For all of its nutritional benefits, Kale, the vegetable du jour of the health-minded for the last several years, was never mentioned in the Book of Genesis. Additionally, though the potato dates back at least 7,000 years, nobody is attempting to tout it nutritionally as a health food. Looking across all of the varied things that we eat, few foodstuffs can combine the versatility, history, and nutritional benefits of an item that is nothing more than the shelled seed of a tree fruit. Whether eating them raw, cooking with them, drinking them, or discussing their role in a heart-healthy diet, few foods are as super as today’s word – the almond.
Coming to us directly from the Old French almande, both the word as well as the seed from the fruit tree – yes, it’s actually a fruit tree and not a nut tree – have a somewhat mysterious origin. While, like many words, it comes to us from the Ancient Greek amygdalos through the Late Latin amandula, the root of the word is largely unknown. Regarding the fruit itself, though they were found in King Tut’s tomb, nobody is quite sure how or when almonds were first domesticated, especially considering that wild almonds are bitter and toxic to the point of being fatal after consuming only a few dozen.
The demand for almonds has sky-rocketed in the last couple of decades. An increase in uses, as well as health-related information regarding the almond’s “superfood” benefits have driven the price for growing a pound of almonds from less than $1 in the late 1990s to just less than $4 in 2014. Though off the 2011 high production of 2.0 million tonnes, mainly due to drought conditions in the U.S. State of California, which produces 80% of global supply, current almond production is still expected to exceed 1 million tonnes.
With almond growing possible from Iceland to India, it is no surprise that the word has been with us for quite a while. The first known mention of the word occurs around 1325 (approximately during the reign of Edward II) in The Statutes of the Realm, where, while measuring, it was written, “Also the hundred of saffron, and of pepper, and of cumin, and of almonds contains in here number 13 stone and a half.” Interestingly, the seed was mentioned nearly 75 years before the tree itself, the tree being first mentioned by Batholomaeus Anglicus in his work, De proprietatibus rerum (On the Properties of Things) around 1398.