Israel’s almond trees are the first to bloom each year, coinciding with the Jewish holiday of Tu B’Shvat, the New Year for Trees, which falls on February 11th this year.
Almond blossoms are extraordinarily beautiful, giving a white and pink glow to the cold winter and a promise of the warm spring ahead. The edible seed of the almond fruit is nothing special to look at, but contains a superfood nutritional profile. Reuven Birger, chairman of Israeli Almond Board, says almonds are becoming ever more popular as an excellent plant source of calcium and protein.
Birger stated that in 2016, 6,200 tons of almond kernels were harvested from 11,120 acres of almond trees in Israel. Another 1,200 acres of young almond trees, not yet producing nuts, will be critical in helping meet demand, as Israelis now consume about 7,000 tons of almonds per year.
With that being said, there are some really interesting facts about almonds. We bet that you did not know all of these!
1) The almond fruit technically is not a nut, but a drupe. The part we eat is the kernel, or seed, inside the elongated shell. Other drupes are peaches, plums, cherries, walnuts, and pecans.
2) University of Haifa researchers discovered that almond flower nectar contains a unique poison that does not harm bees, which bees actually find to be irresistible. The scientists speculate that this toxic substance therefore gives the almond tree a reproductive advantage.
3) Almonds provide calcium, protein, vitamin E, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, zinc, copper, manganese, B vitamins, natural fiber, antioxidants, and cholesterol-lowering monounsaturated fat. Studies show they protect against diabetes, gallstones, and cardiovascular disease.
4) While the United States produces the most almonds in the world, Israeli almonds are larger, tastier, and contain 10% more calcium than American and most other varieties.
5) Last summer, Almond Board of California Director of Agricultural Affairs Bob Curtis and Don Cameron of Terranova Ranch joined a delegation from the California Department of Food and Agriculture in a fact-finding trip to see how the Israel’s advanced irrigation and planting strategies and technologies lead to better efficiency and sustainability.
6) The biblical book of Genesis describes almonds as “among the best of fruits.” There are nine additional mentions of almonds or almond blossoms in the Hebrew Scriptures. In Christian iconography, almond branches symbolize the virgin birth.
7) The seven-branch menorah (candelabra) in the Holy Temple was meant to resemble an almond blossom as described in Exodus: “Three cups, shaped like almond blossoms, were on one branch, with a knob and a flower; and three cups, shaped like almond blossoms, were on the other… on the candlestick itself were four cups, shaped like almond blossoms, with its knobs and flowers.” (Exodus 25:33)
8) Almond oil is used in many made-in-Israel cosmetics such as body butter, facial scrubs, and creams. Almond oil is also used in traditional medicines, aromatherapy, and pharmaceuticals.
9) The word “almond” derives from the Greek word “amygdala,” which is why the almond-shaped structures in the brain are called amygdalae.
10) The Hebrew word for almond, shaked (pronounced “shah-kaid”), is also a popular name for both boys and girls.
11) There’s an entire museum in Israel dedicated to marzipan, also known as almond candy dough, at Shaked Tavor in Kfar Tavor in the Jezreel Valley. Shaked Tavor offers Tu B’Shvat tours and year-round workshops on Fridays and holidays.
Originally posted at Israel21c.