The name of this nut is supposed to be derived from the word amysso, meaning to lacerate, on account of the prominent, sharp, knife-like margin of one edge of the nut. The English name is from the Latin amandola and from the Greek amaygdale. The almond tree is a tropical evergreen, and was originally a native of Barbary and Morocco, but is now widely cultivated throughout the warmer temperate zones of the Old World, and also in California and in the southern United States.
Botanically it belongs to the Rose family, Rosacea. In most of our modern botanical works, it is classed as a subsection of Prunus, the plum. The plum, peach, and almond are generally considered to be only varieties of one species. Our cultivated peaches and nectarines are undoubtedly descendants of the wild almond tree. However, they differ greatly in the size and color of the blossoms as well as the shape and size of the leaf. The almond blossoms are usually somewhat larger than the blossoms of the peach, and of a pale rose color, appearing in early spring before or with the unfolding leaves. The leaves are three or four inches long, tapering and finely serrate. The fruit of the almond, like the peach, is covered with a soft, velvety down; but the pulpy envelope becomes dry and fibrous at maturity, cracking open and allowing the rough, deeply pitted, and wrinkled nut to drop out, while in the peach, the pulpy envelope becomes soft, juicy, and edible. The plum is only a peach with a smooth skin.
"As with most of the long-cultivated fruit and nut trees, very little is known of the early history or origin of the almond, and even its native country has not been positively determined, although it is supposed to be indigenous to northern Africa, and the mountainous regions of Asia. Theo-phrastus, who wrote the history of plants three centuries before the Christian era, mentions the almond as the only tree in Greece that produces blossoms before the leaves."
The almond thrives throughout the Mediterranean countries both in Europe and Africa, and has long been extensively cultivated. It forms an important article of commerce, immense quantities being exported from Spain, mostly from Valencia, while the so-called Jordan almond comes from Malaga, as very few are raised in the valley of the Jordan.
The almond ranks high in nutritive value, and is highly esteemed for culinary purposes, being employed in the preparation of numerous dainty and appetizing dishes for the table. In the countries where the almond is grown, it is considered a dainty dish to serve in the half-open green husks; in this state, the kernels are just passing from the milky stage, and are more easily digested than they are when fully ripe. But those found in the markets are fully matured, and have been thoroughly dried before shipping; most of them are already shelled, as labor is much cheaper in those countries where they grow, and the shipping expense to this country is less.
The sweet almond contains fifty-three per cent, of fats, twenty-three and five-tenths per cent, of albuminous elements, seven and eight-tenths per cent, of starch, and three per cent. of salts, making a total nutritive value of eighty-seven and three-tenths per cent.
The rough brown skin which covers the kernel of the almond is bitter, and somewhat irritating to the stomach. This should be removed by blanching.
1. Languedoc; 1a. Languedoc Kernel; 2. Languedoc with Double Kernel; 3. Ne Plus Ultra; 3a. Ne Plus Ultra Kernel; 4. IXL; 4a. IXL Kernel; 5. La Prima; 5a. La Prima Kernel; 6. Nonpareil; 6a. Nonpareil Kernel; 7. Golden State; 7a. Golden State Kernel; 8. Bitter; 8a. Bitter Kernel; 9. Jordan; 9a. Jordan Kernel.
When formed into an emulsion, they are considered an excellent medicine for persons suffering with diabetes and pulmonary disorders. Almond oil is a standard article in the stock of druggists, entering into the composition of various kinds of powders, paste, syrups, and cosmetics. But the most important use is to take the place of dairy milk and butter.
Almonds are usually divided into three groups; the soft, or paper-shelled, the hard-shelled, and the bitter. There are many varieties of each group, although they are generally called by the name of the group to which they belong.
Soft, or Paper-shelled Almonds.- In this group there are many varieties, the most common being the widely known sweet-kerneled, thin-shelled nut. It is one of the oldest in cultivation in European countries. The blossoms are pale rose in color and very large.
Hard-shelled Almonds.- - This variety differs from the preceding only in the hardness of its shell and its hardiness to endure the cold. It can be grown where the peach can, and is very productive. Its shell is quite firm and smooth, but deeply pitted. The kernels are fully as large as the paper-shelled, and equally valuable for food.
Most of the names of the different varieties are the names of the country or city from which they were exported. The Sicily almond from Sicily, Valencia almond from Valencia, while the Jordan almond comes from Malaga, a very few being raised in the valley of the Jordan.
Bitter Almonds.- As regards the shell, this class is not distinct from the other two, as some have soft and some have hard shells; but the kernels are very bitter, and contain a poisonous acid, known as hydrocyanic, or Prussic, acid. Although it is often used as flavoring in confectionery and cake, it is unsafe to do so.
The kernel of the sweet almond varieties does not contain this poison, but it is found in their leaves and bark.