Of all the nuts getting press lately, almonds have been topping the charts.
Almonds are a good source of fiber, protein, heart health nutrients and vitamin E. They're also a great source of Vitamin B, magnesium and calcium. Who knew one nut could contain so much?!
But, heading out to the west coast where more than 80 percent of the world’s almonds are grown opened my eyes to some new facts about almonds you might not have known.
Bees Make Almonds Possible
Almonds grow on trees, literally, like golden nuggets of truth. However, what you might not know is that without bees, almond trees do not produce nuts. It’s a bit crazy to believe, but bees are actually brought into the farms and let free to pollenate, pollenate, and pollenate the large groves of almond orchards. What’s more interesting is that HONEY bees are the prime movers and shakers heading from branch bud flower to flower.
Farmers rent the bees and move the hives at night to avoid confusing the bees from where they live. Bees are hard workers, too, even though they don’t work in rain, cold temperatures, at night or even by themselves. They prefer to fly in groups. Additionally, if you add another local species of bees, the honey bees work more efficiently and pollenate the buds even faster.
After mid-February when the almonds pollenate and start growing “nutlets,” it takes the whole summer to finally have the nuts ready to harvest. In early September, the farmers bring out the machinery and have 10-12 days to harvest the fields. With large tractors that shake the trees and scoop up the nuts through tightly bound tree lines, the entire process takes precision and guidance. If the tractor even grazes the tree bases and harm the bark, that tree will die within months. Four and five generation families farm almost 70 percent of the California almond region, and it takes a village to get these nuts in all forms to market.
Nut Size Matters
The almonds are then hulled after harvest and divided by size, wrinkles, color and shape. It sounds like a dating game especially when the top almonds are considered to be blonde, tall and thin much like many starlets in California. Other shapes and sizes end up in the many forms of almonds we see in our stores including:
- slivered almonds for recipes
- balanced almonds for vegetables
- whole raw almonds for snacking
- almond oils for cooking and salads
- almond butter, almond milk, almond paste, almond extract, roasted almonds -- I was going nuts!
What I love most about the almond is the crunch that it delivers compared to other nuts. Tasting the freshest almonds from the harvest was sweet, crunchy and made my stomach happy.
It’s no wonder that much of the upcoming research on almonds is showing how they may be key to maintaining a healthy weight and proven results in lowering cholesterol. As a key ingredient in the heart healthy Mediterranean Diet, almonds are finding their way in to the hearts of many.
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