Thanks to their delicate nutty flavor and their versatility, almonds are quickly becoming an essential ingredient in many modern kitchens. Use almonds to create visual and textural contrast in a variety of dishes or use their rich flavor as a canvas for experimentation.
Though almonds are often associated with Southern European cuisine, they are originally from the Middle East. Almonds were first grown in Persia and surrounding countries, and then brought to the coastal regions of Southern Europe and North Africa.
There are a variety of almond types that grow in the wild, but they are characteristically bitter and often toxic when raw. The sweet almond we are most familiar with today comes from domesticated almond trees, which have been cultivated since as early as 3000 BC.
As worldwide interest in personal nutrition and plant-based lifestyles has grown, the almond has evolved from a snack food to a ubiquitous culinary presence. Beyond the nut itself, almond-based products such as almond milk, almond flour, and almond butter are continually rising in popularity.
Consumed raw, almonds are mildly sweet with a pleasant nutty flavor. Roasting almonds produces a sweeter and more pronounced flavor complemented by a slight smokiness.
Almonds with an excess of amygdalin, a naturally occurring compound usually found in wild almonds, are more bitter in taste and cannot be eaten raw. Bitter almonds are most commonly used to make almond extract, which tastes vastly different from sweet almonds as cooking reduces some of the toxicity but doesn’t drastically change their flavor.
Almonds can be enjoyed on their own as a snack or as a welcome addition to cereals, breakfast bars, and trail mixes. They can also be added to pastries and desserts, whether chopped or sliced, and are either incorporated in batters or used as decorative and delicious finishing touches. Macarons, a popular French meringue biscuit, are traditionally made with ground almonds.
Though most often used for pastries and desserts, almonds also work well in savory dishes. Almonds can add textural interest and a nutty flavor to salads, pastas, or sauces, while crushed almonds can be mixed with herbs, grated cheese, or breadcrumbs to create a crunchy and flavorful crust for meat.