The almond is the fruit of the almond tree. It comprises a 3–6-cm-long oval husk that is pale green in color and velvety to the touch, encasing a woody shell. The shell holds one or two kernels, which are ivory in color and covered by a thin brown skin. There are two types of almonds. One is the bitter almond, which grows on wild trees. It contains a large amount of amygdalin, which turns into toxic hydrogen cyanide, also known as prussic acid. The other type is the sweet almond. There are some fifty varieties of this almond, among which the best known are Aï (France, Greece), California (California), Sfax (Tunisia), Jordan and Marcona (Spain), Nonpareil (California), and Avola (Italy). California is the world's largest producer of almonds, followed by Syria, Iran, Spain, Italy, the Maghreb countries, Turkey, and Greece.
Sweet almonds are found dried (unshelled), shelled (peeled or unpeeled), sliced, toasted, crushed, as a paste, ground, as a cream, milk, and oil. Green almonds are sold whole in their husk in Mediterranean markets during the months of June and July. The husk is light green and unmarked; the kernel has an intense ivory color that is unmarked and lightly moist to the touch. Unshelled almonds (harvested in the fall) are available throughout the year. The kernel should not rattle in its shell. If this is the case, it is probably too dry and not good to eat. For almond meal (ground almonds) and sliced or shelled almonds, always check the “best before” date, or better yet, the date of production (if given), because almonds have the tendency to become stale very quickly because of their high fat content. Bitter almond is available as an extract. This is a cold-pressed edible oil from which the prussic acid has been removed.
Sweet almonds, in all their forms, are widely used for cakes and pastries, cookies, and confectionery. They are a perfect accompaniment for fish and seafood, meat, and different preparations (tagines, compound butters, forcemeat, etc.). Almond milk, obtained from ground or pureed almonds and water, is an ingredient for blancmange. It is very commonly used in Mediterranean cooking, but also as a drink that dates back to the Middle Ages. Sweet almond oil is mainly used in cosmetics. But there are also oils for food use, one of which is virgin toasted sweet almond oil. Bitter almond needs to be used very sparingly. It is used to give aroma to certain drinks (barley water, Amaretto).
Unshelled almonds: 4 to 10°C under a slightly damp cloth and away from direct light for three to five days maximum. Shelled and sliced almonds, almond meal, etc.: in a dry place at a temperature of 4 to 12°C.
Dried almonds are very nutritional, containing carbohydrates, protein, fat, minerals, the B-group vitamins, and vitamin E. They are also packed with antioxidants, which is why they offer protection against certain types of cancer and cardiovascular disease. Almonds can produce allergies in certain people.