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A nut of a different color

Mar./Apr. 2014 California Bountiful magazine

Fresh green almonds are a California-grown delicacy



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Almond grower and marketer Di Quaresma packages green almonds to ship to customers across the U.S., while Johnny Andre brings more nuts from the orchard.

California almonds might be best known as the nutritious brown nuggets that add crunch to salads, snacks, cereals and candy, but an increasing number of people are discovering another way to enjoy them: while they're still green.

Green almonds are simply unripe almonds. Before the nut fully matures on the tree, the underdeveloped almond and fuzzy, green hull are considered a delicacy by chefs and cultures around the globe.

"You can scoop out the fleshy, gelatinous almond and it is really quite delicious. It is like eating a grape," said San Joaquin County almond grower Di Quaresma, who sells both green and mature almonds online. "It is that particular fleshy nut that gourmet chefs have created some really interesting dishes with.

"Demand in the world continues to rise," she added.

Los Angeles chef Sergio Perera has a long history with green almonds. He recalls as a young boy eating them in his grandparents' kitchen in his home country of Spain.

"My grandmother would shave the green almonds raw on salads, the fuzzy part and all. She would also pickle them or make traditional almond gazpacho," Perera said. "It originated as peasant food, but it's delicious."

How to eat them—and when
Available only from late April to mid-June, green almonds have a distinct taste described as grassy and fruity, with a slight almond flavor.


Green almonds are unripe almonds. While the entire almond is edible at this early stage—shell and all—Di Quaresma says she prefers the sweet, slightly gelatinous nut inside, which she sprinkles with salt.

The texture of the immature nut inside is "a cross between an apple and a grape," Perera said. It is often eaten with just a sprinkle of salt. The green hull on the outside has a slight bitterness or acidity that provides a nice balance to other ingredients, which is why the chef often shaves them onto salads and fatty foods. And like his grandmother, he also pickles green almonds.

That pickling is a technique Perera has in common with other chefs at high-end restaurants across the country, noted Melissa Mautz, associate director of marketing services with the Almond Board of California. Mautz recently enjoyed pickled green almonds as a condiment in New York City with a braised rabbit dish and over a green salad with strawberries and goat cheese.

"I think the possibilities are wide," she said. "In both cases, the pickle and the crunch were great additions to the rest of the ingredients—kind of like lightly pickled celery would have been."

To pickle green almonds, Mautz said, thinly slice the whole nut with a mandolin slicer and place in a glass or ceramic container. Make a pickling solution of salt and water (the standard proportion is 1/4 cup salt to 1/2 gallon water) and pour over the nuts so they're completely submerged. Cover and let sit for three days.

"A lot of times, people get intimidated by the way green almonds look because they are not sure if they should eat the inside or the outside, but I'd say, take advantage of the whole thing," Perera said.

Going green
People are showing more interest in the green nut, Quaresma has recently found.


Green almonds must be harvested by hand, as shown by Adalberto Artiaga.

Raised on an almond farm, she operates the family's farming business with her husband, Daryll, and also maintains a career in business and marketing. About four years ago, she decided she wanted to create a business that had potential to reach customers throughout the world.

"I thought, what better than to sell than my husband's almonds?" Quaresma said. So she launched an online company to sell the crunchy, mature nuts.

Then, in 2012, "we started to get quite a few inquiries from people wanting to know if we sell green almonds," she said. "After 50 phone calls, we started thinking, if there is a need out there, let's meet the need."

Quaresma's business, California Almonds, is one of a handful to sell fresh, green almonds online. She said many of her U.S. customers are originally from the Middle East.


California-grown green almonds are considered a delicacy, not only because of their uniqueness, but also because of the short window of time each spring they are available.

"They tell me that they would remember as a child picking green almonds," she said. "But now that they are in the United States, it is very challenging to find fresh, green almonds."

Native to the Middle East and South Asia, the almond is considered a snack nut, but it is really a seed of a stonefruit and is botanically classified with peaches, plums and cherries. California farmers grow about 80 percent of the world's supply of almonds and 100 percent of the domestic supply.

When an almond reaches full maturity, machines shake the almond trees and the nuts fall to the orchard floor, where they are collected. Hulls and shells are removed and then the almonds are packed. Immature green almonds do not fall off of the tree and must be picked by hand. Costs vary from year to year, but green almonds are typically more expensive than mature almonds.


Amador Artiaga Lopez carries buckets of just-picked green almonds, which are shipped the same day.

California-grown green almonds are available for a limited time each spring at some farmers markets and specialty stores or through online companies including California Almonds (www.caalmonds.com) and Stewart & Jasper Orchards (www.greenalmonds.com).

Christine Souza
csouza@californiabountiful.comĀ 

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