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Friends of Your Taste Buds: Almonds

Almonds

By: Mwangi Wamaina

Salutations, friends. Earlier, we learned about sturdy oats and succulent avocados. Today on our travels, we embark from the vast land of California to the stately land of Egypt. The welcoming waters are the peaceful playground of daring dugongs, the grandiose gray mullet, and the noble Nile perch. The salient skies are monitored by the hovering hoopoe, the cunning cattle egret, and the balanced black kite while the land is graced by the presence of dancing Dorcas gazelles, crafty caracals, laudable long-eared hedgehogs, the resilient rock hyrax, and scampering sand rats.

In this land lies a noticeable food found in the gargantuan grave of King Tutankhamun – the almond. Almonds have been used in Egypt and various other parts of the Mediterranean region for centuries before being brought From Spain to what is today California in the 1700s. Most almonds globally produced currently are grown in the United States, particularly in California, where 1,350,000 acres bore fruit in 2022.  Currently, the U.S. grows nearly 50 varieties, in particular, “the Non-Pareil, Carmel, California, and Mission types”.

Not only do almonds have a fascinating history and different types, but they contain many valuable nutrients for humanity. “Almonds are among the richest plant-based foods in calcium and phosphorus. They also contain significant amounts of magnesium, potassium, and iron.” Calcium is a mineral in the body which is important for different purposes. It exists in two forms, ionized (free) and unionized (bound). The body has a “seesaw” game between free calcium and bound calcium, since both are needed. (The body uses a messenger, known as parathyroid hormone, to run this seesaw.) Bound calcium (and phosphorus) is found in bone. Free calcium is used for other tasks. For example, there is a protein in the heart called troponin that free calcium attaches to, sort of like a key attaching to a door lock. If you think of the heart as a two-story building, there are four rooms or parts of the buildings, with two rooms on each floor. These rooms are called chambers. The bottom chambers are called ventricles. The ventricles are the parts that pump blood to the lungs (right ventricle) and the rest of the body (left ventricle). The attachment of calcium to troponin helps start a process that leads to more pressure in ventricles. The more pressure in the ventricles, the more easier blood can be forced out the heart. Thus, higher levels of calcium are needed in heart cells, called cardiomyocytes, when the heart is contracting (squeezing blood to other parts of the body). Lower levels of calcium are needed in these cells while the heart is being filled with blood.

To obtain these nutritious elements, search for almonds in the produce/nuts section of the store. The current price in the U.S. for almonds ranges between $4.71 and $8.53 per pound. They can be purchased whole, sliced, chopped, or slivered. Though they are most often found plain or salted, they are available in honey-roasted, BBQ, chili, chocolate-covered, and other flavors, many of which can drive up the calories, sodium, and sugar. The entire almond can be eaten, though if cooking them, the almond will be most fresh if the chopping or slicing occurs shortly prior to cooking them. It’s also best to eat the almonds before the best by date. If the almonds are raw, they can last at least one year. Beware of  white, fluffy mold and of a bitter/sour/paint-like smell, as these indicators mean the almonds are spoiled.

In addition to eating them raw, almonds can be used to produce butter, cookies, cream sauce, croquettes, alternative milk, and soup. Partake!

Mwangi Wamaina is an M3 at UICOMR

mwamai2@uic.edu