Almonds (Prunus amygdalus) is a seed or drupe (I’ll honestly never tire of the word drupe!) related to peaches and cherries. Almond trees originate from Iran, yet are now widely cultivated around the world. Almonds have an outer hard shell with an interior oval-shaped seed. More accurately, almonds are elliptical, resembling the shape of the eye, the ovaries and indeed a part of the brain known as the amygdala. In Hebrew, the word for almond is the same word used for tonsil (shak-ed). I suppose it looks like that as well.
Key Nutrients of Almonds
- 22% carbohydrates, 21% protein, and 50% fat
- B vitamins - B6, choline, folate
- Vitamin E
- Calcium, copper, iron
- Magnesium, phosphorus, zinc
- Polyphenols - campesterol, beta-sitosterol
- Linolenic acid, omega 3 and 6
So What’s The Difference Between Almond Flour and Almond Meal?
Very simply, almond flour is finely processed blanched almonds (almonds with skins removed) and almond meal is made from raw whole almonds with skins intact. Most unfussy recipes that call for almond meal can also be replaced with almond flour. Almond flour is finer, lighter and drier - more resemblant of white flour. When using almond flour, I find it behaves more closely to white flour when compared to almond meal. Almond meal has retained much of the healthy oil and protein content, making it denser, coarser and more moist.
Is Almond Flour Gluten Free?
One huge advantage of almond flour and I bet is the main reason it gained such popularity - it’s gluten free! There was a time, not so long ago, that gluten free flours were difficult to source. Anyone with gluten sensitivities or with coeliac disease knows what I’m talking about. When almond flour came along, it transformed a lot of home baking recipes and suddenly people could enjoy pancakes, biscuits, cakes and muffins once again. I personally love using almond flour, even though I can tolerate gluten in moderate amounts. I love the additional healthy fat and protein it brings. In baking, the end result is often a more moist delicious cake and it's quite forgiving as a flour if you’re not a very confident baker.
Will Almond Flour Thicken Sauces?
Yes it will, however you may notice it can slightly change the texture and flavour of your sauce. I find almond flour works well in white sauces, like béschamel and cheese sauces. Almond flour has a gentle nutty flavour that is balanced nicely in buttery savoury dishes. I have tried to use almond flour to thicken gravy, or beef casserole, and in my view it doesn’t work as well.
Why is Almond Flour So Expensive?
A lot of nut flours are fairly pricey, and it's to do with the labour involved in making them. In particular almond flour, as it’s made with blanched almonds, is naturally going to be more expensive to produce due the added steps of peeling, drying and blitzing. If you’re someone who loves using almond flour, it’s not a bad idea to consider buying bulk almonds and making your own at home.
Is Almond Flour Healthy?
A resounding yes. Cue the glitter and confetti. Yes, almond flour is healthy, in so many ways. I suppose for the obvious reason that almonds are healthy. Almonds can help with concerns with weight management, heart health and skin health. Let’s take a look at some of the recent health benefits of almonds.
Almonds Improve Skin Health
Almonds are famous for their high levels of tocopherols (Vitamin E). This vitamin is essential in protecting and maintaining the lipid bilayer of cells in the entire body, including in the skin. The added protective benefit of fatty acids and polyphenols make almonds a popular functional food for skin health. A recent study by Rybak et al. (2021) compared almond supplementations to an energy-matched intervention for 24 weeks in a group of postmenopasual women. The results demonstrated that ‘average wrinkle severity was significantly decreased in the almond intervention group at week 16 and week 24 compared to baseline by 15% and 16%, respectively’. A decrease in pigment darkness by 20% was also observed in the almond group at week 16, which was maintained by week 24. Almonds reduce wrinkle severity and reduce pigmentation according to these results.
Almonds Relieve Brain Fatigue
86 overwieght and obese adults were randomised into two groups. One group was administered an almond-enriched diet and the other a nut-free control diet. In a 12-week randomised trial, consuming almonds at lunchtime was found to relieve the post-lunch decline in cognitive function and memory in the test group. The authors, Dhillon et al. (2017) noted that the beneficial effects of almond consumption could be due to their high fat and fibre content and low carbohydrate content. This makes almonds great for maintaining optimal mental acuity throughout the day.
Almonds Improve Heart Rate Variability
The research on nut consumption is generally in favour of reducing cardiovascular disease risk. One novel area of research is on therapeutic interventions on heart rate variability (HRV). Stress can lower HRV and this is considered a risk factor for sudden cardiovascular events. While exercise is known to improve HRV, recent interest has shifted to foods and whether they have inherent HRV benefits. In a randomised controlled trial from 2020, a group of men and women were involved in a 6-week study, consuming either almonds or an energy-matched snack. The results showed that parasympathetic regulation (better relaxation) increased after almond consumption. This stress response and HRV improvement was measured during a mentally challenging activity by the participants. Almonds appear to improve heart rate stress and therefore can help reduce cardiovascular risk.
Another study published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition underscored the value of almonds on cardiovascular health. This 6-week randomised trial including over 100 participants evaluated the benefits of whole roasted almonds on heart vessel relaxation and cholesterol levels. The authors demonstrated that whole almonds consumed as snacks significantly improved endothelial function, improved parasympathetic regulation and lowered LDL cholesterol.
Almonds Regulate Blood Glucose
One study reviewed a group of 137 participants who were randomised into groups. The notable test group consumed 43 g of almonds per day (roughly 2 handfuls) as a snack. Almonds in this group reduced blood glucose levels postprandially. Almonds are also a source of essential fatty acids and vitamin E, which are protective nutrients in cardiac health and diabetes. According to this and other research, almonds are beneficial in metabolic conditions, such as obesity and diabetes.
Almonds Curb Carb Cravings
A small group of female participants were included in a crossover study, which was published in the academic journal Nutrients in 2019. The researchers measured the effects of almonds as a mid-morning snack on appetite, satiety, and cravings. Hunger was reduced in the almond group, compared to a calorie matched alternative of crackers. Almonds also suppressed the desire for high-fat foods and demonstrated higher satiety compared to crackers. Almonds are useful in providing a feeling of fullness, while reducing the impulse for snacking on high carbohydrate foods. This means they are a favourable dietary choice for weight management.
Simple Orange & Almond Cake
If you don’t bake, this recipe is for you. If you want a vibrant and moist cake that will knock people’s socks off, this recipe is for you. I’ve even made this with a blender when I couldn’t find the parts to my food processor and it still works. The drawn-out step of boiling the oranges is well worth it, for the end result is a simple, elegant and delicious cake.
Simple Orange & Almond Cake
2-3 organic oranges
4 large eggs
¾ cup honey
2 cups almond flour
½ tsp. Sea salt
1 tsp. Baking powder
- Rinse the oranges and boil them whole for 2 hours or until soft.
- Place the whole oranges in a food processor and blend until smooth
- Add eggs, honey, almond flour, salt and baking powder and blend again until well combined
- Pour batter into a greased and lined 20cm springform pan
- Bake at 180°C for 35-45 minutes, until a toothpick comes out clean
- Cool in the pan completely before removing
- Serve with fresh cream or whipped coconut yoghurt and flaked almonds
Almond. (2021, July 2). In Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Almond
Bhardwaj, R., Dod, H., Sandhu, M. S., Bedi, R., Dod, S., Konat, G., Chopra, H. K., Sharma, R., Jain, A. C., & Nanda, N. (2018). Acute effects of diets rich in almonds and walnuts on endothelial function. Indian heart journal, 70(4), 497–501. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ihj.2018.01.030
Dhillon, J., Tan, S. Y., & Mattes, R. D. (2017). Effects of almond consumption on the post-lunch dip and long-term cognitive function in energy-restricted overweight and obese adults. The British journal of nutrition, 117(3), 395–402. https://doi.org/10.1017/S0007114516004463
Dikariyanto, V., Smith, L., Chowienczyk, P. J., Berry, S. E., & Hall, W. L. (2020). Snacking on Whole Almonds for Six Weeks Increases Heart Rate Variability during Mental Stress in Healthy Adults: A Randomized Controlled Trial. Nutrients, 12(6), 1828. https://doi.org/10.3390/nu12061828
Dikariyanto, V., Smith, L., Francis, L., Robertson, M., Kusaslan, E., O'Callaghan-Latham, M., Palanche, C., D'Annibale, M., Christodoulou, D., Basty, N., Whitcher, B., Shuaib, H., Charles-Edwards, G., Chowienczyk, P. J., Ellis, P. R., Berry, S., & Hall, W. L. (2020). Snacking on whole almonds for 6 weeks improves endothelial function and lowers LDL cholesterol but does not affect liver fat and other cardiometabolic risk factors in healthy adults: the ATTIS study, a randomized controlled trial. The American journal of clinical nutrition, 111(6), 1178–1189. https://doi.org/10.1093/ajcn/nqaa100
Hollingworth, S., Dalton, M., Blundell, J. E., & Finlayson, G. (2019). Evaluation of the Influence of Raw Almonds on Appetite Control: Satiation, Satiety, Hedonics and Consumer Perceptions. Nutrients, 11(9), 2030. https://doi.org/10.3390/nu11092030
Medina-Vera, I., Gómez-de-Regil, L., Gutiérrez-Solis, A. L., Lugo, R., Guevara-Cruz, M., Pedraza-Chaverri, J., & Avila-Nava, A. (2021). Dietary Strategies by Foods with Antioxidant Effect on Nutritional Management of Dyslipidemias: A Systematic Review. Antioxidants (Basel, Switzerland), 10(2), 225. https://doi.org/10.3390/antiox10020225
Rybak, I., Carrington, A. E., Dhaliwal, S., Hasan, A., Wu, H., Burney, W., Maloh, J., & Sivamani, R. K. (2021). Prospective Randomized Controlled Trial on the Effects of Almonds on Facial Wrinkles and Pigmentation. Nutrients, 13(3), 785. https://doi.org/10.3390/nu13030785
Tan, S. Y., & Mattes, R. D. (2013). Appetitive, dietary and health effects of almonds consumed with meals or as snacks: a randomized, controlled trial. European journal of clinical nutrition, 67(11), 1205–1214. https://doi.org/10.1038/ejcn.2013.184