiday of Passover, almond meal often replaces the forbidden wheat flour in cakes, cookies, and other desserts served during the week-long observation.
How to Make and Use Almond Meal
You can use whole raw almonds for a darker, more rustic meal, or blanched almonds with the skins removed, which produce a lighter-colored and more finely textured meal. Start with about 1/2 cup and follow these simple steps:
- Pulse the almonds several times in a clean electric coffee bean grinder. Process the nuts until you see medium-fine grounds, similar in texture to cornmeal. Whole almonds take much longer to grind than slivered or sliced ones, so keep an eye on what you're doing.
- Transfer the ground almond meal to a clean flour sifter and push it through into a bowl; return any large pieces to the grinder and pulse again. Sift the remaining almond meal into the bowl.
If you don’t have a coffee grinder, you can use a food processor. However, it's best to freeze the nuts before you grind them, which helps prevent over-processing, resulting in nut butter or paste instead of meal.
Almond flour can be substituted for a portion of the wheat flour in many baked goods, but for gluten-free baking, you can replace the wheat flour completely with almond flour in treats such as cookies and bars, which don't rely on gluten to provide structure the way bread does.
What Does It Taste Like?
Almond meal tastes, naturally, of almonds. It adds subtle sweetness, moistness, and texture to baked goods.
Recipes Using Almond Meal
Once you begin using almond meal in recipes, you will see its versatility. The high-fat nut meal, when substituted for a portion of the wheat flour in a recipe, adds moisture to baked goods. But it can also be found on ingredients lists for many savory dishes.
Where to Buy Almond Meal
If you prefer to purchase prepared almond meal, look for it with the specialty flours in well-stocked grocery stores or natural foods stores. You can also order it online.
The high oil content of nuts makes them susceptible to spoiling; increased oxygen exposure once they're ground can quickly lead to a rancid flavor and odor. For best results, use almond meal immediately. If you need to store it, keep it in an airtight container in a dark and dry location for a few weeks or tightly sealed in the freezer for up to three months.
Nutrition and Benefits
A quarter-cup serving of almond meal contains 150 calories and a healthy 6 grams of protein. However, 11 grams of fat means this should be an occasional treat. Almond skin contains healthy antioxidants, so using almonds with the skin intact adds a nutritional benefit to your nut meal.
Almond Meal vs. Almond Flour
Although they can usually be used interchangeably, nut meal and nut flour are two different ingredients. While nut meal is made by simply grinding nuts, the finer texture of a true nut flour requires a more complex process since too long of a grind time turns nuts into butter. Commercial nut flour producers press some of the oil from the nuts first, forming a cake that can be ground into a consistency similar to wheat flour.