Almonds are undisputed protagonists of sweet and savoury recipes and an integral part of the Mediterranean diet.
They are among the most popular dried fruits in the world, always highly appreciated and consumed in many different variations.
Widespread in Italy for some time, they originate from Central Asia although, not many know it, the largest almond crops are found mainly in California. Their cultivation begins already in the first part of the Bronze Age, between 3000 and 2000 BC, and it is curious to know that some fruits have also been found in the tomb of Tutankhamun in Egypt, dating back to around 1325 BC. In Rome the almond tree was known as Greek walnut, brought precisely thanks to the Romans in Italy to the foot of the Alps, while its diffusion in the Mediterranean area is due to the Arabs, before reaching North America in the sixteenth century and in Chile in the following century. . Today the world's largest producer of almonds is California, followed by Spain, Italy, Greece and Turkey. In Italy, the almond tree culture is widespread especially in Puglia and Sicily.
Beneficial properties of almonds
Sweet almonds, unmistakably crunchy, are a real panacea for health because they bring various benefits, even the peeled ones, i.e. deprived of the brown cuticle. Amazing reserve of nutritional properties, they contain excellent quantities of saturated fats, the famous and indispensable Omega 3, proteins and vegetable fibers, mineral salts and vitamins, in particular vitamins E and B2. Perfect to be munched on their own or accompanied by other dried and dehydrated fruit, almonds can enrich any sweet and savoury dish, as well as immediately reinvigorate all athletes, at the end of strenuous training sessions.Characteristics of the dry fruit
You wouldn't think it tasted like almonds, but originally the wild fruit was toxic. Only over the centuries has the plant been selected and transformed to produce edible fruit. Once harvested, the almonds are dried in the air before practicing the separation of the hulls to obtain the seed, or the real almond: this technique is called hulling, which is implemented with a machine called hulling machine, specially built to remove the husk thanks to a hopper through which the almonds are passed into a cage equipped with a central bladed shaft that rotates: the centrifugal force of the rotation combined with the rubbing of the almonds themselves removes this soft part, thus proceeding to a first cleaning of the almonds . The almond tree is a rustic and long-lived plant, it adapts easily to many types of soil and thrives well in both warm and colder climates, even if it finds its natural habitat in temperate climates and light and not too humid soils.
The beautiful flowering that it offers every year makes it very appreciated especially as regards the design of parks and gardens. In Agrigento, in mid-February at the end of the short Sicilian winter, the white flowering of almond trees announces the return of spring in the Valley of the Temples and is celebrated with a festival that attracts thousands of tourists to the Sicilian city. The almond harvest takes place between the end of August and the end of September: the fruits are dropped and then collected from the ground, without mechanisation.Almonds in Sicily
The fruits are used for the most part by the confectionery industry, in particular for the production of sugared almonds, granitas, almond milk and nougat, and to a small extent consumed as dried fruit. One of the best known and most valuable species of our country is the Avola almond, which takes its name from the city in the province of Syracuse, seat of the protection consortium. This denomination includes three different qualities of almond: Pizzuta, the finest almond, chosen for confectionery and cooking, Fascioncello, a typical Syracusan variety with a delicate fragrance, and Romana with a delicate hint of vanilla.
There are many and varied uses of almonds in the kitchen, which in Sicily give life to delicious and tasty recipes such as the first courses based on almond pesto and cherry tomatoes, fried aubergines and almonds, different types of desserts including the famous pasta biscuits almond, but also chicken with almonds where the meat morsels are cooked together with onion and sautéed with toasted almonds, or lamb with prunes and almonds to accompany cous cous (being a dish that comes from the Middle East). For fish lovers, the almonds properly shelled and cut into thin slices become the adequate covering for the salmon fillet generally baked in a citrus and ginger marinade but also more simply with a drizzle of oil. Try the almond, gorgonzola and vegetable cake where its entire surface is covered with sliced almonds.