Almonds are the oval drupes of the almond tree, which has been cultivated for about 4,000 years. Originally from the Asian region of Turkmenistan, Iran and Afghanistan, the rose plant was brought west across the Silk Road and cultivated in the Middle East and Mediterranean. In the seventeenth century, Spanish monks brought the first almond trees to California. Today, the US state is by far the largest production area with about 1,100,000 tons of harvest per year, followed by Australia with about 80,000 tons and Spain with about 60,000 tons. Almonds grow around the globe in two latitude zones: in the north in California, Spain, Italy, Greece, Turkey, Syria, Iran and Afghanistan, in the south in Australia and Chile. The robust, heat-resistant almond tree blooms in the northern hemisphere in February and March in its typical, white to pink flower. The best-known Californian varieties are Nonpareil, Sonora, Carmel, Monterey, Butte/Padre, Fritz and Mission; the Spanish ones are: Valencias, Larguetas and Marconas.
Almonds are low in carbohydrates, rich in fibre and have a total fat content of 51% predominantly unsaturated fatty acids. Regular consumption can reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease and lower cholesterol and blood pressure. Almonds contain valuable minerals, B vitamins and are rich in folic acid, which is especially important during pregnancy.
In contrast to the bred, sweet almond, the wild almond is bitter and contains the cyanogenic glycoside amygdalin. Bitter almonds are used in small quantities for flavouring. (The poison amygdalin is found in lower concentrations in the kernels of apricots, peaches, cherries, plums, apples and pears.)
Almonds are often used in the baking and confectionery industry. In Germany, marzipan is the best-known product made from almonds - preferably using the aromatic and easily blanchable Mediterranean almonds. Bitter almonds are used in blanched form as a flavour enhancing admixture, e.g. in fruit cakes and marzipan. The oil extracted from almonds is also popular as an edible oil as well as in the cosmetics sector, as it is moisturizing and valuable for the skin.