We eat a lot of almonds, well not just almonds but nuts in general. The interest in almonds grew when Badj’s sister Joss brought over fresh almonds, in the shell, that she had hand picked while living in the South of Spain at Las Neuvas. The first thing we did was crack them and make a jar full of beautiful fresh almond butter, everyone joined in with the process including the kids. Finding ourselves surrounded by these raw almonds, we decided to research more about their health benefits, nutritional value, where they come from and what to do with them.
Almonds are very healthy and versatile. They get used in thousands of ways all over the world, from the marzipan on your Christmas cake to Indian curries, from Italian amaretto to Chinese almond tea; almonds are a globally loved food source. Because they have a dietary fibre content of 12% they can be ground into flour making it perfect for people with a gluten intolerance. Almonds are a very good source of vitamin E and vitamin B, as well as being rich in essential minerals such as magnesium, copper, manganese, calcium, potassium and monounsaturated fats.
BUT one of the most interesting things we found out in our research was the importance of using raw almonds and soaking them. Almonds are amazing, they have everything they need in them to start the growth of an entire new tree, however these nutrients and vitamins are locked up by an enzyme inhibitor to protect them until the conditions are right for the seed to start growing, (isn’t nature clever). By soaking almonds, or any nuts and seeds, you trick them into thinking it’s time to start growing, this removes the enzyme inhibitor and releases all the nutrients, making them readily available. If you don’t soak nuts it means your body has to work extra hard to get through the enzyme inhibitor to get the nutrients out of the nut or seed. The other way to remove the enzyme inhibitor is to lightly roast the nuts, which does make them taste extra good but also damages the nutrients and vitamins inside. It’s also worth mentioning that most of the ‘roasted’ nuts you can buy in the shops are actually deep fried and heavily salted. Check the ingredients list and you might be surprised as to what’s also in with your nuts.
The vast majority of almonds are grown in the US and in particular California, in fact it was estimated that in 2013 80% of the worlds almonds were grown in the US. The pollination of the almond trees in California is one of the largest managed pollination operations in the world, over 1 million bee hives are brought in from all over the US to pollinate the almond blossom. Also 10% of all the water used in California is used to grow almonds. With California in the middle of a 4 year drought these thirsty little trees are causing something of a controversy.
What we found really interesting though is that in 2007 there were a couple of salmonella outbreaks that got traced back to almonds from California. Straight away legislation was passed that all almonds grown and sold in the US have to be pasteurized. Why is pasteurization bad I hear you say? Well first off there are several methods of pasteurization. The primary one used for organic almonds is steam, which heats the almonds up to 93 degrees C which as well as killing off any potential bad bacteria also kills off all the good enzymes and vitamins inside the almond. The second and most common method is fumigation treatment and this is used for all almonds that are marketed as ‘raw’ because they haven’t been heated. The fumigation is done with propylene oxide, which is a chemical that the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) has declared a carcinogen responsible for neurological, gastrointestinal, respiratory, and immune system dysfunctions, as well as liver disease. NOT GOOD. The Almond Board of California claims “PPO residue dissipates after treatment”. However the EPA have found traces of PPO in almonds on the shop floors.
I don’t know about you but we’d rather try and avoid that please. Californian almond farmers are allowed to sell unpasteurised almonds in small quantities ie. at farmers markets or small stalls etc. and also they can export unpasteurized almonds outside of the US, but as a consumer outside of the US it is very difficult to know if they’ve been pasteurized or not.
So the best option if you want raw untreated almonds is to get certified organic almonds grown outside of the U.S.
It turns out that Spain is the second largest grower of almonds worldwide, so when we can’t get Badj’s sister to pick us some we always make sure the ones we buy are organic and usually they come from Spain.
Now we understand a little more about this fantastic nut check our 2 minute video on how to make your own almond milk, it is so easy to make and so delicious that you won’t ever want to buy it in the shop again.
Measure 1/2 cup of organic almonds, put in a large bowl and cover with filtered water. Leave the almonds to soak for 8 hours, overnight is perfect.
Once soaked rinse the almonds thoroughly and place in a blender, food processor or a tall measuring jug if you’re using a hand blender. Add 2 cups of filtered water and blend really well until all the almonds have been crushed and you are left with a creamy white mixture.
Place a nut bag or muslin over a jug and pour the milk through the muslin. Squeeze as much of the liquid out as possible. You can now add a little sweetener and flavour of your choice to the milk. We like to add a little maple syrup, cinnamon, vanilla or you can blend it with fresh fruit to make a wonderful smoothie.
Keep hold of the almond pulp that is left after you make the milk, you can store it in the fridge for a couple days or you can dehydrate it. There is still lots of flavour and good fibre which makes it perfect for cakes, muffins and our very own granola recipe which we’ll tell you all about in our next post….
Here is another video we made on how to make your own almond butter. This really is the simplest and best recipe and it makes such fantastic tasting butter, perfect for warm toast in the morning. No additives or anything just pure almonds.
Roast 2 cups of organic almonds in the oven on a low heat, (around 120 degrees) for 1/2 an hour or until you’re kitchen begins to fill with the scent of toasted almonds.
Put them in a food processor (not a blender) and process for 10 minutes. If you’re processor begins to heat up too much then give it a rest but you do need to give the almonds 10 minutes in total. There’s no need to add any oil or salt or liquid. After about 3 minutes something magic begins to happen as the oils are released and the chopped nuts turn into a butter.
If you are lucky enough to live in a place where they grow almonds, in the spring time you can pick and eat the fresh green buds that eventually turn into almonds. They have a zingy tartness similar to sorrel. This is a recipe from my sister Joss in Spain for a pesto that she only makes once or twice a year as a special treat. It is perfect for a light pasta lunch or mixed in with rice.
1/2 cup of freshly picked green almond buds
2 cloves of garlic
1 1/2 cups of fresh parsley
1/2 cup of parmesan
squeeze of lemon
a good pinch of salt
1/2 cup of olive oil.
Place all the dry ingredients in a food processor, add a little olive oil and begin to process. Keep adding oil until you get a consistency you like. Check the seasoning. You can store it in the fridge, but is best eaten straight away.
If you have more information about almonds or if you have any questions or you’ve just enjoyed this post please leave a comment for us.
RESOURCES Where we got our information from and where you can find out more:
One of our favourite blogs takes you through almond health with some great recipes: http://www.mynewroots.org/site/2012/03/diy-almond-butter-almond-butter-jam-sandwich-cookies-2/
A great piece on the pasteurization of almonds: http://www.livingnutz.com/2011/04/the-truth-about-almond-pasteurization-methods/
Good piece about shop bought almond milk: http://theprimalparent.com/2012/05/16/additives-almond-milk-how-to-make/
Good piece about bee pollination and pesticides in almond farming: http://www.motherjones.com/tom-philpott/2014/04/california-almond-farms-blamed-honeybee-dieby