Almonds 101 – The Basics
Almonds are the seed of the fruit of the almond tree. They have a very light beige color, covered with a thin brownish skin. Almonds are encased in a hard, outer shell, and are classified into two categories: sweet and bitter.
Sweet almonds are the variety that we typically eat. They have an oval shape, are lightly crunchy, and they have a wonderful, buttery flavor all their own. They are sold in their shell, shelled, whole with or without their skin, sliced, slivered, or chopped. Varieties include raw, spiced, blanched, and roasted (with or without oil) in many varieties.
Bitter almonds are used to make almond oil that is used as a flavoring agent, and liqueurs such as Amaretto. Bitter almonds are not edible as nuts because they contain toxic substances. Those substances are removed in the manufacturing process of extracting the oil.
Almonds have been enjoyed since Biblical times. They are believed to have originated in Asia and North Africa. They are now grown in the Mediterranean region, and in California.
Nutrition and Health Benefits of Almonds
Almonds are a very good source of Vitamin E, manganese, biotin, and copper. They are a good source of magnesium, molybdenum, Vitamin B2, and phosphorus. A ¼-cup serving provides about 11 grams of fat with about 7 grams of heart-healthy monounsaturated fat.
Heart Disease. Almonds are high in monounsaturated fats, the same type that is found in olives. This type of fat has been associated with a lower risk for heart disease. Numerous research studies have found that including nuts (such as almonds) in the diet helps to lower LDL (low-density lipoproteins), thereby reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease. This is especially true when the nuts replace a small amount of carbohydrates or saturated fats, and are included in a plant-strong, high-fiber healthy diet. The health benefits of almonds are further enhanced by the Vitamin E found in the nuts. Vitamin E acts as an antioxidant, further protecting cells from oxidative damage which raises our risk for disease.
If that’s not enough, almonds are also high in magnesium and potassium. Magnesium acts as a natural calcium channel blocker, helping arteries and veins to relax. This helps to keep blood pressure under control, promoting the flow of oxygen and nutrients in the blood throughout the body. A deficiency in magnesium has been associated with heart attacks.
Potassium is a critical electrolyte active in nerve transmission and muscle contraction, including the heart. Like magnesium, potassium is also very important in maintaining normal blood pressure and heart function.
A review of four large studies showed that eating a handful of nuts or a tablespoon of nut butter at least 4 times a week reduced heart disease by 37% when compared to those who seldom or never at nuts. Each additional serving of nuts was associated with an added 8.3% reduction in heart disease risk. If you’re concerned about heart disease, include a handful of almonds in your diet when you can!
Protection from Diabetes. Not only do almonds help to ward off cardiovascular disease, but they also can help to protect from diabetes. Almonds have been shown to decrease the rise in blood sugar after a meal, helping to stabilize blood sugar levels. This effect has also been seen when almonds were consumed with high-glycemic index foods, by lowering the glycemic index of the entire meal, helping to regulate blood sugar levels. Research has shown a dose-dependent effect of almonds on high-carbohydrate, high-glycemic meals, with more almonds providing a greater effect in stabilizing blood sugar levels and lowering the glycemic effect of high-carbohydrate meals.
Weight Control. Researchers have also found that including almonds in the diet can aid in weight loss and weight management. In a study, subjects were fed equal calorie/equal protein diets, with varying amounts of fat and complex carbohydrates. After six months, those following the higher fat diets including almonds experienced a greater reduction in weight, body fat, BMI (body mass index), and blood pressure than those following the higher carbohydrate, lower fat diet.
A 28-month study in Spain, involving almost 9,000 subjects found that those who ate nuts at least two times a week were 31% less likely to gain weight than those who seldom or never ate nuts. The researchers concluded that frequent nut consumption was associated with a reduced risk of weight gain.
Helps Prevent Gallstones. Dietary data collected over the course of 20 years with over 80,000 women in the Nurses’ Health Study found that women who ate at least one ounce of nuts each week had a 25% lower risk of developing gallstones. That mere one ounce could be in the form of whole nuts or 2 tablespoons of nut butter. That says a lot for a small amount of nuts!
Potential Problems for Some People. Almonds are high in phytates and oxalates, well-known anti-nutrients. Oxalates are naturally occurring substances found in many foods that play a supportive role in metabolism. Oxalates can sometimes cause problems if they accumulate in conjunction with excessive calcium in the body, especially in the kidneys. This can cause the formation of kidney stones in a small percentage of people. If you know that oxalates cause problems for you, it may be wise to limit the number of almonds you eat. It has been shown that soaking, sprouting, and roasting almonds can reduce the amount of these compounds. Consult with your physician before making dietary changes.
Almonds are also tree nuts. If you have an allergy to tree nuts, you should not eat almonds.
How to Select Almonds
For the longest shelf life, select almonds that are still in their shells. Look for shells that are not stained, moldy or split.
When buying shelled almonds, opt for ones packed in sealed containers. They will last longer than those sold in bulk bins because the air, heat, and humidity in the bins will make them age faster. When purchasing from bulk bins, make sure there is a fast turnover in sales to ensure freshness of your almonds. Choose almonds that are uniform in color, and not limp or shriveled. To be sure of freshness, smell the almonds. They should smell sweet and nutty. If they smell sharp or bitter, they are rancid and should not be purchased.
For those with added flavor, dry roasted almonds are a good option since they were cooked without added oils. Read the label to be sure there are no added ingredients that you don’t want.
How to Store Almonds
Almonds have a high fat content, so they can go rancid easily. Shelled almonds should be stored in a tightly sealed container in a cool, dry place, away from sunlight. Storing shelled almonds in the refrigerator or freezer will prolong their life and ward off rancidity. When kept in the refrigerator, shelled almonds will keep for several months. Frozen shelled almonds can be kept for up to a year.
The larger the pieces of almonds, the longer they will stay fresh. For example, whole shelled almonds will last longer than chopped, slivered or sliced almonds.
Raw vs Roasted Almonds
Nuts, especially almonds, are a delicious, healthy part of any meal or snack. They are nutritious whether they are raw or roasted. Almonds are a great source of plant protein, healthy fats, and an array of vitamin and minerals. So, enjoy! If you want the most health benefits out of your food, avoid or limit the use of sugared or heavily salted nuts.
Raw Nuts. Most nuts sold in the United States (and probably elsewhere), are not truly “raw.” Because of the possibility of bacterial contamination, most nuts sold in the United States are heat pasteurized, even when labeled as “raw.” This applies to almonds grown in California, which is where most, if not all, almonds are grown in the United States. If you want truly raw nuts, you may need to pick your own or do some careful shopping.
Roasted Nuts. Contrary to what you might think, roasted almonds have a very similar nutrient profile as raw almonds. They can be roasted with or without added oil. The calorie and fat content of roasted almonds (even dry roasted) is just slightly higher than that of raw almonds because moisture is lost in the roasting process, concentrating the nut meat. Interestingly, almonds (and other nuts) roasted with oil don’t absorb much of the oil that is used in the roasting process because the nut meat already has a high oil content, not leaving much room for absorption. For instance, one ounce of raw almonds has 161 calories and 14 grams of total fat. One ounce of dry-roasted almonds has 167 calories and 15 grams of total fat. One ounce of oil roasted almonds has 171 calories and 16 grams of total fat.
Another factor to consider when comparing raw and roasted nuts is the effect of the roasting process on the quality of the vitamins, minerals, and fats within the nuts. Some research has found that nuts roasted at a high temperature for a long period of time can degrade the fats, oxidizing them creating unhealthy fats. Other studies have also found that roasting nuts at high temperatures for long periods of time can also reduce and/or degrade the vitamin and mineral content of the nuts, making them less healthy to consume. These effects depend upon the temperature and length of time the nuts were subjected to during the roasting process. For the least breakdown of nutrients, nuts should be roasted at a low temperature for the shortest amount of time possible.
Another factor to consider in roasted nuts is the formation of acrylamide during the roasting process. This is a compound that forms naturally from fats that are cooked at a high temperature. Acrylamide has been linked to increased cancer risk in animal studies. It has been labeled as a probable human carcinogen. To avoid possible acrylamide in almonds, it is recommended to buy them raw and roast them yourself at a lower temperature and shorter time than would be used in commercial processing.
Toasted or roasted almonds are crunchier and tastier than raw almonds. Their flavor is enhanced in the process and many recipes call for roasted or toasted nuts because their flavor is more pronounced in the recipe. Roasting almonds at home can be done on the stove, in the oven, and even in the microwave.
To toast almonds on the stove, simply place the nuts in a DRY skillet over medium heat. Stir the nuts or shake the pan as they toast, for about 5 minutes, until they are lightly browned. Be careful not to burn them in the process. Whole almonds will take longer to toast than sliced or chopped almonds. This method works well when toasting a small amount of nuts. To remove the skins from toasted almonds, simply place them on a clean, dry towel and rub them to remove the skins.
To dry roast your almonds in the oven, preheat the oven to 350°F* (about 175°C). Place your almonds in a single layer on a dry baking sheet. Place the sheet in the middle of the oven and roast for 5 to 10 minutes until fragrant and lightly browned, stirring them or shaking the pan during the process. Larger pieces will take longer to roast than smaller pieces. This method works well when roasting a larger amount of nuts. [Note: You can also roast the nuts at lower temperatures, such as 275°F, but they will take longer to roast, up to about 30 minutes, depending upon the size of the nut pieces.]
To oil roast your almonds in the oven, follow the above method for oven roasting, but first coat your almonds with a small amount of oil first. One or two teaspoons of oil should be enough for 2 cups of nuts. Coating them lightly with oil will enhance the browning of the almonds as they roast.
To roast your almonds in the microwave, coat the nuts with a small amount of oil (such as 1 teaspoon of oil to 1 or 2 cups of nuts). Spread the nuts in a single layer on a paper-towel-lined microwave safe dish. Cook on high for one minute. Stir the nuts and spread into a single layer again. Continue cooking for another minute on high. Continue stirring and cooking in one-minute increments until they are fragrant and lightly toasted, cooking about 3 to 5 minutes total time depending upon the size of the nut pieces and the power of the microwave. This process can be done without the added oil, but the nuts may not brown as much as when cooked with the added oil.
Flavor. The flavor of both raw and roasted almonds is delicious. However, many people prefer the flavor of roasted almonds. Also, the flavor of roasted almonds is more pronounced when used in or with other foods, such as quick breads and muffins, granola, bars, when sprinkled on salads or cooked vegetables, or used in crusts or coatings for other foods.
Texture. Raw almonds are slightly soft and chewy. Roasted or toasted almonds are crisper and crunchier than their raw counterparts.
Digestion. According to the University of California, raw almonds are harder than roasted almonds for the stomach to break down during the digestive process. According to their research, more raw almond bits are lost in the digestive/elimination process than those that are roasted, because they are never fully digested. Because roasted almonds are broken down easier in the digestive tract, they may actually release more nutrients than their raw counterparts.
So, which is healthier to eat…raw or roasted almonds? Whole, natural foods are usually considered to be the best choice. Since we know that raw almonds are not digested well, it is advisable to make sure they are chewed very well before swallowing to get the most nutrients out of them.
Roasted almonds have about the same nutritional profile as raw nuts, although they may have detrimental factors (such as possible acrylamide and oxidized fats from the roasting process) if they were roasted at a high temperature for a prolonged time. Yet, they tend to digest better than raw almonds. So, if you prefer roasted almonds, it appears best if you buy raw nuts and roast them yourself so you can control how they are prepared.
So, as in many cases, there are benefits and possible pitfalls with either choice: raw or roasted almonds. It’s a matter of personal preference and which one works best for you in your situation and recipe. If you opt for roasted almonds, be sure they were roasted at a lower temperature for shorter time, so the fats are protected from damage during the cooking process. If you choose raw almonds, be sure to chew them very well.
Quick Ideas and Tips for Using Almonds
* For a protein boost and added richness to your smoothie, try adding some almonds, almond milk, and/or some almond butter.
* Whole, shelled almonds can be chopped by hand or in a food processor. When using a food processor, briefly pulse it so the nuts chop, but not so much that you make almond butter (which can easily happen when processing nuts).
* Kick up your snacks a notch by replacing chips with a handful of almonds.
* Apple slices and almonds make a delicious, healthy, and easy snack.
* Try a tasty cold or room temperature salad with cooked rice, almonds, frozen and thawed green peas, and currants.
* Try adding sliced almonds to your favorite chicken salad, or ANY salad for that matter!
* Sprinkle any cooked vegetable with some sliced almonds for crunch, flavor and added healthy fats.
* Give quinoa a flavor boost by mixing in some sliced almonds, dried cranberries, leeks, and a sprinkling of parsley.
* For the best protection almonds can offer against heart disease, enjoy whole almonds with the skin. The flavonoids found in almond skins pair up with the Vitamin E in the nut meat to double the effect of the antioxidants found in almonds.
* Top your favorite green salad with toasted sliced or slivered almonds instead of croutons.
* To help keep your blood sugar under control, include some almonds in your meals and snacks, especially when eating high-carbohydrate foods.
* Dress up your morning oatmeal with some fresh blueberries and sliced almonds. Add some almond milk and enjoy! Add some cherries for extra color, flavor, and nutrition.
* Top your favorite yogurt with some fresh fruit, slivered or sliced almonds, and even a sprinkling of cocoa powder or chopped low sugar dark chocolate bits.
* For something different, try adding sliced almonds and dried cranberries to your favorite slaw.
* Try adding ground almonds to your next graham cracker pie crust, for added flavor, crunch, and nutrition.
* Sprinkle sliced almonds on your stir-fried vegetables for added crunch and flavor.
* The flavors of cherries and almonds blend REALLY well together. Try them together any time you can…on yogurt, ice cream, in baked goods, on oatmeal, in granola, etc.
* Try adding sliced, chopped or slivered almonds to your favorite fried rice dish.
Herbs/Spices That Go Well with Almonds
Anise, caraway seeds, cardamom, cayenne, chili powder, cinnamon, cumin, ginger, mustard powder, paprika, pepper, rosemary, salt, thyme
Foods That Go Well with Almonds
Proteins, Legumes, Nuts, Seeds: Chicken, fish and other seafood, hazelnuts, pecans, pine nuts, pistachios, sesame seeds, tofu, walnuts
Vegetables: Arugula, green beans, bell peppers, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage (Napa), carrots, cauliflower, celery, celery root, chiles, garlic, greens, kale, leeks, mushrooms, onions, rhubarb, spinach, tomatoes, watercress, zucchini
Fruits: Apples, apricots, bananas, berries, cherries, citrus fruits, coconut, cranberries, currants, dates, figs, fruits in general (dried, fresh and roasted), grapes, lemon, lime, nectarines, olives, oranges, passion fruit, peaches, pears, plums, quinces, raisins, raspberries, strawberries
Grains and Grain Products: Barley, bread (and toast), bulgur, cornmeal, couscous, noodles, oats, oatmeal, polenta, rice
Dairy and Non-Dairy: Butter, cheese (i.e. blue, cream, goat, ricotta, Romano), cream, ice cream, mascarpone, milk, yogurt
Other Foods: Amaretto, brandy, caramel, chocolate (white, dark, and milk), cocoa, cacao nibs, coffee, honey, lavender, fruit liqueurs, maple syrup, molasses, oil (esp. olive), praline, rum, sauces, sherry, soy sauce, sugar, vanilla, vinegar
Almonds have been used in the following cuisines and dishes…
Baked goods (i.e. cookies, pie crusts, quick breads), beverages (chocolate), candies, curries, desserts (i.e. mousses, puddings), dips, icings, Indian cuisine, Mediterranean cuisines, Middle Eastern cuisines, Moroccan cuisine, muesli, pesto, pilafs, salads, sauces, smoothies, soups (i.e. white gazpacho), Spanish cuisine, spiced almonds, spreads, stuffing, trail mix, Turkish cuisine
Suggested Flavor Combos Using Almonds
Add almonds to any of the following combinations…
Almond butter + bananas + seven-grain toast
Apricots + lemon
Basil + French green beans + peaches
Bell peppers + chiles + garlic + sherry vinegar + tomatoes
Bell peppers + garlic + tomatoes
Blackberries + yogurt
Blueberries + ricotta
Blue cheese + watercress
Bread crumbs + garlic + olive oil + parsley + tomatoes
Cayenne + chili powder + lime
Chocolate + coconut
Cream + orange + polenta
Dates + rice
Honey + ricotta + vanilla
Lemon + maple syrup
Oats + peaches
100 Crazy Good Recipes Using Almonds https://www.myrecipes.com/ingredients/almond-recipes
40 Must-Try Sweet and Savory Almond Recipes https://www.tasteofhome.com/collection/almond-recipes/
Spring Asparagus https://www.tasteofhome.com/recipes/spring-asparagus/
Crispy Almond Tilapia https://www.tasteofhome.com/recipes/crispy-almond-tilapia/
Cranberry Wild Rice Pilaf https://www.tasteofhome.com/recipes/cranberry-wild-rice-pilaf/
101 of our Best Recipes for Breakfast, Dinner, and Dessert https://www.epicurious.com/recipes-menus/do-it-all-with-almonds-gallery
Broiled Cod with Fennel and Orange https://www.epicurious.com/recipes/food/views/broiled-cod-with-fennel-and-orange
Saffron Quinoa with Dried Cherries and Almonds https://www.epicurious.com/recipes/food/views/saffron-quinoa-with-dried-cherries-and-almonds
Tempura Kale Salad with Shiitake Mushrooms, Raisins and Almonds https://www.epicurious.com/recipes/food/views/tempura-kale-salad-with-shiitake-mushrooms-raisins-and-almonds
Green Beans Amandine https://www.epicurious.com/recipes/food/views/green-beans-amandine
Page, Karen. (2014) The Vegetarian Flavor Bible. New York, NY: Little, Brown and Company.
Julia W. Klee (Judi) began her journey enjoying “all things food” in elementary school when she started preparing meals for her family. That love of food blossomed into a quest to learn more and more about health and wellness as related to nutrition. She went on to earn a BS Degree in Food and Nutrition, then an MS Degree in Nutrition. She has taught nutrition and related courses at the college level to pre-nursing and exercise science students. Her hunger to learn didn’t stop upon graduation from college. She continues to research on a regular basis about nutrition as it relates to health. Her hope is to help as many people as possible to enjoy foods that promote health and wellness.