Almonds are Perfect

Almonds are great, and I am not just saying that because my friend Max Martens represents the Almond Board of California and I bump into him at every Fancy Food Show, IFT, RCA and CIA event. I believe in their power, their nutritional benefits and most important, their great flavor. I always make sure I have several bags available and I usually buy the roasted unsalted kind from Trader Joe’s. Their mild but rich flavor pairs well with both sweet and savory dishes and the texture adds crunch to any entrée. I love going to the San Francisco Ferry Plaza Farmers market and seeing them all rustic and organic looking like they were just dumped off a truck and onto a wooden market stand. The past few weeks I have come face to face with several new and unique almond concepts that I need to share with you before the thoughts escape me and I move on to the next exciting food topic. But before I dive into the new and exciting almonds on the market, I have a joke that Roger Shriver told me out in the almond fields of Los Banos, CA during a field tour.

Why are Almonds pronounced Aaaahmonds… (silent L)?

Because when they shake the tree down they shake the L right out of them.

Everyone on the field tour always finds this joke to be extremely funny.

The first thing I want to mention about Almonds is they are very underutilized by the casual dining and fast food industry. There are a few Asian dishes out there with slivered almonds and sometimes we find them on desserts, but in general not commonly seen at any chain restaurant. This needs to change. I am hoping 2009 will be the year that casual dining menus use more almonds in Mediterranean style dishes. At this year’s World of Healthy Flavors Conference, Joyce Goldstein, Chef, cookbook writer and consultant, demonstrated several types of almond based sauces like Greek Skordalia and Spanish Romesco. Michelle Sugiyama, RCA guest speaker, served everyone healthy almond smoothies at the last Northwest Pacific Regional event, and of course Michael Rechuitti has those fabulous burnt caramel almonds. There are millions of ways to incorporate almonds into a meal –no more excuses.

Several weeks ago I was introduced to almonds treated in a very unique and unusual way-they were sprouted. According to the company literature, it is important that our diet is slightly over-alkaline and we need to maintain our internal ratio of 80/20 (alkaline to acid) and sprouted almonds are more alkaline than raw almonds. The literature also states that “Sprouting enlivens the enzymes that are dormant within. These enzymes activate when they come in contact with water, and the nuts are “awakened”. The potential growth for each nut is to become a tree and when we eat Sprouted Almonds (this is a trademarked word FYI) our bodies receive this concentrated energy and nutrition”. Is this true? I don’t know for sure but I do know that the sprouted almonds had this light and crispy texture that was less dense than the usual roasted unsalted almonds that I normally consume. I also really did notice a unique flavor, a sprout flavor that gave the almonds this addicting flavor which lead to my eating the entire 4.8 oz container (without sharing). I encountered these almonds at the Fancy Food Show and the owner told me that he got tired of renovating bathrooms for a living and his mother used to give him sprouted almonds for lunch in his younger days. You can find this product at www.sproutedalmonds.com .

My other recent almond experience involved not almonds, but something that Trader Joe’s calls “The Poor Man’s Almonds”. Poor Man’s Almonds are the kernel that grows inside the pit of the apricot. They contain Amygdalin which is a toxic cyanogenic glycoside. Some people think it can help prevent cancer, but this has never been scientifically proven. Apricot kernels can be bought in a paste form with sugar and used as an inexpensive replacement for almond paste in amaretto cookies and French style macaroons. But if you eat too much, you could get cyanide poisoning symptoms.

I ate quite a few and felt fine, so I don’t know what the dangerous level is for apricot kernel consumption. However, I found this information on Wikipedia :

“In 1993, The State Department of Agriculture and Markets of New York tested the cyanide content of two 8oz. packages of the bitter kernel which were being sold in health food stores as a health snack. The results returned showed that each package, if consumed entirely, contained at least double the lethal dosage of cyanide needed to kill a human being. In spite of this, there were no USA deaths and only 1 serious toxicity from apricot kernels reported from 1979 to 1998 On average, an apricot kernel contains about 0.5mg of Cyanide.”

There are plenty of regular non toxic almonds out there. I think that apricot kernels are a fun thing to try or maybe serve at a cocktail party, or, if you are a large scale bakery operation and want to save some money by doing a partial replacement of almond paste with some apricot paste, that is fine. But beyond that, I don’t think it is necessary to do a complete switch.

Almonds are very healthy, they are high in fiber and protein and good fats. Eat more of them and create more menu items with them.

More continued coverage and commentary on the WO Healthy Flavors to come…

About rachel zemser