The popularity of almonds worldwide is indicative of the significant role they have played and continue to play in the traditions and customs of cultures around the world.
In the mid-1700s, Franciscan Padres brought the almond tree to California from Spain, and planted the trees to grace their missions along El Camino Real (The Royal Road) that stretches along the California coast from San Diego to Sonoma.
Almonds play an integral part in the Mediterranean diet, which includes fresh produce, grains, nuts and olive oil in abundance, and includes small amounts of fish, dairy products and meat.
In Italy, Romans showered newlyweds with almonds as a fertility charm and gave sugared almonds as gifts to great men at public and private events in classical times. Today, gifts of colored, candy-coated almonds (Jordan almonds) mark important celebratory milestones in Italy. Pink is given for the firth of a girl, blue for the birth of a boy, red for graduations, green for engagements, white for marriage, silver for a 25th anniversary and gold for a 50th anniversary.
In India, almonds are perceived to possess a number of health benefits. Many children are given almonds every day to promote mental acuity, and pregnant women are urged to eat almonds every day.
Japan has a wide array of sweets to satisfy discriminating almond-chocoholics. Two favorites are oval balls of almonds coated in chocolate and pretzel sticks dipped in mink, dark or white chocolate and coated with diced almonds. Slivered almonds with dried sardines are also a popular, high-calcium snack.
In China, almonds are consumed as a roasted, salted, in-shell snack, with sales at their peak during the Chinese New Year festive season. Chinese consumers enjoy the action of cracking the soft, outer shell of almonds with their hands and popping the kernel into their mouths.
Distributing sugared almonds wrapped in tulle as a wedding favor is a tradition that dates back to early European history. These almond “bonbonieres” symbolize children, happiness, romance, good health and fortune.
Almond paste is used to make Germany’s famous marzipan confections. German processors also use almonds as ingredients in breakfast cereals, ice cream and bakery products.
On January 6, the Feast of the Epiphany in France, the French traditionally eat a Galette des Rois (the cake of the Kings), a puff pastry filled with almond cream. The finder of a charm that is hidden in the cake becomes the King and must choose his Queen or vice versa. The cake is sold with a golden crown that must then be worn by the King.