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Almonds

The almond is thought to have originated in Asia and North Africa. The almond is mentioned in ancient texts such as the Bible. Archaeologists have found traces of the cultivation of almonds dating back to the time of the Assyrians and the ancient Persians, but evidence suggests that the Greeks were the first to cultivate the seed; in fact, the Romans referred to the almond as the "Greek nut." The ancients used the almond as both a food and a medicine.

The almond tree usually grows to a height of 20 to 30 feet. It resembles the peach tree and belongs to the same family, but unlike the peach, the dry fruit of the almond tree is not fleshy. In California, many Almond trees are grafted on to the root stem of Peach Trees. Very sensitive to the cold, the almond tree thrives in regions with Mediterranean climates, and it is grown primarily in California, Spain, Italy and Australia. The fruit of the almond tree contains an off-white oval seed (the almond) that is covered with thin brownish "skin" and surrounded by a shell whose firmness depends on the particular variety of almond (over 100 varieties are grown in California). The shell itself is covered with a tough, fibrous green husk that breaks open when the almond is fully-grown. Although the shell usually houses only one almond, it can contain twin seeds, known as Philippine almonds. The word "almond" can refer to anything that is almond-shaped, including the seeds of other fruits (especially in France).

Almonds are classified as either bitter or sweet: The bitter almond (P. amygdalus var. amara) contains several rather toxic substances, including the hydrocyanic acid that makes it taste bitter; these toxins are removed from bitter-almond oil before it is used in the preparation of food. A clear liquid, the essential oil of the bitter almond is used as flavouring (almond essence) and to make liqueurs as amaretto. The sweet almond (P. amygdalus var. dulcis) is the widely edible seed commonly known as the "almond"; although it is usually eaten dried, it can be eaten fresh if its shell is green, firm, and still somewhat tender.

Almonds.