Almonds have been around for a long time. They are mentioned in the Bible, and were a prized ingredient in breads served to Egyptian pharaohs. It is believed that almonds originated China and Central Asia. Early explorers traveling the Silk Road between Asia and the Mediterranean snacked on almonds. Before long, almond trees flourished in the Mediterranean, especially in Spain and Italy. In the mid-1700’s, the almond tree arrived in the California from Spain, compliments of the Franciscan Friars. Today, California is the only place in North America where almonds are grown commercially.
The almond is one of the most versatile nuts in the world. We eat many varieties in many diverse forms. Almonds are delicious alone as a nutritious snack and a great addition to many dishes. Almonds have the highest protein content of any nut. They (along with all nuts) are placed in the meat group of the Food Guide Pyramid because of their protein content. Ounce for ounce, they are one of the best plant sources of protein and contain no cholesterol.
Almonds are rich in minerals, magnesium, potassium, phosphorous and especially high in calcium. Almonds are high in mono-unsaturated fat which helps to lower cholesterol, especially the bad cholesterol (LDL). Almonds contain a high degree of oleic acid, which is believed to be the ingredient in olive oil that protects against heart disease.
Age to introduce: over 12 months (finely ground).
WARNING: All nuts, whole and chopped, are a choking hazard and should be introduced between 2- 3 years old. The nut allergy is common, and in some cases can be fatal. Children with asthma or a family history of asthma, eczema, and hay fever are at a higher risk. In these situations, consult you family physician before you introduce any nuts or seeds into your child’s diets.
Toddler Treat: Nectarine and Almond Gratin*
Don’t let the fancy name fool you – This is a simple breakfast treat or delicious healthy dessert. Essentially, it is a big, baked pancake; it cooks quickly and can be cut like a pie and served. *Recipe from The California Tree Fruit Agreement
- 1 Tbsp. butter, cut into small pieces, plus an additional teaspoon
- 5 Tbsp. sugar
- 1 Egg
- 1/4 cup milk
- 1/4 cup flour
- 1/8 tsp. salt
- 2 cups thinly-sliced nectarines or peaches
- 2 Tbsp. finely chopped or ground almonds
Preheat an oven to 425 degrees Using 1 teaspoon of the butter, grease an 8- or 9-inch shallow baking dish, then sprinkle it with 1 tablespoon of the sugar. Arrange the nectarines evenly in the dish. In a bowl, whisk together the egg, milk, 1 tablespoon of the sugar, and the salt. When well mixed, gradually whisk in the flour. The batter will be very thin. Pour it over the fruit. Sprinkle the remaining 3 tablespoons of the sugar and the almonds over the top. Scatter the small pieces of butter around the top.
Bake until the batter is set, the butter melted, and the fruit cooked through, about 12 to 15 minutes. Let stand about 10 minutes before cutting into wedges to serve.
Storage: refrigerate leftovers for 3 days. Can be frozen into pieces as individual servings (great for breakfasts during the week).
Almonds For The Family
At the market: Almonds are sold in the shell, but are also available in many different shelled forms – whole, slivered, blanched, chopped, flavored, etc. You can also buy almond butter (a delicious substitute to peanut butter) and almond flour, often used by pastry chefs.
Storage: Refrigerate or freeze. Shelled nuts should be stored in an airtight container. They stay fresh for 3-4 months in the refrigerator and up to one year in the freezer.
Here are a few easy ideas to add almonds in your meals:
- Combine an assortment of whole almonds and other nuts with fresh-cut fruits and cheese slices for festive appetizer or dessert platter.
- For the flavor of fall, sprinkle baked squash, sweet potatoes or apples with chopped almonds.
- Sprinkle slivered almonds and mandarin oranges on a summer green salad.
- Sprinkle hot cereal with chopped almonds or add them to pancake, waffle, cookie, cake, quick bread and muffin batters.
- Stuff pita bread with a mixture of cream cheese, chopped almonds, apple, banana and pineapple chunks and raisins. This makes a great lunch or after school snack.
- For a Middle Eastern spin on plain rice pilaf toss a ½ cup chopped dates and a ½ cup of chopped almonds to the rice pilaf just before serving. It’s a perfect taste with BBQ pork, chicken or tofu.