National Almond Day
annually on February 16th
Today we celebrate almonds! The second most popular nut after peanuts, almonds are native to central and southwest Asia and the area around the Mediterranean. Nomadic tribes ate them while on journeys, and as almonds fell along trade routes, wild almond trees sprang up. The Silk Road between China and the Mediterranean Sea is one place where the trees made their home.
Almonds are one of the earliest cultivated foods and were grown in ancient times in the Mediterranean area, particularly in Greece, Israel, Spain, and Morocco. They are mentioned in ancient Hebrew writings dating to 2,000 BCE, as well as in the Bible, where they were seen as a symbol of hope and an object of value. They were also seen as a symbol of hope in literature, art, and music, as well as being a symbol of beauty and rebirth. They were woven into rugs in Persia and were used to represent halos in paintings and in stained glass windows. Later, Van Gogh used almond blossoms in his paintings. Persians and Arabs made milk from almond meal and water, and ancient Romans gave almonds to newlyweds as fertility charms. Similarly, in modern times, sugared almonds are given to guests at weddings.
As time went on, the importance of almonds continued to increase around the Mediterranean. There were industries related to them in Greece, France, Italy, Spain, Portugal, Tunisia, Morocco, and Turkey. However, today the only country of these that is known for almond production is Spain, which is the number two producer of the nuts after California.
California is the world's largest producer of almonds, growing between 70 and 80 percent of the world's total. It is also the only state that produces them commercially today. Almonds were introduced to California by Franciscan missionaries in the mid-nineteenth century. In the 1840s, cultivators tried to grow them in southern states like Georgia, New Mexico, and Texas but were not successful. The almond trees bloomed too early in the year, at a time when frosts were still occurring. The trees were also susceptible to diseases because of the high humidity. Fortunately, almond trees fared much better in California; they began being planted around Sacramento, Monterey, and Los Angeles in the 1850s. Today there are around 25 varieties of almonds grown in California. They are divided into five classifications that are determined by size and shape. Most fall under the three classifications of Nonpareil, California, and Mission.
An ounce of almonds has 160 calories. Almonds are an excellent source of vitamin E and magnesium and also a good source of protein and potassium. They also have calcium, iron, fiber, and healthy monounsaturated fats. Because they have potassium and are low in sodium, they are heart healthy and help to regulate blood pressure and cholesterol. Their protein, fiber, and healthy fats help people control weight, by making a person feel full for longer after eating them and keeping them from eating as much.
Almonds can be eaten as a snack or be used in recipes. They can be eaten plain and raw or can be salted, roasted, spiced, and sweetened. They are used in desserts such as cookies, cakes, marzipan, and torrone, and can be covered with candy or chocolate. They are also used in granola bars and cereal. They have uses that are not culinary. For example, almond oil and almond milk are used for skincare and are full of vitamin A, E, B1, and B6. They fight itchiness and dryness and can stop inflammation and rashes. No matter how they are used, almonds are enjoyed today!
How to Observe
Celebrate the day by eating almonds! You could have them plain, salted, roasted, spiced, or sweetened. You could use them in a recipe and make cookies, cake, marzipan, chocolate covered almonds, or torrone. You could also celebrate by picking up some almond oil to use on your skin. If you are in California or an area with a similar climate, you could plant an almond tree.