An attractive and modest-sized tree native to the Mediterranean, the almond tree is renowned for the smooth, tasty and sweet nuts it produces. It’s been associated with humans for a long time; sometime before 3,000BC someone figured out that the highly poisonous nut of the wild almond could be turned into a sweet and delicious crop. It isn’t clear when this happened, or even how, with many considering it to have happened by accident. Evidence suggests that the first edible almonds came from the eastern Mediterranean, specifically the Levant region, and the ancestors to these edible almonds still grow there.
It is not often there is a huge difference between wild and domesticated forms of edible plants, but in the case of the almond it really is striking. The wild almond is extremely poisonous; if the nut suffers any damage it releases hydrogen cyanide and munching your way through just a few small handfuls while relaxing with a book would put paid to any further reading, permanently.
Now you can find these tasty fruits growing throughout Africa and Europe, as well as a large and thriving industry in California. In fact, the majority of almonds found on supermarket shelves come from the farms of the state’s central valley, with Spain coming in as the second largest producer. The distinctive nut itself isn’t the only way almonds fit into our diet – almond milk and flour have become increasingly popular as healthy alternatives to dairy and gluten. Not bad for a plant that in its wild form could kill us but, thanks to what could have been a happy mistake by a farmer thousands of years ago, has come to be enjoyed the world over.