Dietribes: Almond Joy

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"¢Â Almonds have a long history of importance, even getting a mention in the Bible's Book of Numbers as a symbol of divinity. Romans also used almonds as a fertility charm.

"¢Â Not many foods can say they hold a special importance in every region of the world - in Japan, almonds are essential to chocolate. In India they are considered "brain food," and the Swedes consider them a mark of good fortune. And they are a major export from the US - California provides 100% of our domestic supply and 75% of the international production of almonds.

"¢Â Almonds are so in demand that it takes a fleet of honeybees every year to assist in pollination (it being the crop that uses more bees than any other). "Every February more than one million beehives - that's some 40 billion bees, most of them driven cross-country on the back of semi trucks - are unloaded in the cool hours of darkness between the endless rows of almond trees."

"¢Â Along with being a symbol of fertility, almonds are also considered an aphrodisiac. In the story of Samson and Delilah, Samson pursued the beauty with branches from an almond tree. Apparently the aroma of almonds was thought to induce passion in a woman (it gives me a passionate desire to eat the almonds, I'll give it that!)

"¢Â Adventurous souls might attempt to smuggle in some raw, bitter almonds (not to confused with the "sweet" almonds we cultivate today - bitter almonds are banned in the US), which contain a form of cyanide. The lethal dose of raw bitter almonds depends on the size of the nuts, their concentration of amygdalin and the consumer's sensitivity. But scientists estimate that a 150-pound adult might die from eating between 10 and 70 raw nuts, and a child from ingesting just a few. Yet people do it anyway for what they claim is a superior taste!

 

"¢Â "On January 31, 1890, Theo wrote to Vincent of the birth of his son, whom he had named Vincent Willem. Van Gogh, who was extremely close to his younger brother, immediately set about making him a painting of his favorite subject: blossoming branches against a blue sky. The gift was meant to hang over the couple's bed. As a symbol of this new life, Vincent chose an almond tree, which blooms early in southern regions, announcing the coming spring as early as February."

"¢Â Almonds can exist in other art forms as well - take marzipan for example. Although these marzipan babies aren't real (unfortunately!), there are still other figures that can be fashioned from this sweet stuff.

"¢Â Eating almonds, sure thing! But you can drink them too: As most of you probably know, Amaretto is an Italian sweet almond-flavored liqueur made from a base of apricot or almond pits (or sometimes both). The name literally means "a little bitter" ... even though it's not!

"¢Â I'm nuts about nuts, especially almonds. Have any of you tried almond cheese? It's my new obsession. Share how you like to eat (or not eat) almonds below!

Hungry for more? Venture into the Dietribes archive.

"˜Dietribes' appears every other Wednesday. Food photos taken by Johanna Beyenbach. You might remember that name from our post about her colorful diet.

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April 21, 2010 - 7:59am
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