Pruns dulcis, almond in English and badam in Urdu, is a fruit similar to the peach and plum. It belongs to the Rosaceae family and is one of the most popular dry fruits. Almonds thrive best in well-drained limy and loamy soils. Mediterranean type of climate is ideal for their cultivation and it is native to the Middle East and South Asia, from where it has spread to other parts of the world.

Propagation is done by the seed, budding and grafting. The tree is bushy and grows to a height of four to ten metres; it starts to fruit after three to five years and full production takes seven to eight months after flowering. The fruit is botanically a drupe, — i.e., a fleshy fruit with a hard nut in the centre that contains a single seed — about 3.5 to 6 centimetres long. The fruit in the wild form contains the glycocide ‘amygdalin’ which is responsible for the bitterness in almonds.

In Pakistan, Balochistan is the major producer of almonds; production in other provinces being negligible. Pakistan produced about 26,487 tonnes of almonds during 2008-2009 from an area of 11,002 hectares. However, we still need to import hulled and unhulled almonds from abroad to meet the domestic demand. In Pakistan, almonds are used not only as an important ingredient of Indian Ayurveda and Tibb-e-Unani therapies, but shelled almonds also have many traditional uses in household cuisines and the preparation of sweet dishes. Nutritive facts The nutritional value per 100g almonds is as follows:

Energy 578 kcal, carbohydrates 20g, dietary fibre 12g, fat 51g, saturated fat 4g, monounsaturated fat 52g, poly-unsaturated fat 12g, protein 22g, thiamine 0.24mg, riboflavin 0.8mg, niacin 4mg, pantothenic acid 0.3mg, vitamin B6 0.13mg, folate 29ug, vitamin E 26.22mg, calcium 248mg, iron 4mg, magnesium 275mg, phosphorus 474mg, potassium 728mg, and zinc 3mg.” (Source: USDA Data base).

Health benefits From the foregoing nutritional facts, it may be observed that calcium, vitamins and other minerals are present in almonds in useful amounts. Almonds are an essential ingredient of the ancient Ayurveda and Tibb-e-Unani systems of human treatment since time immemorial. They are a popular household remedy and are believed to increase brain power, rejuvenate the nervous system and are trusted for their beneficial effects on deteriorating eye-sight.

Almonds help lower cholesterol levels. They are anti-inflammatory, anti-hepatotoxic, boost immunity and the memory. Bitter almond oil is used for massaging the head and is also used as a skin emollient. Sweet almonds are used as a laxative and also to ease paroxysms of dry cough in children.

Other uses Almonds come in both sweet and bitter variety. The bitter almond is broader and shorter than the sweet almond. Bitter almonds yield 4.9mg of hydrogen cyanide per almond. White flowered almond plants produce sweet almonds and pink-flowered almond plants bear bitter almonds.

Bitter almonds should be avoided for general consumption though they are often used in medicine. Sweet almonds can, however be enjoyed in several ways: raw, roasted, mixed with other dry fruit; they are chopped and sprinkled over sweets, used in milk puddings, cakes, cookies, pastries and halwa. Almonds are also used in a variety of indigenous drinks. They are made into a variety of beverages and also used to make almond milk, almond butter, and almond oil.

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