Almonds, the Miracle Nut

For centuries, mothers and grandmothers in India trusted almonds for their children. They used to give them 4 or 5 almonds with a glass of milk because they believed in the almond’s brain boosting benefits for children and young adults. According to Ayurveda, almonds are considered a nutrient for the nervous system. They are said to induce high intellectual level and longevity. Now scientific study has proven the benefits of almonds for the brain. We must thank our grandmothers who knew about this miracle nut all along! Before I rave about the almond’s innumerable qualities, let me give some of its history and interesting folklore, which I find really amusing. Hope you enjoy reading it.

Throughout history almonds had a significant place in religious, ethnic and social life. They are ancient food. They were among the earliest cultivated food probably before 3,000 BC. Almonds and pistachios are the only nuts mentioned in the Bible. The Bible’s book of Numbers tells of Aaron’s rod that blossomed and bore almonds using them as a symbol to represent the divine approval of Aaron by God. Greek mythology tells of the beautiful princess Phyllis who was left waiting at the altar on her wedding day by her would be husband Demophon. She waited for years but finally died of a broken heart. In sympathy, the gods transformed Phyllis into an almond tree, which became a symbol of hope. When the errant, remorseful Demophon returned to find Phyllis as a leafless, flowerless tree, he embraced the tree. The tree suddenly burst into bloom, a demonstration of love not conquered by death. A similar legend is popular in Portugal too. Romans presented gifts of sugared almonds to dignitaries and friends. At weddings they tossed almonds at the bride and groom as a symbol of fertility. An early European tradition where sugared almonds were wrapped in sheer netting and presented to wedding guests as a symbol of fertility, happiness, romance, good health and fortune. Almonds in uneven numbers of 3, 5, or 7 are given as a token of good fortune and happiness for christenings, weddings and religious ordination ceremonies. A combination of shelled almonds and raisins are good luck for Jewish people. It is also given as ‘prasaad’ after a ‘puja’ in Indian temples.

Part of the plum family, the almond tree is native to North Africa, West Asia and the Mediterranean.  Almonds are technically the seed of the fruit of the almond tree, with stone like seeds (or pits) within. The seed of the almond fruit is what we refer to as the almond nut. The Romans called it “Greek nut” since they were first cultivated in Greece. The English word almond is derived from the French word ‘amande’, which in turn is derived of the Latin word ‘amygdalus’, which literally means ‘tonsil plum.’ They are called ‘badaam’ in Indian languages. The earliest varieties came from China carried via the Silk Road to Greece and the Middle East. Travelers ate almonds for sustenance while they travelled along the Silk Road. Persians brought them to India, as did the Spanish to America. California is the largest producer of almonds in the world.

This super nut, with or without skin, contains a host of vitamins and minerals that provide a wide range of health benefits. Almonds are one of the most nutritionally dense nuts. They provide an array of powerful flavonoids and are among the richest sources of vitamin E in the diet. They are a good source of manganese, magnesium, potassium, copper, arginine (an amino acid), vitamin B2 and phosphorus. They also deliver heart healthy monounsaturated fatty acids. Substitution of saturated fats with monounsaturated fats decreases cholesterol levels. Almonds also exhibit cardio protective function and this is due to the omega 6 fatty acids present in them. The benefits of the almond are nearly endless. Here is a list of them.

  • Almonds are good for memory and brain function. Now scientific study has proved that. Almonds contain riboflavin and L-carnitine, nutrients that boost brain activity. With age defying properties eating almonds for memory and brain health may also reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s disease.
  • Another chemical called phenylalanine in almonds can alter our mood and cognitive function. Since it is easily absorbed into the brain, the chemical starts acting immediately to produce hormonal chemicals such as adrenaline and dopamine. These hormones relax the body and boost brain function. Under the influence of these hormones, you develop better reflexes and alertness. Students will greatly benefit from consuming almonds for concentration.
  • To lower your risk of cardiovascular and coronary heart disease, enjoy a handful of nuts or tablespoon of nut butter at least 4 times a week. Whole raw almonds with skins provide the most heart healthy benefits. In one study, twenty potent antioxidant flavonoids are identified in almond skins. They significantly increase both flavonoids and vitamin E in the body. This could have significant health implications, especially as people age.
  • Vitamin E is found in plenty and it is a beneficial antioxidant, which promotes blood flow. Thus it helps to move essential nutrients and oxygen to various organs, especially the brain.
  • With their cholesterol lowering properties, they can reduce the risk of arterial blockage.
  • Almonds are a good source of magnesium. When there is enough magnesium around, veins and arteries breathe a sigh of relief and relax, which lessons resistance and improves the flow of blood, oxygen and nutrients throughout the body. Magnesium is a mineral that plays a vital role in converting sugar into energy. Research suggests magnesium deficiency can drain your energy.
  • With their low sodium content and high potassium, snacking on them may help lower your blood pressure. Choose unsalted or unseasoned variety of almonds.
  • Almonds can reduce C-reactive protein, a marker of artery damaging inflammation.
  • An almond-enriched low calorie diet can help overweight individuals shed pounds more effectively than a low calorie diet high in complex carbohydrates.
  • Diabetic patients may benefit from consuming almonds. Since they are low fat, non-sugar nuts, they can satisfy hunger. They may lower insulin levels as they contain antioxidant properties.
  • Their consumption helps prevent gallstones.
  • They are a power house of protein. A quarter cup contains 7.62 gms of protein, more than a typical egg which contains only 5.54 gms. Their protein is high quality and easily digestible.
  • Recently, Institute of Food Research has identified prebiotic properties of almonds that could help improve digestive health by increasing levels of beneficial gut bacteria.
  • Almonds may also trigger hormones that can help reduce pain. Pain relieving capacity of almonds may be beneficial in individuals suffering from Parkinson’s disease.
  • Almonds are good for the expectant mother, as they are a rich source of folic acid, which promotes cell and tissue growth of the fetus.
  • Almonds are a good source of dietary fiber, both insoluble and soluble which aids in decreasing cholesterol levels. The risk of colonic cancer is also reduced.
  • People suffering from constipation will definitely find relief by consuming 4-5 almonds on a daily basis.
  • Almonds provide instant energy, they are like instant fuel.
  • They are helpful in getting rid of amnesia or weakness of memory. They are memory boosters. Almond paste is effective in such cases. Almond oil inhalation is good too.
  • They are a good source of folate, which helps in reducing the homocysteine levels. Homocysteine increases plaque formation in arteries. High level of homocysteine in the blood is linked to cardiovascular disease.
  • They are good sources of micronutrients such as calcium and phosphorus, contributing to bone growth and development.
  • Almond oil is good for application to the skin as an emollient and has been traditionally used by massage therapists to lubricate the skin. It is a light weight oil which can be used as a substitute for olive oil. Almond oil for hair is also recommended.
  • Almond milk is very popular and has a history of its own. In China, people were very fond of preparing milk from nuts and legumes. Until the end of the 18th century, almond milk was common in Europe.

This versatile nut is available throughout the year. You can include it in your diet by making healthy and tasty additions to both sweet and savory dishes. They can be used in salads, cakes, biscuits, even as a thickening agent in gravies and as a healthy topping for cereals, pasta, yogurt, smoothies and in countless other preparations. Almond butter can be used as a spread on your toast. In India, almonds are the base ingredient of “pasanda-style” or Mughlai curries.

Note: Almonds contain measurable amounts of oxalates. People with already existing and untreated kidney or gallbladder problems may want to avoid eating almonds.

Here are some of my favourite badaam recipes for you to try and enjoy!


 Badaam  Milk

Ingredients

  • 1/2  cup almond
  • 1/2 cup pistachios
  • 1 1/2 to 2 cups boiled and cooled milk
  • Sugar to taste
  • 8-10 cardamoms, powdered
  • 2 tsp. rose water
  • 2 tsp. kewra essence (optional)

Method

Soak and peel almonds. Grind almonds and pistachios with a little milk to a smooth paste. Add the rest of the ingredients and mix thoroughly. Serve chilled or warm. In winter there’s nothing like warm almond milk, and in summers this drink served chilled is very refreshing and energizing.

Note: You can also prepare it by grinding half a cup unsoaked, soaked or blanched almonds and then adding half a litre of water, a pinch of salt and 2-3 pitted dates and blending until creamy. Strain it and refrigerate. It lasts 2-3 days in the refrigerator.


Badaam Kheer

Ingredients

  • 30 almonds
  • 1 litre milk
  • ½ cup sugar or according to taste
  • 10 cardamoms, powdered
  • A pinch of saffron soaked in a little milk
  • 2 tbsp chopped pistachios to garnish

Method

Soak almonds and remove the skins. Grind with a little milk to a smooth paste. Take a thick-bottomed pan with milk in it and bring to a boil. Add almond paste and sugar, and stir well. Simmer while stirring often. Add cardamom powder and saffron. Simmer till it is reduced to ¾ quantity. Turn off the heat. Garnish with pistachios. Serve it hot or chilled as you wish.

 

All time favourite—Toasted Almonds

Ingredients

  • 1 cup almonds
  • 1-2 tsp. butter
  • 1-2 tsp. brown sugar
  • ¼ tsp. salt
  • ¼ to ½ tsp. chili powder

Method

Spread almonds on a baking sheet evenly in a single layer. Place the sheet in a 350 degree F oven. Bake the almonds for about 6-7 minutes or until almonds are fragrant and toasted. Meanwhile, melt the butter in a pan over low to medium heat. As the butter sizzles, remove the pan from the heat and stir in brown sugar, salt and chili powder. Add this to the almonds and toss well. Cool and serve. You can keep them in an air tight container for a month or longer in the refrigerator.

Badaam Halwa

Ingredients

  • 1 cup almonds (soaked and peeled)
  • 1 cup milk
  • 3-4 tbsp. ghee
  • 4 tbsp. sugar or according to taste
  • A pinch of saffron soaked in a little milk
  • 8 cardamoms powdered

Method

Grind almonds to a coarse paste adding milk. Take a non-stick pan, add 2 tbsp. ghee and when it is warm add almond paste. Cook it on medium heat stirring constantly for 4 to 5 minutes. Avoid sticking to the pan. Now add sugar, mix well. Cook it while stirring and add saffron and cardamom powder. The mixture will be boiling, so be careful it may splash. Add another spoonful of ghee and continue stirring. The mixture forms a lump and it no more sticks to the pan. Turn off the heat and remove the halwa to a serving dish.

Thandai

Thandai is a traditional drink served during Holi festival.It is a wonderful, cold, refreshing and healthy flavoured milk. It is an energy booster and cools the body.

Ingredients

  • 2 cups water
  • 2 tbsp. fennel seeds (saunf)
  • 5-6 cardamoms
  • 3-4 cloves
  • 3-4 peppercorns
  • ½ cup blanched and chopped almonds
  • ¼ cup pistachios
  • 2/3 cup raisins
  • 2 tbsp. poppy seeds soaked
  • ¼ cup melon seeds
  • 1 litre milk
  • ½ cup sugar or less, according to taste
  • ¼ tsp. saffron
  • 1 tsp. rose water

Method

Boil the water, turn off the heat and add fennel seeds, cardamoms, cloves, peppercorns and cover. Leave aside for fifteen minutes. Add raisins, almonds, pistachios, poppy seeds, melon seeds and cover. Let it stand for an hour or so. Blend it until the nuts and spices are finely ground and smooth. Strain the liquid through a cloth. Squeeze the cloth to extract all the liquid. Add milk, saffron, sugar and rose water. Stir thoroughly so that sugar is dissolved. Chill and serve over crushed ice.

Hope you will make almonds a daily habit – they are part of a well balanced diet. Keep them where they are easy to reach. Just grab a handful anytime of the day.

Happy munching!

Bye for now.  Smile and be happy!

4 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Anu Murthy on May 9, 2011 at 6:38 pm

    Hi Vijaya aunty,
    I tried the pumpkin curry was awesome.. The almond story is nice.. I think I’ll try thandai this time..
    Anu

    Reply

  2. Posted by allen brown on October 28, 2012 at 11:48 am

    i m really gonna try this

    Reply

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