Eating Almonds Off the Tree
How do you harvest almonds? And can you eat them straight from the tree? Trees in the almond family produce delicious fruits, but they need a little prep before they taste their best. Almonds are best when left to dry on the tree. A little extra drying after harvesting improves the flavor even more and makes the stored almonds last longer.
Basics of Almonds
Almonds are rich in heart-healthy mono-unsaturated fats, vitamins, nutrients and protein, making them among the most nutritious and beneficial snack foods. You probably think of almonds as nuts, but they're actually drupes. There are many types of drupes, including almonds, cashews and pecans. Drupes are fruits with fleshy exteriors with a shell or pit inside that houses the seeds. In the case of almonds and other "nuts" that fall into the drupe category, the part you eat is actually the seed. Whether you call an almond a drupe, nut or fruit, it's a tasty treat. Almonds may be eaten raw once dry and ripe, stored in the hard shells for months or roasted.
Growing Almonds at Home
Almond trees produce fruits only in specific growing conditions. In the United States, the Central Valley of California has fertile soil that drains well, cool winters and a dry, long and hot climate ideal for large commercial orchard production. Almond trees can grow anywhere in U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 5b through 8. If summers are too cool or summertime humidity is too high, almonds fruits rot or abort on trees. You'll often get no harvest at all. If you do get a harvest, the almonds are usually inconsistent and of low quality. Untimely frosts in late winter and early spring often destroy the flowers, diminishing crops, too.
Almond Tree Harvest Season
After blooming in late winter, almond fruits need a long, hot and low-humidity summer to properly develop and ripen. In the United States, harvest time ranges from mid-August to late September, depending on the variety of almond tree. In midsummer, around mid-July, the hull of the greenish fruit, which looks like a flattened peach, splits open and the shelled kernel and seed inside begin to dry. When ripe and ready for harvest, the fruit's hull splits open wide and the fruit easily separates from the tree or drops to the ground.
Don't pluck off almond fruits that haven't naturally split open and are not at least partially dry. Shaking the almond tree causes the ripest fruits to drop to the ground for easiest harvest. Place a tarp down to easily collect the nuts. Rather than immediately cracking open the almond kernel to eat, remove the hull from the almond fruit and allow it to dry in the sun for one or two days. While you can eat the almond straight from the tree, it usually tastes better after drying. The drying process is also important in preventing the almonds from molding when you store them. Once you shake a kernel and the seed inside rattles, crack the kernel open and eat the seed nut. It should be crisp and not rubbery if it's done drying.
Post-Harvest Shelling and Storage
Eat fresh almonds by cracking open the kernel shell. If not eaten immediately after harvest, almonds store much better when they're left inside their shells and placed in a cool, dry location with low humidity. Shells that are dark in color or moldy should be discarded, including the nuts inside. The fats in almonds can go rancid. Never eat almond nuts that are shriveled or smell bitter or sour. The almond should be firm and plump with an orange-brown skin, and smell sweet and nutty. Frozen almonds store for years.
Even though you're excited to bite into a fresh almond right from the tree, it's best to let them dry until they're crisp. You'll get the best flavor and texture, and you cut down on the potential for molding in your almond crop.