Almond oil, used as an edible oil, but primarily in the manufacture of pharmaceuticals.
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The Almond (Prunus dulcis, syn. Prunus amygdalus Batsch., Amygdalus communis L., Amygdalus dulcis Mill.) is a species of Prunus belonging to the subfamily Prunoideae of the family Rosaceae; within Prunus, it is classified with the Peach in the subgenus Amygdalus, distinguished from the other subgenera by the corrugated seed shell. An almond is also the seed of this tree. Despite what is commonly believed, the almond is not a nut.
It is native to Iran, from northwestern Saudi Arabia, north through western Jordan, Israel, Lebanon, western Syria, to southern Turkey. It is a small deciduous tree, growing to 4–10 m tall, with a trunk up to 30 cm diameter. The young shoots are green at first, becoming purplish where exposed to sunlight, then grey in their second year. The leaves are lanceolate, 4–13 cm long and 1.2–4 cm broad, with a serrated margin and a 2.5 cm petiole. The flowers are white or pale pink, 3–5 cm diameter with five petals, produced singly or in pairs before the leaves in early spring.
The fruit is a drupe 3.5–6 cm long, with a downy outer coat. The outer covering or exocarp, fleshy in other members of Prunus such as the plum and cherry, is reduced to a leathery grey-green coat called the hull, which contains inside a hard shell the edible kernel, commonly called a nut in culinary terms. Generally, one kernel is present, but occasionally two. However, in botanical terms, an almond is not a true nut. In botanical parlance, the reticulated hard stony shell is called an endocarp. It is mature in the autumn, 7–8 months after flowering.
The wild form of domesticated almond grows in parts of the Levant; almonds must first have been taken into cultivation in this region. The fruit of the wild forms contains the glycoside amygdalin, “which becomes transformed into deadly prussic acid (hydrogen cyanide) after crushing, chewing, or any other injury to the seed”. Before cultivation and domestication occurred, wild almonds were harvested as food and doubtless were processed by leaching or roasting to remove their toxicity. The domesticated form can ripen fruit as far north as the British Isles.
However, domesticated almonds are not toxic; Jared Diamond argues that a common genetic mutation causes an absence of glycoside amygdalin, and this mutant was grown by early farmers, “at first unintentionally in the garbage heaps and later intentionally in their orchards”. Zohary and Hopf believe that almonds were one of the earliest domesticated fruit-trees due to “the ability of the grower to raise attractive almonds from seed. Thus in spite of the fact that this plant does not lend itself to propagation from suckers or from cuttings, it could have been domesticated even before the introduction of grafting”. Domesticated almonds appear in the Early Bronze Age (3000–2000 BC) of the Near East, or possibly a little earlier. A well-known archaeological example of almond is the fruits found in Tutankhamun’s tomb in Egypt (c. 1325 BC), probably imported from the Levant.
Almond is called Lawz in Arabic, Baadaam in Persian, Urdu and Hindi.