The almond tree can be found, majorly, in and around the Middle Eastern part of the world (the South-western part of Asia) and areas surrounding North Africa (even though it can be found in other parts of the world in small amounts, almond trees are in large concentrations north of the equator). Grown mainly within Mediterranean climates, the Prunus dulcis is of two varieties; the sweet almond and the bitter almond. The sweet almond (the dulcis variety) is the most common and the specie grown commercially for its popular seed; the almond nut, which the state of California accounts for nearly 80% of the entire world supply.
The bitter amara variety is not too common and, even though it is not eaten directly, may have other valuable uses such as being a source for the rich almond oil derived from bitter almond nuts and used in the production of flavors and food essence for flavoring foods and liquors (however, the hydrocyanic acids present in them must first be removed).
The almond trees are very beautiful trees growing up to 10-15 feet tall are deciduous and very hardy. During flowering, almond trees produce light pink or white flowers which are very fragrant and are cross-pollinated by insects as the flowers are not compatible with themselves. The almond trees may survive in temperate regions but fruiting may be unlikely if frost occurs during the flowering period. Modern almond growers maintain very vast orchards and achieve pollination by introducing rented hives of honeybees as insect pollinators during the flowering season.
Commercially, there can be different varieties of almond trees of the same and age and size grown in the same orchard at the same time. However, almond cultivation in the past was limited to one tree grown for personal use and may be harvested manually. In the commercialized production, growers are more industrial and mechanized tree shakers are used to harvest the seeds (drupes) from the tree.
The almond tree is seasonal and will usually bear fruit once in a year (annual trees) and therefore leaves the world in short supply the rest of the year if harvested nuts are not preserved and supplied in a controlled manner. This leaves the need for genetically modified species that may produce almond drupes all year round or at least twice a year (biannual species).
The two major varieties of almond nuts are very rich in oils with a composition of about 35-55% fixed oil content of purely non-volatile oils and will yield glucose when immersed in water due to the presence of the enzyme emulsion in both varieties.
Almond nuts are not really true nuts per se, even though they are classified as one. They are basically seeds enclosed in a hard fruit covering with a leathery fruity covering. In many places, the fruity covering is eaten as fruit before the hard covering can be broken to reveal the nut.
Most nuts contain oil as its major component with accompanying amount of fat which varies for each specie. The good thing is that, even though the oils are extracted with trace amounts of other unwanted chemicals which may be harmful to health, the oils are in fact non-volatile and since they are produced from a plant part, their fat content is majorly of unsaturated fat with little or no saturated fat content. The amygdalin present in the bitter almond is contained in the sweet almond in trace amounts.
The almond nuts, like most nut, are made up of proteinous fibre and it is also a source of small amounts of iron, phosphorus and calcium. Vitamin content features a larger percentage of vitamin A alongside vitamin B complex and vitamin E.
Observably, almonds are very nutritious and good for consumption and have been noted to contain very little amount of cholesterol depending on the specie. Essentially, 28 grams of nuts will contain about 3.5g of fibre, a total of 14g of fat (9g being monounsaturated), 6g of protein and other various important nutrients contained in varying amounts. The same quantity of nuts supply about 161 calories (a greater amount of which is supplied by the fat) and nearly 2.5g of carbohydrates.
Uses and Benefits of Almond Nuts
- Almond nuts are rich in antioxidant elements and compounds and are therefore a major source of antioxidants that can protect the body from damage alongside its high vitamin E content and effectively slow senescence and disease.
- Almonds can be used as a natural food supplement to control blood sugar levels due to its high level of magnesium. This comes in handy when plotting a suitable diet for persons with diabetic disorders.
- Due to its application in maintenance of blood sugar level by taking advantage of magnesium content in almond nuts, a resulting control over blood pressure can be derived making almond nuts very useful to persons living with hypertensive disorders in reducing high BP.
- Almond nuts diet help to maintain a good LDL-to-HDL balance. This means that almond nuts introduce high density Lipoproteins into the body resulting to a lower low density Lipoprotein level and makes sure that we have more good cholesterol level than the bad.
- Almond nuts are also rich in calcium and phosphorus and are therefore very useful to infant nutrition for increased and improved bone structure.
- Almond nuts contain oil and fat which, when fully processed, can be used to make butter with very low cholesterol level, low saturated fat content and high calorie levels. This will act as a better substitute to traditionally made butter.
- Almond milk can also be derived from almond nuts and used in a number of different applications and as a substitute for dairy milk which contains higher levels of saturated fat.
Obviously, almond milk will have a nutty taste. It is, however, considered to be richer in protein and more beneficial to health than the normal milk derived from animals. This can be attributed to the fact that it has very little to no cholesterol content and does not contain lactose and therefore is very good for persons with lactose intolerance.
Nutritional Information for Almond Milk
As much as almond milk seems like a complete substitute for dairy milk, it has been found lacking in some areas while appearing generally better in other areas. Aside from the fact that it can be consumed by lactose-intolerant people, it can be used instead of diary milk for ensuring weight loss as a cup of almond milk contains about 60 calories against the 146 calories contained in dairy milk.
About 1g of protein and 2 mg of calcium among other things can be derived from almond milk. Almond milk is also packed with a lot of preservative additives to ensure longer shelf life, preserve the nutty flavor of the milk and reduce the need for refrigeration.
In the end, almond milk acts as a mild nutritional substitute for dairy milk and is generally preferred by people with special dietary requirements. A lot of beverages are flavored with milk from almond nuts and a lot of companies use almond milk as flavoring agent in dairy milk cartons.
Production of Almond Milk
Almond milk production is an old and relatively easy process. The production methods vary to accommodate industrial production, however, it follows an easier process when being made at home. Mechanized commercial production accounts for large scale production in large quantities and at regular basis. Therefore, it involves an intricate and complex assembly of machines that take care of all production processes at a go.
Production of almond milk at home requires the most basic techniques and tools. You only need to soften the hard nut by soaking in water for a long time. The longer the soaking time, the softer the nut becomes and the greater and richer the milk produced. The water is then drained and the nut is rinsed. The grinding of the nuts should be done with fresh water by any means that ensures a smooth consistency. The liquid sieved out from the ground almond nut is the almond milk.
The milk can be used for a lot of application including serving chilled as a soft milk drink. The milk can also be flavored or mixed with other plant milks to produce a smoother and creamier liquid. The almond-soy milk drinks are examples of this plant milk mixtures.
Uses and Benefits of Almond Milk
As much benefits and more can be derived from the almond milk as the ordinary diary milk.
- The major benefit, I think, is the fact that almond milk has no lactose content and almost no cholesterol content. It therefore can be used by a lot of people even people who cannot consume dairy milk.
- Dairy milk can be used as a weight loss supplement as it contains low calorie levels and low fat content (little fat in almond milks is basically unsaturated).
- You need not worry if the doctor has advised your hypertensive grandmother or diabetic uncle to lay off the milk. The milk from almond nuts can be a very healthy substitute.
- It improves neural functions just as most plant milks (it may not have the ability to perform this function as much as the milk from walnut).
- As we have pointed out, the almond milk has the ability to last very long without refrigeration. It does not contain the large number of microscopic bacteria that act on dairy milk to ferment it.
- The fact still remains that almond milks are relatively very easy to make. All one needs is the nut and a means to grind it. Even industrial production is not as complex as the production techniques required for other things.
- Due to its natural nutty flavor and rich creamy texture, it essentially tastes better than dairy milks. The almond milk production does not go through a lot of processes and therefore, leaves the milk with a more natural taste.
Most nuts are covered by a thin slightly hard membrane. This membrane is highly made of calcium. This gives nuts their general characteristic high calcium concentration. Plant milk can be derived from a lot of nuts and grains and is considered richer than their dairy counterpart in many ways.