Grow almonds from seed

The health benefits of almonds

There are several potential health benefits that scientists have associated with almonds.

1) Almonds and cholesterol

Share on PinterestEating almonds may lower overall cholesterol levels.

Almonds are high in fat, but it is unsaturated fat. This type of fat does not increase the risk of low-density lipoprotein (LDL) or “bad” cholesterol.

In moderation, the American Heart Association (AHA) note that unsaturated fats may improve a person’s blood cholesterol status.

In addition, almonds contain no cholesterol.

A study from 2005 suggests that consuming almonds may:

  • increase vitamin E levels in the plasma and red blood cells
  • lower overall cholesterol levels

According to these researchers, vitamin E is an antioxidant that can help stop the oxidization process that causes cholesterol to clog the arteries.

Further studies have found similar results.

Authors of a 2018 review note that the nutrients in almonds may help boost or maintain levels of high-density lipoprotein (HDL) or “good” cholesterol. They advised people to consume around 45 grams (g) a day of almonds to protect heart health.

Which foods should you eat and avoid if you have high cholesterol? .

2) Almonds and cancer risk

A 2015 study looked at nut consumption and cancer risk.

The authors identified a two to three times lower risk of breast cancer among individuals who consumed higher quantities of peanuts, walnuts, and almonds, compared with those who did not.

They concluded that “peanuts, walnuts, and almonds appear to be a protective factor for the development of breast cancer.”

Is there a link between diet and cancer? Find out here.

3) Almonds and heart disease

Almonds, along with other nuts and seeds, may help improve lipid, or fat, levels in the blood. This can benefit heart health.

In a study from 2014, scientists found that almonds significantly increased the levels of antioxidants in the bloodstream, reduced blood pressure, and improved blood flow. The participants were all healthy males from 20–70 years of age who took 50 g of almonds per day for 4 weeks.

The researchers believe this may be due to:

  • vitamin E, healthy fats, and fiber, which help a person feel full
  • the antioxidant impact of flavonoids

They recommend eating a handful of almonds a day to obtain these benefits.

High blood pressure increases the risk of heart disease. Which foods can help a person lower their blood pressure?

4) Almonds and vitamin E

Almonds contain relatively high levels of vitamin E. Vitamin E contains antioxidants, such as tocopherol. One ounce (28.4 g) of plain almonds provides 7.27 milligrams (mg) of vitamin E, which is around half a person’s daily requirement.

Vitamin E and other antioxidants help prevent oxidative damage in the body. This damage can occur when too many free radicals accumulate.

Free radicals result from natural bodily processes and environmental stresses. The body can eliminate many of them, but dietary antioxidants help remove them, too. High levels of free radicals can cause oxidative stress, resulting in damage to cells. This can lead to various diseases and health problems.

Scientists have also tentatively linked a higher vitamin E intake with a lower risk of Alzheimer’s disease.

A 2016 review notes that one antioxidant in vitamin E, alpha-tocopherol, may play a role in reducing the risk of cancer. However, more studies are needed to confirm this as findings have been contradictory overall.

Find out which other foods are a good source of vitamin E.

5) Almonds and blood sugar

There is some evidence that almonds may help manage blood sugar levels.

Many people with type 2 diabetes have low magnesium levels. A deficiency is common among those who have difficulty managing their blood sugar levels. Scientists have suggested there may be a link between magnesium deficiency and insulin resistance.

In a 2011 study, 20 people with type 2 diabetes ate 60 g of almonds a day for 12 weeks. Overall, they saw improvements in:

  • blood sugar levels
  • blood lipid, or fat, levels

One ounce of almonds provides 76.5 mg of magnesium, or between 18% and 24% of an adult’s daily requirement.

Some experts suggest using magnesium supplements to improve blood sugar profiles, but almonds may offer a suitable dietary source instead.

Learn more about how nuts may help people with diabetes.

6) Almonds help manage weight

Almond are low in carbohydrates but high in protein, healthful fats, and fiber.

According to research appearing in 2015, eating almonds as a mid-morning snack can leave a person feeling full for some time. People consumed either 28 g (173 calories) or 42 g (259 calories). The extent to which the participants’ appetites remained low was dependent on the quantity of almonds they consumed.

Feeling full can help people lose weight, as they will be less tempted to seek more snacks.

Nuts often feature in breakfast cereal. What other breakfast foods can help a person feel full?

7) Almonds boost bone health

Almonds contain calcium, magnesium, manganese, copper, vitamin K, protein, and zinc, all of which contribute to bone health.

Experts have recommended almonds as a way to obtain some of these nutrients.

What are some other ways to improve bone strength? Find out here.

Water is essential for growing food. To water their crops, most farmers around the world use recycled water or rainfall, but a significant proportion of farms also use water from lakes, rivers, reservoirs, and groundwater. Globally, agriculture accounts for 85% of all water use, which puts a strain on our planet’s limited supply of fresh and groundwater.

Groundwater: water held in the soil or under rocks in reservoirs

Surface water: water from rain, lakes, rivers, and streams

Nuts Versus Seeds

If you are ever choosing between nuts and seeds for a boost of protein, you’re making a choice about water, not just choosing between two plant-based foods.
Tree nuts like almonds, pistachios, walnuts, and cashews are actually some of the most water-intensive crops grown today. Seeds, though usually grouped together with nuts in dietary recommendations, have a much lower water footprint and impact on our environment.

One study that averaged the global water use of various crops found that pumpkins, squash, and watermelons require roughly 20 to 90 times less water to grow than tree nuts (excluding rainwater). The water used to grow squash and melons produces both edible flesh and edible seeds. It’s a two-for-one deal. For tree nuts, the water is only used to grow the nuts.
Peanuts are more similar to potatoes than they are to tree nuts because they grow below the ground, making them far more water efficient than other nuts. On average, peanuts use just slightly more water than sunflower seeds. But pumpkin and watermelon seeds still come out on top.

Location, Location, Location

The high water footprint of tree nuts might not seem like an issue in places with a plentiful water supply, but the tree nuts in the U.S. are grown in an area with limited surface and groundwater. This is why location matters. In the U.S., California is the largest producer of nuts, among many other foods. California has also been repeatedly stricken with severe drought in recent years. A regular and dependable supply of water increases how much food we can grow, making repeated droughts in our nation’s “breadbasket” especially alarming. Water-stressed California produces 82% of the world’s almonds, 98% of the U.S.’s pistachios, and 99% of the U.S.’s walnuts — the three most water-intensive nuts on the market.

Why Water Matters

When used in high quantities, like for growing tree nuts, water is often diverted from natural ecosystems that house salmon populations, among many other plant and animal species. Salmon populations affected by water diversion have experienced more disease and produced fewer offspring. This kind of water diversion threatens not just wild salmon’s survival, but the greater ecosystem as well. For food grown in places like California, every drop of water being used to grow that food has an impact on the surrounding ecosystem.
But that’s just surface water.

While many farmers have a legal right to use surface water near their land, like rivers or streams, groundwater is technically a shared resource and is far more easily depleted. With wells on multiple farms all tapping into the same supply, and with little regulation on groundwater extraction, the supply of groundwater is being used faster than it can be replenished.
Legal rights to water in California are also complicated, with few incentives for farmers to conserve water right now and no easy solution yet in sight. Tree nut production in California presents the constant tug-of-war between environmental sustainability and economic vitality: with so many other farmers growing food throughout California, it can be difficult to justify the high water footprint of tree nuts, aside from their revenue generating power for farmers.

What We Can Do

We have an impact on the environment in one way or another every time we buy, eat, or throw away food.

Both nuts and seeds provide nutrition with a lower impact on the environment than meat and other animal products. However, nuts and seeds are far from equal in terms of water use and environmental impact.
To help reduce water depletion and alleviate water stress in areas of drought, choose seeds over tree nuts for plant-based nutrition and satisfying snacking.

Almonds are the most popular nuts in the United States. A favorite of dieters, in recent years almonds have become famous for their versatility and health benefits.

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Americans’ demand for almonds has increased over 400 percent since 1980. In 2016, Americans ate an average of 1.8 lbs. (816 grams) of almonds each.

There’s good reason for the love affair. “Almonds have been studied extensively for their benefits on heart health, diabetes, and weight management,” said Jenny Heap, a registered dietitian with the Almond Board of California. “The unique nutrient combination of almonds — plant-based protein, fiber and monounsaturated fats, plus key nutrients like vitamin E and magnesium — help make them a heart-healthy snack.”

A 2017 study published in Nutrition Journal found that Americans, especially children, who replaced snack foods with almonds or other tree nuts saw a major increase in consumption of nutrients. In the study of more than 17,000 children and adults, participants swapped all their snacks with almonds and. Researchers found that participants consumed fewer empty calories, solid fats, sodium, saturated fats, carbohydrates and added sugars. Good oils and fats increased significantly, as did magnesium, fiber and protein by a small margin.

Technically speaking, almonds are not true nuts at all. The edible part that we call a nut is actually a seed, and almonds themselves are drupes, according to the University of California Riverside’s botany department. Sometimes called “stone fruits,” drupes are characterized by a tough rind surrounding a shell that holds a seed. Peaches and apricots, close cousins to the almond, are common examples of drupes. Like these relatives, almonds grow on beautiful, flowering trees and thrive in warm, dry climates.

The almond tree (Prunus dulcis), also related to cherries and plums, is native to Western Asia and Southern Europe. According to the Agricultural Marketing Resource Center, Spanish missionaries brought almonds to the New World, but the nut’s popularity did not rise until the 1900s. Today, the United States is the largest supplier of almonds in the world. California is the only state that produces almonds commercially. This may change, though, as the water supply in California declines.

Nutritional profile

“Ounce for ounce, almonds are higher in fiber, calcium, vitamin E, riboflavin and niacin than any other tree nut,” Heap told Live Science. “Every one-ounce serving (about 23 almonds) provides 6 grams of protein and 4 grams of fiber, plus vitamin E (35 percent DV ), magnesium (20 percent DV), riboflavin (20 percent DV), calcium (8 percent DV) and potassium (6 percent DV). In addition, almonds are a low-glycemic index food.”

Like other nuts, almonds contain a fairly high amount of fat, with about 14 grams per one-ounce serving. Fortunately, about two-thirds of it is heart-healthy monounsaturated fat, according to The George Mateljan Foundation’s World’s Healthiest Foods website.

A 2005 study published in the Journal of Nutrition showed that almonds pack the biggest nutritional punch if eaten whole, with their brown skins on (unblanched), rather than with their skins steamed off (blanched). The study identified 20 powerful antioxidant flavonoids in almond skin. Combined with the high vitamin E content in the meat of the almond, these flavonoids endow almonds with a unique nutritional package that may have implications for cholesterol levels, inflammation and more.

Nutrition facts

Here are the nutrition facts for almonds, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), which regulates food labeling through the Nutritional Labeling and Education Act:

Almonds, blanched Serving size: 1 ounce (28 g)

Calories 163; Calories from Fat 119

Amt per Serving %DV* Amt per Serving %DV*
Total Fat 2g 3% Total Carbohydrate 12g 4%
Cholesterol 10mg 4% Dietary Fiber 0g 0%
Sodium 125mg 5% Sugars 12g
Protein 11g
Vitamin A 10% Calcium 30%
Vitamin C 0% Iron 0%

*Percent Daily Values (%DV) are based on a 2,000 calorie diet.

Health benefits

Heart

Probably almonds’ best-known quality is that they are good for your heart. “Nearly two decades of research shows that almonds can help maintain a healthy heart and healthy cholesterol levels,” said Heap. A 2009 article in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition (AJCN) looked at the evidence on nut consumption and a variety of health issues. It noted that in four large-scale studies considered major in the field — the Iowa Women’s Health Study (1996), the Adventist Health Study (1992), the Nurses’ Health Study (1998) and the Physicians’ Health Study(2002) — nut consumption was linked to a lower risk for heart disease. Together, the studies showed an average reduction in the risk of death from heart disease by 37 percent, or “8.3 percent … for each weekly serving of nuts.”

“A growing body of evidence suggests that regularly choosing almonds in place of snacks high in refined carbohydrates is a simple dietary strategy to help support heart health,” said Heap. In another evidence review, published in 1999 in Current Atherosclerosis Reports, researchers looked at the Nurses’ Health Study and estimated that eating nuts instead of an equivalent amount of carbohydrates reduced heart disease risk by 30 percent. Substituting nuts for saturated fats, such as those found in meat and dairy products, resulted in a 45 percent estimated reduced risk.

Replacing almonds with saturated fats may also help lower LDL (bad) cholesterol levels. A 1994 study published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition looked at men with normal cholesterol levels and found that those who supplemented their diets with almonds for three weeks saw a 10 percent reduction in LDL levels.

A 2017 study published in Journal of Nutrition looked at 82 people with high LDL cholesterol. For six weeks, they ate a low-cholesterol diet that included one-third of a cup of almonds or a muffin with the same number of calories. Then, participants switched diets for another six weeks. Researchers found that the almond diet led to better distribution of HDL cholesterol subtypes and more effective cholesterol removal. These effects, however, were only seen in participants at a normal weight.

A serving of almonds provides 5 percent of the recommended daily value of potassium, which is necessary for heart health, according to the American Heart Association. Many studies have linked potassium with lower blood pressure because it promotes vasodilation (widening of blood vessels), according to Today’s Dietitian. The magazine article cited a study of 12,000 adults, published in Archives of Internal Medicine, which showed that those who consumed 4,069 mg of potassium each day lowered their risk of cardiovascular disease and ischemic heart disease by 37 percent and 49 percent, respectively, compared to those who took 1,793 mg per day.

Magnesium is also essential for heart health. According to the University of Maryland Medical Center, some doctors have seen positive results from giving patients who have suffered from heart failure doses of magnesium. There also may be a link between lower heart disease risk in men and intake of magnesium.

Heap noted that in 2003, the FDA approved “a qualified health claim recognizing that California almonds may help reduce the risk of heart disease.” The official statement said:

“Scientific evidence suggests, but does not prove, that eating 1.5 ounces of most nuts, such as almonds, as part of a diet low in saturated fat and cholesterol may reduce the risk of heart disease. One serving of almonds (28g) has 13g of unsaturated fat and only 1g of saturated fat.”

Almonds may even be good for those suffering from hyperlipidemia (excess lipids or lipoproteins in the blood). These patients used to be instructed to stay away from nuts because of their fat content, but a study published in 2002 in the journal Circulation showed that hyperlipidemic patients who ate almonds as snacks actually saw significant reductions in heart disease risk factors.

Weight loss and preventing weight gain

“With their combination of protein, fiber, good fats and satisfying crunch, almonds are a smart snack option to help keep hunger at bay while satisfying cravings,” said Heap. While she noted that “numerous studies have shown that choosing almonds as a daily snack does not lead to changes in body weight,” substituting them for other snacks may help dieters. A 2003 study published in the International Journal of Obesity and Related Metabolic Disorders suggested that combining almonds with a low-calorie, high-monounsaturated fat diet led to more weight loss than did a low-calorie diet with lots of complex carbohydrates. Another recent study, published in 2015 in the Journal of the American Heart Association, looked at substituting almonds for a muffin of the same caloric value and found that though participants did not lose weight in either group, the almond-eating group saw a reduction in abdominal fat, waist circumference and fat on the legs, as well as improved LDL cholesterol levels.

Almonds can also be a more satisfying snack than high-carb counterparts. “Their combination of protein, fiber, and good fats makes them a satisfying snack choice that can help keep you from reaching for empty calorie choices between meals,” said Heap. “In fact, a recent study showed that women who ate a mid-morning snack of 1-1.5 ounces of almonds felt more satisfied and ate fewer calories at subsequent meals.”

As if that weren’t good enough news, almonds may also help prevent weight gain. A five-year study conducted by Loma Linda University researchers and published in the European Journal of Nutrition in 2017 found that people who ate nuts, including almonds, regularly were more likely to stop gaining wait and at a 5 percent lower risk of becoming overweight or obese. The study evaluated more than 73,000 Europeans between the ages of 25 and 70 and found that, while most participants gained an average of 2.1 kilograms over five years, those who regularly ate nuts gained less weight. The lead researcher, Dr. Joan Sabate, suggested that people replace the animal protein on the center of their plates with nuts.

Additionally, a Spanish study published in 2007 in the journal Obesity found that over the course of 28 months, participants who ate nuts twice a week were 31 percent less likely to gain wait than were participants who never or rarely ate nuts.

Almond trees bloom between late February and early March. (Image credit: Jerocflores )

Good for gluten-free dieters

“Almonds are naturally gluten-free, and are a versatile, nutrient-rich addition to gluten-free diets,” said Heap. “Because gluten-free diets can be low in iron, fiber, B vitamins and protein, and high in saturated fat and sugar, it is important to help fill these gaps and optimize nutrition. All forms of almonds, including almond flour, almond milk and almond butter, are excellent additions for those choosing a gluten-free lifestyle.”

Diabetes

According to the AJCN review of nuts and health outcomes, the links between nut consumption and diabetes risk and symptoms are less clear than with heart disease. Nevertheless, the Nurses’ Health Study showed an inverse relationship between regular consumption of nuts and diabetes, as did the Shanghai Women’s Health Study (2008).

Additionally, there is some evidence that almonds can be helpful in regulating blood sugar levels. A 2006 study published in the Journal of Nutrition looked at giving participants controlled meals based either around almonds, rice, potatoes or bread. Researchers found that participants’ blood sugar and insulin decreased after eating the almond meal but not the others. Also, antioxidants in the blood increased after the almond meal, while they decreased after the other meals.

Almonds may also help lower the glycemic index of a high-glycemic meal. A 2007 study, published in the journal Metabolism, looked at combining almonds and bread-based meals. The more almonds participants ate, the lower the meal’s glycemic index became and the less the participants’ blood sugar levels rose. Eating three ounces of almonds with the bread-based meal lowered the meal’s glycemic index to less than half of that of the bread-only meal.

Energy

These tasty tree nuts can help you get moving. They are a very good source of energy-encouragers riboflavin, manganese and copper. Riboflavin is also known as vitamin B2, and it helps produce red blood cells and release energy from the carbohydrates you eat, according to the National Institutes of Health. Manganese and copper are components in an enzyme that stops free radicals in mitochondria, where our cells produce energy, according to World’s Healthiest Foods. In this way, these trace minerals help maintain your body’s energy flow.

Prevent gallstones

The fat and fiber content in almonds may help prevent gallstones by keeping your gallbladder and liver running smoothly. An analysis of the Nurses’ Health Study showed that frequent nut consumers were 25 percent less likely to need a cholecystectomy, a procedure to remove the gallbladder that is often done to treat gallstones. Another study, published in 2004 in the American Journal of Epidemiolgy found similar results in men, with frequent nut consumers seeing a 30 percent decreased risk in gallstone disease.

Cancer

According to the AJCN nuts and health review, some studies suggest that there might be a relationship between nut consumption and reduced cancer risk in women, especially for colorectal and endometrial cancers, but these studies do not focus on almonds specifically. One animal study published in 2001 in Cancer Letters looked at whole-almond consumption in rats and found that those who ate almonds had fewer cancer cells in their colons.

A 2017 observational study of 826 patients with colon cancer found that those who ate two or more ounces of tree nuts, including almonds, a week “had a 42 percent lower chance of cancer recurrence and 57 percent lower chance of death than those who did not eat nuts,” according to the study, which was published in the American Society of Clinical Oncology. The researchers do not suggest replacing chemotherapy with tree nuts. “Rather, patients with colon cancer should be optimistic, and they should eat a healthy diet, including tree nuts, which may not only keep them healthier, but may also further decrease the chances of the cancer coming back.”

Additionally, the antioxidants and vitamin E in almonds may have cancer-fighting benefits, though the National Cancer Institute warns that results from studies examining antioxidants, vitamins and cancer are inconclusive.

In July and early August, almond hulls begin to split open to expose the almond shell. (Image credit: Dolores Giraldez Alonso )

Risks of eating almonds

It is possible to be allergic to almonds. An almond allergy is typically grouped with a tree nut allergy (including cashews, walnuts, Brazil nuts and others), and is usually severe.

According to the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology, tree nut allergies are among the allergies most likely to cause anaphylaxis. Symptoms of an almond allergy include abdominal pain, diarrhea, difficulty swallowing, nasal congestion or a runny nose, nausea, shortness of breath, and itching. Both whole nuts and nut products, including oils and butters, can trigger an almond allergy attack.

Almonds are susceptible to aflatoxins, chemicals produced by molds that potentially can cause cancer. It is unsafe to eat almonds that are infected with mold, which appears as gray or black filaments. According to the Almond Board, the almond industry has programs and procedures to minimize aflatoxins.

In 2007, after cases of salmonella were traced to almonds, the U.S. Department of Agriculture mandated that California growers pasteurize their almonds. Since then, raw, untreated almonds grown in California have not been available. Almonds that are labeled as “raw” are actually pasteurized with steam or with propylene oxide. The practice is considered controversial, and organic farmers have sued the USDA, according to the Cornucopia Institute.

A 2017 study by the University of Surrey found that people who regularly consume alternative milks, such as almond milk, instead of cow’s milk could be at risk for iodine deficiency. While almond milk is often supplemented with calcium to make it more closely match what cow’s milk provides, it is not supplemented with iodine. Iodine is essential for making thyroid hormones and for fetal brain development. The World health Organization considers iodine deficiency to be the world’s leading, and most preventable cause, of brain damage. Lack of iron during pregnancy can result in the baby having a lower IQ and trouble reading, according to the University of Surrey study.

Almonds and dogs

Animals can apparently eat almonds safely, with some caveats. According to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, there is no evidence that almonds or Brazil nuts are toxic to animals. However, the ASPCA cautions that eating large amounts can cause upset stomachs. Foods with high fat content, such as nuts, may produce pancreatitis. Also, many nuts are sold salted, and could pose a risk for the development of a sodium ion toxicosis.

Fun facts about almonds

  • The Romans considered almonds a fertility charm and gave them to newlyweds.
  • There are more than 30 varieties of almonds.
  • Many almond trees are not self-pollinating and depend on bees to carry pollen to one another.
  • The United States — primarily California — produces 83 percent of the world’s almonds, followed by Australia (7 percent), European Union (5 percent), and Iran, Turkey and Tunisia (all 1 percent).
  • Almonds should be stored in cool, dry conditions, away from direct sunlight and away from other foods with strong odors, which almonds can absorb.

QI: Quite interesting facts about nuts

So peanuts, also known as groundnuts, earthnuts, goobers, pinders, Manila nuts and monkey nuts, aren’t nuts: they are a type of pea which grows underground. They are native to South America but now widely cultivated, notably in Georgia, in the United States. Some people are so severely allergic to peanuts that eating a tiny amount can be fatal; but these people may not be allergic to true nuts.

Brazil nuts

Brazil nuts aren’t nuts. Like horse chestnuts, they are seeds contained in a capsule or pod, which splits apart. True nuts don’t split – the seed and the fruit are one and the same. Brazil nuts mostly come from Bolivia (in Brazil, they are called castanhas, or chestnuts). They grow at the very top of enormously tall trees, in round wooden capsules packed with between eight and two dozen seeds. When the pods fall the seeds are released.

A Brazil nut is 65 per cent oil. In a packet of muesli full of seeds, nuts and cereal, Brazil nuts always end up on top if you shake the packet; this is called the Brazil nut effect.

Coconuts

Coconuts aren’t nuts. They are drupes (from the Greek dryppa, meaning “tree-ripened”). Drupes are fruit with a fleshy outer coating enclosing a hard shell containing a seed: almonds, walnuts, olives, dates and coffee. The word “coconut” comes from the Spanish and Portuguese word coco, which means “monkey face”. Explorers found a resemblance to a monkey’s face in the three round indented markings found at the base of the coconut.

Coconuts contain coconut water, not coconut milk. The milk is made by grating the flesh into the water and straining it. Fresh coconut water is an excellent hangover cure. It is completely sterile, full of vitamins and minerals and is isotonic (it has the same balance of salts as human blood). You could survive on a desert island eating and drinking only coconut.

Walnuts

Walnuts aren’t nuts. They are also drupes. Their name in Old English, walhnutu, meant “foreign nut”, from wealh, “foreign” (also the root for Wales). This was because they were introduced from Gaul and needed to be distinguished from the native hazelnut.

Because walnuts resemble the brain, they were believed in medieval times to be able to cure headaches. More recently, Nasa has used pulverised walnut shells as thermal insulation in the nose cones of its rockets.

Cashew nuts

Cashews aren’t nuts. They are the seeds of the cashew drupe, a member of the poison-ivy family. The cashew’s seed lining contains a powerful irritant called anacardic acid (which is why they are never served or sold in their skins).

The botanical name Anacardium refers to the shape of the fruit, which looks like an inverted heart (ana “upwards” + kardion “heart”).

Unlike Brazil nuts, cashews really do come from Brazil. The Portuguese planted them in Goa in the late 1500s and from there they spread through Asia and Africa.

Horse chestnuts

The tree is Turkish and only arrived in here in the 16th century. The game “conkers” was first recorded in Newport, in the Isle of Wight, in 1848. The name may derive from “conquerors”, a game played by children for centuries that involved smashing live snails together, or from an East Anglian dialect term for snail shells (related to “conch” from the Greek konche).

They are called “horse chestnuts” because they were fed to horses to help with respiratory disorders. The Turkish name, atkestanesi, also means “horse-chestnut” and probably derives from the Latin Castanea equina.

Nuts in May

The children’s song Here We Go Gathering Nuts in May makes no sense: there are no nuts to gather in May. It is a corruption of the phrase “Here we go gathering knots of may” and refers to the ancient custom of picking bunches (knots) of flowers on May Day to celebrate the end of winter.

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Any self-respecting pub quiz bore will tell you a peanut is a legume, a relative of the pea. If they are on top of their game, they will take pride in their certain knowledge that pineapples are, in fact, coalesced berries; there’ll be discussion of bananas no doubt. But, what of hips and haws? What about drupes? And, perhaps of more seasonal importance: what makes a “true nut”, in the strictest biological definition?

Sweet chestnuts are tasty and also “true nuts”. Photograph: Richard Aspinall

I was pondering many of these questions as I roasted a dozen or so pleasingly-shaped chestnuts on our log burner, mindful of the prickly flesh that surrounds and protects them as they ripen on the tree. Is this the same as the husks of coconuts? What about the sweet, tasty flesh of the plum? Are these of the same biological origin? What about coffee beans? They’re not legumes, surely? What about the strawberry? It appears to wear its seeds on its exterior, whereas the blackberry cushions its seeds within multiple fleshy lobes, and rosehips … they just defy simple classification.

Understanding the biological origins of the seasonal harvest is, in part, an exercise in exploring an ever-expanding series of definitions, which demonstrate a divergence between simple, commonly-used culinary definitions, and the world of plant biology. Much of biology is about classification and categorisation of course, and arguably, in culinary terms understanding the origin of ingredients is irrelevant. Equally, it’s a self-evident truth that the birds and animals (which the plant kingdom is blatantly bribing to spread their genes with calorie-rich fruit) care not a jot, either.

Acorns are biologically “true” nuts. Photograph: Richard Aspinall

To us humans though, our love of compartmentalisation has driven our desire to place species within groupings and in doing so we often find exceptions and specimens that defy simple pigeonholing. For example, not all plants rely on offering a meal to a passing vertebrate to persuade them to distribute the next generation. The coconut palm, for one, largely exploits ocean currents to spread its progeny, as do the various species of sea grasses. However, I digress.

Following pollination, either by wind, bird, bat or bee, plants have developed numerous ways to ensure the dispersal of their seed. Seeds can be defined as encapsulated plant embryos or as fertilised ovules; they are the next generation, in a nut-shell (or not, as the case may be – please pardon the pun). Seeds contain food reserves (endosperm) and rudimentary leaves (cotyledons). Cotyledons are either in a pair or singular, further classifying plants into dicotyledons and monocotyledons.

Sloes, the fruit of the blackthorn, are drupes. Photograph: Richard Aspinall

Seeds are relatively simple structures, containing everything necessary for a plant to form, encased in a protective coat. Wondrous complications arise when the flower and its associated structures (depending on the plant family) undergo a range of modifications to encapsulate, augment and protect the seeds. Swellings and developments of differing parts of the flower that contain or support the seeds provide us with that catch-all culinary and biological term: “fruit”. From there, a great many shapes, sizes, colours and biological relationships follow.

Nuts

Nuts are dry things in shells, served at Christmas, found weeks later down the back of the sofa, right? Technically … no! Hazelnuts, acorns and chestnuts are true nuts. They are each formed when a fertilised flower’s ovary wall swells and hardens and, despite their diversity in form, shape, size and palatability, they share the same origins. They may be from different taxonomic groups, but their formation relies on the development of their parent flowers.

Of significant value to many birds, haws are also drupes and to some, taste a little like avocado. Photograph: Richard Aspinall

A great many “culinary” nuts, are nothing of the sort. Almonds, for example, are in fact drupes, not nuts at all. Neither are cashews, pistachios and pine nuts. Many tree nuts are drupes, including walnuts and pecans (although confusingly these are known as drupaceous nuts as they difficult to categorise and are not true botanical nuts). Almonds, olives, peaches, coffee beans, cherries and plums are all classic drupes.

The seeds in drupes, are protected within fleshy three-layered husks or exocarps. In peaches and olives we value the exocarp, but in the case of almonds it is the seed contained within the endocarp, the layer which directly surrounds the seed, which is of culinary use. Coconuts are also drupes; the endocarp is the thick wood shell that surrounds the fleshy and liquid-filled seed.

Hawthorn fruits (haws) are also drupes, as are sloes. Of significant importance, ecologically these fruits provide food for countless migratory birds that visit the UK from Europe. Their stones are also of significant value to small mammals, which gnaw open the tough endocarp to reveal the nutritious seeds inside.

What about hips and berries?

Berries offer another source of confusion. Technically strawberries and blackberries are not berries, but aggregate fruits. A “proper” berry is formed from the outer layer of the ovary wall from a single flower, which forms the fleshy, and often nutritious pericarp which, in turn, encapsulates a seed.

Frosty rosehips, which are rich in vitamin C. Photograph: Richard Aspinall

Blueberries are examples of simple berries. Blackberries are derived from multiple ovaries, whereas strawberries form, not from the ovule, but from the flower’s receptacle to which the ovaries are attached. The receptacle can be thought of as an extension of the flower stalk. The strawberry’s true fruits are the small pips, known as achenes, on its exterior, each containing a seed. The strawberry, then, is not a single fruit, but many fruits.

Well-known as fruit, squashes and melons can be referred to as berries in the strictest sense of the word, but don’t try it at the grocers. Photograph: Richard Aspinall

Of a similar origin are apples and pears. These arise once more from a swelling of the receptacle, which in these flowers surrounds the ovary and ovules. As the apple ripens, the ovary wall forms the outer part of the core, surrounding the seeds. To add further terms to the growing list of definitions, fruits formed from enlarged receptacles, with tough central cores, are known as pomes, these include medlars, quince and rowan berries.

Rose hips, much revered for their vitamin C content, conversely contain their supply of achenes, within a structure called a hypanthium (this is the fleshy red structure we value so highly). The hypanthium is also sometimes known as the “flower tube”. Surprisingly perhaps, pomegranates are like rose hips biologically, and once more the hypanthium forms the outer wall of the aggregate fruit.

I should add that, whilst many wild fruits are edible, there are some that are deadly and others that are merely unpleasant. Confusingly, some parts of certain fruits are edible whilst other parts of the same fruit are deadly: yew fruits are a dangerous example. As a sensible precaution I would avoid eating any wild fruit unless you have correctly identified it to be edible.

Planting Almond Nuts – How To Grow An Almond From Seed

Almonds are not only delicious but extremely nutritious as well. They grow in USDA zone 5-8 with California being the largest commercial producer. Although commercial growers propagate via grafting, growing almonds from seed is also possible. It isn’t simply a matter of planting cracked almond nuts, however. Although almond germination does take a little know how, propagating your own seed grown almond trees is definitely a fun project for the novice or avid home gardener. Keep reading to find out how to grow an almond from seed.

About Planting Almond Nuts

A little nugget of information that you may not know; almonds, although referred to as nuts, are actually a type of stone fruit. Almond trees bloom in February or March, leaf out and produce a greenish fruit that looks quite a bit like a peach, only green. The fruit hardens and splits, revealing the almond shell in the core of the fruit hull.

If you want to try almond germination from seed, steer clear of processed almonds. As a result of

a couple of Salmonella outbreaks in the early 2000s, the USDA began requiring all almonds to be sanitized via pasteurization as of 2007, even those labeled “raw.” Pasteurized nuts are duds. They won’t result in trees.

You must use fresh, unpasteurized, unshelled, and unroasted nuts when growing almonds from seed. The only way to get such nuts is to get truly raw seeds from a farmer or overseas.

How to Grow an Almond from Seed

Fill a container with tap water and put at least a dozen almonds into it. Allow them to soak for at least 8 hours and then drain them. Why so many nuts if you only want one tree? Because of their uncertain germination rate and to account for any that may mold.

Using a nutcracker, partially crack the almond shell to expose the interior nut. Don’t remove the shell. Arrange the nuts in a container lined with damp paper towel or sphagnum moss and cover the container with plastic wrap to retain moisture. Place the container of nuts into the refrigerator for 2-3 months, checking each week to be sure is still moist inside. This process is called stratification.

Stratification just means you are tricking the almond seeds into believing they have gone through winter. It boosts the germination rate of seeds which usually germinate within a few days of planting. Seeds can also be “field stratified” by soaking them overnight and then planting outside in the fall. The seeds will not grow until spring, but the stratification process will increase their rate of germination.

Once the seeds have been stratified, fill a container with potting soil. Press each seed down into the soil and inch (2.5 cm.) or so. Water the seeds and place the container in a warm, sunny area.

Water once a week or when the soil feels dry 1 ½ inches (4 cm.) down into the soil.

Transplant the plants when they are 18 inches (46 cm.) in height.

Hopefully, you haven’t been holding your breath since my last post.
This winter, I have been attempting to grow various plants indoors and finally have some success to share with you! My attempt to grow an almond tree from seed has worked!

I could not get a picture without Mason in it, he loves to smell my plants!
How to grow an almond tree from seed:
1. Go to your local grocery store and search for almonds that are raw, not processed in any way and are still in their shell.
2. Place damp peat moss into a plastic bag along with your almond seeds. Make sure to check the moss every so often to be sure it hasn’t dried out.
3. Place the into your refriderator for 4-6 weeks.
4. Remove them from the bag and crack open the shells to expose the seeds.
(I have read two different opinions here; one leave the seed in the shell which is what I did. Or completely remove the shell)
5. Plant the seeds 1/2 inch deep. As it grows you may want to add more dirt to help stabilize the base.

Why refrigerate the seeds? Seeds have different needs for what allows them to germinate and sprout. Almonds fall into the category of seeds that need to be stratified. This mimics the natural process for the seed after it has fallen from the tree and lies on the ground covered by leaves over the winter.
Things to know about growing an almond tree:

  • Almond tree’s grow very quickly. Make sure you keep up on fertilizing.
  • If you keep your tree in a pot, you may want to place it outside in the summer months and bring it in during the winter. Just be sure you place the plant in a cooler area of your house during the winter to mimic its natural environment.
  • Almond trees need to be in dirt that drains well. Adding a tiny bit of sand or peat moss to your soil can help with this.
  • Make sure the tree has quite a bit of light.

I have had a difficult time finding information on keeping an almond tree growing inside…in a pot….in a gloomy city. I guess the odds are against me of keeping this thing going!

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