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What Are Almonds?
Almonds are a type of tree nut that are oblong and dark brown with a mild flavor. Almonds grow on fruit trees called almond trees, scientifically known as Prunus dulcis. Almonds grow inside cream-colored shells covered by a gray-green, fuzzy hull. When the fruit (being the nut itself) ripens, the hull splits and the shell drops to the ground.
The edible version of almonds are sometimes called “sweet almonds” to distinguish them from the poisonous “bitter almonds.”
Almond trees thrive in a Mediterranean climate, like that in California’s Central Valley, which is characterized by hot, dry summers and mild, moist winters. Almonds only produce fruit only after being pollinated, causing many almond orchards in the United States to rent commercial beehives every year for the nut trees’ crop.
Almonds are filled with healthy fats (also known as monounsaturated fats). They are also high in magnesium, manganese, calcium, and potassium, and have high amounts of antioxidants, including vitamin E.
5 Culinary Uses for Almonds
Almonds are one of the most versatile nuts in the kitchen. They are a popular snack food and versatile ingredient. Try them:
- As a snack. Almonds are one of the most popular tree nuts to eat plain, and whole almonds are often enjoyed raw, roasted, salted, mixed in to trail mix, or coated in chocolate. They can be eaten at room temperature or warmed.
- Over green salads. Almond can be eaten whole, slivered, or sliced over a green salad to add a crunchy texture and added protein. Almonds pair well with sweet flavors, so they are especially popular in salads that include strawberries, cranberries, or other sweet fruits. Try them in Chef Thomas Keller’s arugula salad.
- As a crust for poultry or seafood. Almond-crusted chicken or white fish is a great way to add a crispy outer layer to tender meat.
- Tossed with vegetables. Sliced or slivered almonds are a popular addition to vegetable sides, especially green beans, to add a crunch to the dish.
- Included in desserts. Almonds’ mild taste pairs well with many different sweet flavors, and whole, slivered, or sliced almonds are a common addition to desserts, often mixed in with nougat, or used as a crunchy garnish atop cakes and pastries.
How to Make Homemade Almond Butter
Almond butter is a popular nut butter because it has a rich, nutty taste, and it is a great alternative to peanut butter for people with peanut allergies. Here’s a quick homemade almond butter recipe:
- Pour three cups of almonds into a sturdy food processor. Raw almonds will yield a milder taste; roasted almonds will yield a deeper and more flavorful roasted almond butter.
- Process the almonds until finely ground, then add one tablespoon oil (such as canola oil or coconut oil).
- Add any additional flavors, if desired—cinnamon, vanilla, or maple syrup are all great options. Process until the mixture is a creamy paste. Salt with sea salt to taste.
Almond butter should be stored in an airtight container in the fridge.
How to Make Homemade Almond Milk
Almond milk has a light texture and nutty flavor, and it is a dairy-free and vegan alternative to cow’s milk.
While almond milk is not high in calcium or vitamin D like dairy milk, it is a great source of vitamin E, is lower in calories, and has less saturated fat. Unsweetened almond milk also has considerably less sugar than dairy milk.
Almond milk is great to pour over cereal or to add to smoothies. To make homemade almond milk:
- Soak one cup of almonds (the best for almond milk are raw organic almonds) overnight in a bowl of water, then drain and rinse.
- Pour almonds into a high-powered blender and add four cups cold water. You can leave the mixture unsweetened, or you can add a sweetener like honey, maple syrup, or soaked dates. Feel free to add any flavors at this step—vanilla extract is a common addition.
- Blend on high until creamy and smooth.
- Strain mixture through cheesecloth into a bowl to remove almond pulp.
Almond milk should be stored in an airtight container in the fridge.
What Is the Difference Between Almond Flour and Regular Flour?
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Almond flour is made from skinned ground almonds (it is closely related to almond meal, which is a slightly coarse flour made by grinding almonds with their skin still on).
Almond flour is a common alternative to wheat flour because almond flour is:
- Gluten-free. While all-purpose flour is made from wheat, almond flour is made from a base of almonds, making it a great gluten-free alternative to regular flour.
- Better for you. Compared to regular flour, almond flour is low carb, higher in vitamins (like vitamin E), and higher in fiber.
- Slightly sweeter. Due to its sweeter taste, almond flour is a key ingredient in many common desserts, including marzipan (a combination of honey and almond flour, often used as a filling for pastries or chocolates) and macarons (small cookies made of almond flour and coconut).
When making substitutions in wheat flour recipes, one cup of almond flour should be used for every one cup of wheat flour. Almond flour is a great substitution in muffins, cookies, and cakes.
How to Cook With Almond Oil
Almond oil can be made either refined or unrefined.
- Unrefined almond oil is made by cold-pressing dried almonds, and it is a great source of monounsaturated fats, heart-healthy nutrients, and antioxidants. For use in cooking, unrefined almond oil is a healthy option to use as a finishing oil drizzled over salads or roasted vegetables. Avoid using unrefined almond oil over high heat, however, as it has a low smoke point.
- Refined almond oil is pressed using high heat, which causes the oil to lose a lot of its nutritional value. Refined almond oil has a smoke point, around 430 F, which means it can be used over high heat without burning. Refined almond oil can be used to roast or sautée, similar to other high-heat oils.
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