During one of his many trips to California, Mr. Adel Boulos, vice-president of Amira Enterprises, had the opportunity to visit Hilltop Ranch, one of the largest American almond growers. During his stay, he witnessed the beauty and the grandness of the almond orchards...

The Almond Tree And Its Fruit: The Almond



During one of his many trips to California, M. Adel Boulos, vice-president of Amira Enterprises, had the opportunity to visit Hilltop Ranch, one of the largest American almond growers. During his stay, he witnessed the beauty and the grandness of the almond orchards. Paul Ewing, sales director at Hilltop Ranch, gave M. Boulos the opportunity to learn about the almond-growing industry. It is with great pleasure that we would like to share this experience with you!
For over 5000 years, men have been fascinated by the almond tree from Asia to Northern Africa. The Franciscans fathers brought the almond trees in California during the 18th century. At the beginning, the trees were planted along the California coast line, but the humid climate was not appropriate for the trees to attain maximum maturity. The growers decided to move the orchards in the central Valley of California, starting from the Sacramento Valley to the San Joaquin Valley.


The Almond Tree


The almond tree has a life cycle of 20 to 25 years and measures 6 to 12 meters high. However, it only starts producing almonds 4 years after planting it. The almond tree fruit is small, around 5 cm, hard with a soft skin, like a peach, and is not edible. The hull inside the fruit contains and protects the shell witch contains the almond. The nut inside is white with a thin brown skin. Its size and shape varies depending on the type of almonds but it is generally oval with a larger end.


The Almond Life Cycle


Because the almond tree is very sensible to cold weather, the almond-growing industry needs a hot climate resembling the Mediterranean type. The life cycle of the almonds starts in November and lasts until October. During the cold months of the Central Valley of California, between November and February, the average temperature is around 5 ºC to 15 ºC. During this period, the almond trees are in dormancy even if the buds are on the trees.
As soon as the weather goes up, around mid-February, the almond trees are in bloom. This is a very beautiful and important part of the almond life cycle. Of course the blooming period will vary according to the almond type.


The Pollination


The pollination period is a crucial part of the almond life-cycle. Because the almond trees are not self-fertile, an orchard will usually have two to three varieties of almond trees. The growers are bringing hundreds and hundreds of bee hives in the field and the bees will be in charge of pollinating the flowers. In order to have a successful pollination, the bees need sunshine and hot weather. Cooler temperature and rain could compromise this important phase and ruin the crop. This is a very popular period for the tourist industry and it last generally from mid-February to mid-March.



The Maturation Period


From March to June-July, we will start to see green small fruits appearing in the trees. During this period, the shell inside the hull will become harder and prepare itself for the hull split that will begin around July through August. This will allow the shell to dry, separate from the hull and to be ready for harvest around September to October.
At that time almond-growers need to follow certain important steps before harvesting
-Clean the ground from all debris
-Coordinate harvest times by varieties
-Keep a dry environments at all times

After making sure that all those precautions are taken, it is time to use the tree shaker that shake the almonds to the ground Then the rip fruit will continue to dry on the ground for about 10 days before it is picked up by machine.


The Almond Processing

In order to get the delicious almonds we crave, the hull is separated mechanically from the shell for those who prefer to crack open their almonds and for the others the shells are removed automatically. The hulls and shells will be used by the dairy industry to feed the dairy cattle or as bedding for the animals.

After the hulling and shelling process, the shelled almonds are separated by size by passing on a screen with variable sizes that sorts the kernels into different bins. Once the almonds are separated by size, it can be sent to the customer as is or the industry carries on with different transformations.
The produce is blanched or not, roasted or not, slivered, sliced, diced, ground or flavour is added. The most popular flavour are salted, tamari, B.B.Q. or smoked almonds.


The Different Varieties of Almonds

The almonds come in different varieties and sizes. The more commercialized almonds are from 3 large families The Nonpareil type, The mission type and The California type. The Carmel almond is also much commercialized and is part of the California families.

Nonpareil: This variety is often used by the industry. Its thin shell and soft kernel makes it a favourite for blanching and cutting.
Mission: This variety has a harder kernel then the Nonpareil type and it has a wrinkled surface which makes it difficult to blanch. On the other hand it makes it the perfect almond for seasoning because the spices will stick better to the surface.
California: This is the biggest family and the most versatile. Its shell is of medium thickness and it has a darker color then the Nonpareil. It is used in almost all transformations.
Carmel: This almond belongs to the California family. It is easy to use and it often replaces the California and Nonpareil Type.




The Pasteurisation

The FDA (Food and Drug Administration USA) passed a law and starting September 1st, all the almonds produced in the USA will have to be pasteurized. The FDA wants to avoid contamination by salmonella for example and general recall of the products. Pasteurization, is a low-heat treatment, under 100 ºC, coupled to a pre-determine time, depending on the food product, that will eliminate the majority of the pathogen microorganism. By doing so, the almonds will have a longer shelf life because its initial microbial rate is lower. Studies have been conducted and this process does not alter the taste, the texture nor the nutritional values of the almonds.
Even if the pasteurization eliminates most of the pathogen microorganism, it needs to be well stored after the heat-treatment. At Amira Enterprises, we have a 5,000 sq ft cold room at 5 degrees Celsius to store the nuts. Another section of 15,000 sq ft is air conditioned in order to keep all the finished goods at the optimal temperature.


Storage

In order to maximize the freshness, it is recommended to keep the almonds in a dry, cool, and dark place. The whole natural almond can be kept in the fridge and freezer for about 2 years and the transformed one for example slivered, sliced or ground, for about 1 year. Of course this is under the optimal conservation mode.

Nutritional Information

The almonds, like most nuts, should be integrated to your daily diet. Keep in mind that a portion of meat and alternatives in the Canadian Food Guide is 35 g of almonds, approximately 24-28 kernels.
Besides being rich in fiber, the almond is a valuable source of vitamin E. This vitamin has a strong antioxidant power.

Usage

The almond is very versatile and can be used in many ways, weather as a snack, as an appetizer, a main course or for dessert. Why not bring along almonds during you next hike, or use the ingredients in a salad, an Indian rice or on top of your favorite ice cream!