Almond farming in California doesn’t just provide delicious food for America, it also delivers unsurpassed quality and unique flavor throughout the world. In fact, cultures from all reaches of the globe have historically treasured almonds as a source of good luck, good health, and good fortune—and many still do today. It just goes to show how no matter where they appear, almonds are always a perfect fit.
Almonds are essential to chocolate in Japan, where a wide array of mouth-watering sweets are available. Two long-time favorites among Japanese are delicate oval balls of almonds coated in chocolate, and pretzel sticks dipped in milk, dark, or white chocolate and coated with diced almonds.
Explorers from the Mediterranean introduced almonds to the Chinese who then adapted their cuisine to include the delicious and beneficial nuts. Today, the Chinese typically eat almonds during autumn and winter as a roasted, salted snack, with peak consumption taking place during the Chinese New Year. Almond snacks are available both in-shell and shelled, as well as with unique flavors such as abalone.
Almonds are an integral part of India’s cultural and culinary heritage, and are considered a prized “brain food” for children. They are also a key ingredient in traditional Indian sweets known as Mithai, as well as popular for gifting during the Diwali festive season.
Almond trees have grown for centuries in Italy, Spain, Morocco, Israel, and Greece. Ancient Greek medical texts are among the oldest and most extensive to discuss the use of almonds. Now, as an integral part of the Mediterranean diet, almonds continue to help people live a healthy lifestyle.
Ancient Romans showered newlyweds with almonds as a fertility charm and in the 1350s, Italians started giving the traditional wedding favor of five sugar-coated Jordan almonds. Each white almond symbolizes a quality of a happy marriage: health, wealth, happiness, fertility, and longevity. Today, candy-coated Jordan almonds mark other milestones as well: pink is given for the birth of a girl; blue for the birth of a boy; red for graduations; green for engagements; silver for a 25th anniversary; and gold for a 50th anniversary.
Franciscan Padres from Spain brought the almond tree to California in the 1700s. Now, California provides more than 80% of the world’s almond supply.
In France, almond cream-filled puff pastry is the Galette des Rois (the cake of the Kings), a treat for the Feast of the Epiphany on January 6. The finder of a charm hidden in the cake becomes the king and must choose his queen, or vice versa. France is also famous for almond treats such as marzipan used as a sweet filling in chocolates or breads and, of course, macarons.
In Germany, almonds are traditionally a popular snack in open-air fests and Christmas markets. Almonds are used for Germany’s famous mouth-watering marzipan confections and are starting to become more popular in snack foods.
The Swedes have been known to hide an almond in rice pudding as a symbol of good fortune. The person who finds the almond is said to get married in the coming year.
Today, almonds are the state’s number one tree nut crop, and production continues to expand to meet increasing demand. California is the only place in North America where almonds are grown commercially and California Almonds are shipped to more than 90 markets worldwide, but the US is still the single-largest market.
Approximately 6,000 almond growers produce nearly 100% of the commercial domestic supply and more than 75% of worldwide production. Nearly 80 countries import California Almonds. The US is by far the largest market for almonds; overseas, Western Europe and Asia are the top two export destinations for almonds. In terms of individual markets, the top-five export destinations are Spain, Germany, India, Japan, and the Netherlands. For more information on the Almond Board statistics, click here to download the 2009 Almond Almanac.