Do you like almonds? We can’t get enough of them, no matter what form they come in. Being nutty about, well, nuts, made us want to find out more. And what better time to discover almonds than the summer?
A nut? A seed? A fruit?
Almonds are nuts (or actually seeds in botanical terms), but interestingly they are part of the prunus genus along with apricots, peaches, and cherries. If you look closely, the almond shell looks a lot like the edible seed within… The fresh fruit of the almond tree is an elegant pale-green color and contains a large shell. This, in turn, houses the renowned, widely-eaten dried seeds we also call almonds. And for your next game of Scrabble, remember that the verb “hull” means “to peel off a shell containing a seed!”
Almonds’ rarity is caused by several factors. Historically, the fruit of wild almond trees is inedible, unlike the other varieties we have domesticated. As a result, an initial selection process must be carried out. What’s more, growing almond trees requires an enormous amount of water and bee pollination. It’s more complicated than we think!
Where does it grow?
There are some 50 varieties of domesticated almond trees across the world that produce more than one million tons annually. The United States is the planet’s leading producer, with the majority of the sector based in California. In Europe, the main producers are Spain, Greece, France, and Italy. And these countries have also developed the finest examples of almond-based cuisine!
The most famous Italian variety of almonds is from Avola, a charming little town in Sicily in the beautiful Syracuse region. Sicilians say the harmony between the land, the mountains, the sea, and the climate – along with local know-how – creates this delicious almond. The harvested nuts are used to make the iconic sugared almond candies enjoyed all over the world.
How do you eat it?
Almonds are used in countless sweet treats including nougat, cakes, almond paste, and of course the renowned French frangipane epiphany cake. But they are also delectable additions to savory dishes with meat and fish. And almond milk and cream are ideal for making tasty, smooth culinary mixtures.
But let’s get back to Sicily. This almond-producing region is filled with different recipes each more irresistible than the last. Noteworthy offerings include cassata siciliana, frutta martorana (fruit-shaped, meticulously decorated bites sculpted with almond paste), and the summertime star, the granita alla mandorla! Who doesn’t love a good granita, especially at the moment? But did you know this beverage was actually invented in Sicily? According to legend, it existed as far back at the Middle Ages. Locals would collect snow from Mount Etna in winter and store it in natural caves until the following summer! And one popular flavor of granita is (you guessed it) our beloved almond! What’s more, the ingredients couldn’t be simpler. Simply mix water, almond paste, and sugar! Granita is a typical Sicilian breakfast beverage, traditionally enjoyed with a warm, spongy slice of brioche.
What will your favorite flavor of granita be this summer?