While most of us think of almonds as nuts, they are actually the edible seeds of the almond tree, which is native to the Middle East, India and North Africa. Almonds are a versatile food as they make great additions to both sweet and savory recipes and even make for a healthy snack all on their own. You can find almonds in many shapes and forms, and the trick to knowing how to select and store almonds is to know about the differences between the various types.
Choosing the Best Almonds
When buying almonds, you'll find that they are sold in a few different forms. First, they are offered either in the shell or shelled. If shelled, they can be raw (or natural), roasted or blanched. If they are raw or roasted, the almonds will have their skins; if they are blanched they will be without skins. Raw and blanched almonds are sold in a variety of ways--whole, sliced, slivered or halved, and diced or chopped. The pre-cut almonds are perfect for easily adding to a recipe, ideal for the busy cook. For the freshest flavor, however, you should purchase whole almonds and chop or slice them before each use.
When almonds become old they will turn rancid. Here's how to figure out if your almonds are past their prime: If you have almonds in the shell, shake one of them; if it rattles a lot, chances are it is aging and shrinking. To check for rancidity in a shelled almond, slice the almond in half and look for a solid white texture throughout--if it is yellowish or has a honeycomb pattern, it is spoiled and should be discarded.
There is no harm in eating rancid almonds but they will have an extremely bitter, unpleasant taste.
If you've chosen raw or roasted almonds don't be afraid of the skin. Although the skin can sometimes be bitter, it can also have a pleasant taste and add flavor to the recipe. So try the nut first before removing the outer brown covering.
Because of the antioxidants in almonds, these nuts can last a very long time if stored properly. However, due to their high fat content, they are likely to turn rancid if not kept in the appropriate conditions. According to the Almond Board of California, packaged raw almonds can be stored unopened in a cool, dark place for up to two years. Unopened roasted almonds can be stored under the same conditions up to one year. Both will last even longer if refrigerated or placed in the freezer. Avoid keeping in a warm pantry as it will hasten rancidity.
Once packaged almonds are opened, be sure to put them in an airtight container or resealable plastic bag with the air squeezed out and store in a cool, dry, dark place (ideally in the refrigerator) and use within three months. It is important that they are in tightly closed containers to prevent insect infestation as well as odor absorption--almonds can take on food odors if exposed for long periods of time. For maximum shelf-life, keep the almonds away from humid conditions.
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