The almond (Prunus dulcis, syn. Prunus amygdalus) is a species of tree native to the Middle East, the Indian subcontinent and North Africa.
“Almond” is also the name of the edible and widely cultivated seed of this tree. Within the genus Prunus, it is classified with the peach in the subgenus Amygdalus, distinguished from the other subgenera by corrugations on the shell (endocarp) surrounding the seed.
The fruit of the almond is a drupe, consisting of an outer hull and a hard shell with the seed, which is not a true nut, inside. Shelling almonds refers to removing the shell to reveal the seed. Almonds are sold shelled or unshelled. Blanched almonds are shelled almonds that have been treated with hot water to soften the seedcoat, which is then removed to reveal the white embryo
The almond is native to the Mediterranean climate region of the Middle East, eastward as far as the Yamuna River in India. It was spread by humans in ancient times along the shores of the Mediterranean into northern Africa and southern Europe, and more recently transported to other parts of the world, notably California, United States.
The wild form of domesticated almond grows in parts of the Levant. The fruit of the wild forms contains the glycoside amygdalin, “which becomes transformed into deadly prussic acid (hydrogen cyanide) after crushing, chewing, or any other injury to the seed.”
Selection of the sweet type from the many bitter types in the wild marked the beginning of almond domestication. It is unclear as to which wild ancestor of the almond created the domesticated species. Ladizinsky suggests the taxon Amygdalus fenzliana (Fritsch) Lipsky is the most likely wild ancestor of the almond in part because it is native of Armenia and western Azerbaijan where it was apparently domesticated.
World production of almonds was 2.9 million tonnes in 2013, with United States as the largest producer of 1.8 million tonnes.
While the almond is often eaten on its own, raw or toasted, it is also a component of various dishes. Almonds are available in many forms, such as whole, sliced (flaked, slivered), and as flour. Almonds yield almond oil and can also be made into almond butter or almond milk. These products can be used in both sweet and savoury dishes.
Along with other nuts, almonds can be sprinkled over breakfasts and desserts, particularly muesli or ice cream-based dishes. Almonds are used in marzipan, nougat, many pastries (including jesuites), cookies (including French macarons, macaroons), and cakes (including financiers), noghl, and other sweets and desserts. They are also used to make almond butter, a spread similar to peanut butter, popular with peanut allergy sufferers and for its naturally sweeter taste. The young, developing fruit of the almond tree can be eaten whole (“green almonds”) when they are still green and fleshy on the outside and the inner shell has not yet hardened. The fruit is somewhat sour, but is a popular snack in parts of the Middle East, eaten dipped in salt to balance the sour taste. Also in the Middle East they are often eaten with dates. They are available only from mid-April to mid-June in the Northern Hemisphere; pickling or brining extends the fruit’s shelf life.