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Almonds are tree nuts native to the Mediterranean region and started to be cultivated around 3000 BC. Almonds, a tree nut, grow on trees. In the U.S., they are commonly grown in California which has a climate similar to the Mediterranean region in which they originate. 

You can find traditional almond dishes in areas in the Mediterranean region whether you’re traveling abroad, out to eat in town, or cooking for yourself. Almonds are diverse and delicious (sorry for those who are allergic) and are often found in dishes in the U.S. as well. Topping salads, baked in cookies, roasted, salted, and more, they’re everywhere! In celebration of National Almond Day grab a pack as a snack as you work, study, ski, or hike. 

Almond Lifecycle

Almond trees are dormant during the winter (November through January) before blooming starting in February or March. The trees bloom white and pink flowers which bees then pollinate, leading to the maturation of almond kernels in June. Once mature (around July), the almond hulls split open and the almonds are harvested by shaking the tree until they fall to the ground. From there, the almonds dry for roughly a week before they are picked up and sent to a sheller facility. Finally, they’re packaged and shipped around the country and the world. California produces 80% of the world’s almonds, while Mediterranean countries such as Spain and Italy produce the other 20%

Almond Milk

Recently, almonds have become popularized and criticized alike as a result of using almonds as Almond Milk, a plant-based alternative to animal milk (primarily cow’s milk). Almonds are often criticized for their environmental impact, specifically monocropping and water usage. The rise in popularity of plant-based milk is often attributed to environmental consciousness and humane animal treatment to reduce animal agriculture and more commonly, lactose intolerance. In fact, 68% of the world’s population is lactose intolerant, a result of human evolution as many cultures did not raise cattle and were only introduced to foods with lactose in more recent years. 

Comparing different kinds of milks’ environmental impact brings up many considerations, including land use, greenhouse gas emissions, water use, and eutrophication. A study by Poore and Nemecek which performed a metanalysis of the global food system compared these four criteria. This chart shows four plant-based milks in comparison to dairy milk, and it’s clear that while the plant-based milks alternate ranking in environmental impact amongst themselves, dairy milk remains the biggest negative environmental impact.

People often worry about the nutritional content of plant-based milks, whether they have enough protein or calcium. One of the most popular brands of almond milk is Blue Diamond Almond Breeze, who claims its original product contains fewer calories per glass of 2% milk, and 50% more calcium when comparing 1 cup. Some plant-based milk brands also contain versions that are fortified with protein or calcium so you can reap all of the nutritional benefits without the environmental impact. Next time you go to the grocery store, do a comparison to see which milks (plant-based variations and animal-based variations) have the nutritional content you’re looking for.   

What about monocropping?

Monocropping can be an issue for almost any crop, but almonds are often used as an example. Monocropping is when land is used only for one crop which can have detrimental effects on the environment. Year after year using the same land for the same crop can reduce soil health and structure, leading to the use of chemical fertilizers. Many crops are grown like this, including wheat, corn, and soybeans. 

Researching brands that ensure healthy agricultural techniques is one way that you can increase demand for environmentally friendly growing practices. For any foods that may be a result of monocropping, not just almonds, it’s important to know where it comes from. While almonds may be harder since most are grown in CA, buying local can be one way you can ensure you’re purchasing foods that align with your environmental goals.  

Nutritional Content

Even if you don’t like almond milk, almonds have nutritional value that you can enjoy in other forms (they make a great trail snack). Almonds are a source of Vitamin E, Monounsaturated Fats, Fiber, Biotin, Calcium, Magnesium, and more. They have also been shown to lower heart disease by decreasing LDL cholesterol and have anti-inflammatory effects that can be very beneficial. You can receive these benefits by consuming raw almonds, almond milk, almond butter, and almond flour. 

If you’re an almond fan, celebrate with an almond snack, and don’t forget about the bees who are vital for growing them!