Almonds 101: Intro to almonds

Published: Wednesday, Oct. 17, 2012 - 12:00 am | Page 2D

Nutrition: One ounce of almonds – about 22 to 30 nuts, depending on size – contains about 160 calories, mostly from fat contained in the nut's oil. (The good news: It's primarily "good" unsaturated fat.) That oil also make almonds a very good source of Vitamin E.

These nuts pack some power, too; almonds are 13 percent protein. Rich in nutrients, almonds are a good source of riboflavin, magnesium, manganese and calcium.

Almonds are considered a real health nut. Research shows that their high phytochemical content may help reduce heart attack risk, lower cholesterol and protect against cardiovascular disease.

Almonds also contain arginine, an amino acid that helps burn fat. But that substance also counteracts lysine and can aggravate cold sores and herpes outbreaks.

Selection: If you buy almonds in the shell, shake a few. If you hear a lot of rattling, that may signal shrinkage, a sign of almond aging.

Older nuts can turn rancid. To check, slice the nut in half. It should appear solid white throughout. If the raw nut meat has turned yellow or developed a honeycomb texture, the almond is probably past its prime.

One pound unshelled almonds yields about 1 1/4 cups of whole nuts. One pound of shelled nuts will make about 3 1/3 cups chopped almonds.

Storage: Almonds like a cool, dark, dry place to keep their taste and crunchy texture intact. An unopened package of natural almonds will keep up to two years; longer if frozen. After opening the package, transfer nuts to a jar or other airtight container and use almonds within three months. Shelled nuts may be refrigerated or frozen for up to two years without losing quality.

Avoid exposing almonds to strong odors (such as onions or garlic). The nuts can absorb those odors if stored together for prolonged periods.

Resources:

www.bluediamond.com: Sacramento-based Blue Diamond offers almond recipes and tips on its website. With bargains on bulk nuts and a wide selection of almond products, the Blue Diamond factory store is open to the public at 1701 C St., Sacramento; (916) 446-8438. Store hours are 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekdays, 9:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturdays; closed Sundays.

www.almondboard.com: The Almond Board of California offers hundreds of recipes and tips plus easy-to-follow how-to videos.


All in the almond family

The world's most popular tree nut is actually part of the plum family. Native to Northern Africa, the Middle East and the Mediterranean, almonds are closely related to peaches and apricots.

Wild almonds are bitter varieties, containing potentially lethal poisons. The first sweet almonds (which are toxin-free) were cultivated before 2000 B.C. Sweet almonds were found in King Tut's tomb.

In mythology and lore, almonds are a symbol of hope and promise. In several cultures, they're given at weddings, christenings or other special events as tokens of good luck and happiness.

In the 1700s, Spanish missionaries introduced almonds to California, where this nut has flourished ever since. All of the U.S. almond crop grows in the Golden State, primarily in the Central Valley.

Roasted almonds

Roasting brings out a deep, rich flavor in these nuts. Place raw almonds on a parchment- or foil-lined cookie sheet. Roast in a preheated 350-degree F. oven for 12 to 15 minutes, stirring once or twice to prevent burning.

Slivered or sliced almonds may be toasted in the same manner. Toast them in a 350- degree oven for 7 to 10 minutes, stirring once or twice, until they develop a light brown color


Almond butter

Use those roasted almonds for a rich and creamy spread. Put roasted nuts into a food processor and process for several minutes, occasionally scraping down the sides. The oil is gradually released from the ground almonds, turning them from fluffy flour to creamy butter. Be patient; it can take 15 minutes of processing or more.

Once the ground almonds turn creamy, you can add flavorings such as a pinch of salt, a little vanilla extract or a drizzle of maple syrup. You may also add a little canola or other mild-tasting oil to get the right spreading consistency. Store almond butter in the refrigerator to maintain its freshness. Stir if it separates.


Almond flour

This gluten-free gourmet flour, which can be used as a substitute for wheat flour in many recipes, is easy to make at home. The key is to keep it fluffy; overprocessing releases too much oil and turns it into almond paste.

Work in small batches. Take one cup blanched almonds and put in a blender or food processor. (The skin of unblanched almonds will add dark specks to the flour.) Pulse a few times until the nuts are finely ground. Transfer the ground nuts to a flour sifter and sift. The little nut pieces left in the sifter can be ground again in the blender or processor.

Hint: Blenders and coffee grinders tend to make better almond flour than food processors; they grind finer without turning the ground nuts to paste.

Almond flour can keep in the freezer for up to three months. But take it out of the freezer at least an hour before use; frozen almond flour tends to clump.


Chop, slice, sliver

Almonds start to lose their freshness when cut. Buy whole almonds, then chop just before cooking or other use in recipes.

For sliced or slivered almonds, buy them pre-processed and save your fingers. During processing, the almonds are heated to make them pliable, then pushed through a special machine.

Slivered almonds are cut into little uniform lengthwise sticks; without preheating, the nuts often shatter when slivered at home. Sliced almonds are cut very thin across the diagonal, which make them very tough to make at home.

Skin or no skin: Depending on variety, almonds' brown skin may taste bitter. But that skin also adds more almond flavor to recipes.

Taste the whole nut first. If it's not too bitter, skip the blanching and use the almonds with skins on.

But blanching is easy (and a must for some recipes). Put the almonds in a bowl. Pour boiling water over the nuts to barely cover the almonds. Let sit for one minute – no longer. Drain, then rinse the nuts with cold water. Immediately drain again. Pat the nuts dry. The skins will slip right off while drying. Make sure the nuts don't sit in water for more than a minute, or they may lose their crispness.

-Debbie Arrington

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