Wanting to know where our food comes from and how produce has made its way to our tables is paramount to many Canadians in today's food landscape. Most of us are eager for more transparency on food labels and keen to find out as much as possible about the products we choose to add to our shopping carts. If you're an avid consumer of almonds or almond beverage, you might be interested to find out that almonds need a lot of TLC to be grown successfully. This past winter, I went right to the source – a Blue Diamond Growers almond orchard in Northern California that produces Almond Breeze – to find out more about how almonds are grown and harvested.
The family-run almond orchard I visited, is a part of the Blue Diamond cooperative that has been around for more than 100 years. The trip was perfectly timed as row upon row of trees on the orchard were in full bloom upon arrival. I was immediately struck by both the gorgeousness of the trees, as well as the background hum of thousands of bees starting their work for the day. One of the things that I learned is that bees are an absolutely integral part of the life cycle of a thriving almond orchard, as almond flowers need to cross-pollinate in order to bear fruit. Without them, there wouldn't be an almond in sight come the harvest season in the late summertime.
At the orchard, I met with Michael Doherty, a third-generation almond grower who shared his wisdom about almonds and the orchard he calls home. Here are some interesting facts you might not know about these tasty nuts and their journey from orchard to table.
- There are over a hundred varieties of almonds. The most common types are Nonpareil, Carmel, Butte and Monterey. Some of them bloom at slightly different times, and have variances in both physical appearance and taste. Nonpareils are amongst the most common, and the type you're generally consuming if you're snacking on whole almonds.
- Almonds are part of the same family as peaches, cherries and plums – just take a look at a peach pit and you'll immediately spot the visual resemblance.
- Almond trees are tricky to grow in great part because of their hyper-sensitivity to cooler temperatures during blooming season. Once the flowers start to grow, any temperature below -2°C is problematic, and once the flowers open, anything below 0°C is critical. Almond growers take great care to maintain the temperature above those numbers, occasionally even enlisting the help of helicopters to fly over the zone and push warmer air over the orchard. Talk about being dedicated to their craft!
- Once the almonds are ready to be harvested, they are shaken from the trees using machines. They then lie on the ground for 5 to 10 days to dry. They are then hulled, shelled, cleaned and prepped.
- Even though nuts in general are high in fat – albeit the good kind – almond beverage is surprisingly low in calories. One cup of almond beverage contains only about 30 calories, about half of the amount of calories found in cow's milk. Almond Breeze's Unsweetened Original contains 1 gram of protein per cup and 12 different vitamins and minerals.
Interested in cooking with almonds? Here are a few tasty recipes to start with: