Almond scientifically Prunus dulcis, (vernacularly Badaam/ Badam/ Badum) is one of the oldest and important nut crops cultivated throughout the world. In Kashmir valley its commercial cultivation is restricted to few areas of Pulwama and Budgam districts. It has the privilege of being the choicest dry fruit not only due to taste and nutritional benefits but also due to its magnificent phenotypic character like tree serenity, tree/nut/kernel shape and the beautiful flowers, leaves etc.
Almonds are native to south-west Asia, in a region historically described as the Fertile Crescent which stretches across Palestine and Lebanon up through Syria and eastern Turkey across Iraq. It is considered that almonds were collected here in the wild some 10,000 years ago. Around the third millennium BC almonds were domesticated and were among the first plants to be domesticated anywhere on earth. The earliest archaeological evidences suggest that the primary domestication took place in Jordan. Almonds are listed in banquet menu items of the earliest Sumerian culinary texts and they are also mentioned frequently in the Bible. Almonds are consistently found in archaeological sites like famous tomb of Tutankhamun in Egypt.
Like in Kashmir; almond has traditionally been the first temperate fruit species to bloom in all regions of the world. As a result, in most almond-growing regions, flowering takes place when the weather conditions are not well suited for pollination and fruit set. Temperature is usually low, with frequent frosts that reduce or even eliminate yields. Low temperature and other unfavorable weather conditions (rain, wind) that are frequent during bloom can also reduce yields by interfering with pollinating insects, mainly honeybees.
Almond being a deciduous fruit tree is usually cultivated for its fruit, the almond. It is known to be a drought tolerant plant and is often grown as a rain fed crop. For commercial production, almond needs to be irrigated during growing season and the trees utilize water at a fast rate; much faster than any other fruit and nut tree but practically irrigation is impossible at the Karewas (Vudur) of Kashmir and the rainfall is the only source of moisture, which is unevenly distributed thus affecting the yield adversely.
The area under cultivation and production of almond both are decreasing day by day due to competition with remunerable apple cultivation, while its demand keeps on increasing because of health consciousness and elevated purchasing power of the people. The Global Almond market is valued at 6140 Million USD in 2018 and is expected to reach 8930 Million USD by the end of 2025.
The almond nut for its shape and the flowers for their beauty play a pertinent role in prose, poetry, art, crafts etc. Almonds are deemed to illustrate love, life, strength, promise as well as resistance. In Kashmir almonds bloom in the month of March, representing the end of harsh winter and adding hush to the beautiful Kerewas of the valley. Historic Badamwari in Srinagar has a tremendous charisma for its aesthetic blossoms and is a famous venue for spring festivals in the city. The Kerewas of Kashmir have innumerable types of almonds that ornament these otherwise barren lands. Almonds are regarded as a sign of good omen and thus gain a profound prestige in all types of cock-a-hoop events like baby births, engagements, marriages etc. The kernels and their oil (Rogne-Badam) have medicinal value and are important meteria-medica in Ayurvedic and Yunani system of medicine. Almond shells can be ground up and used as bedding for garden planters and landscape material similar to wood chips. In addition to this almond shells are also used as embers for the traditional ‘Kangries’ (fire pots) substituting firewood.
Almonds are used fresh or roasted and put in many desserts including the famous Kashmiri ‘Kehwa’. Almonds are also used to produce almond milk, butter, oil, flour and paste. Most of products like face serums, face packs, body lotions, hair oils and many confectionery items use almond extracts to nourish and nutrify their products. Even though quality of almonds varies with cultivars and agro climatic zones in which they are cultivated, Kashmir grown almonds are scrumptiously tastier than imported ones. Almonds are very rich in proteins, fats, fiber, magnesium, vitamin-E, calcium etc. Generally 100g of almond contain about 50g of fat which is largely (32g) mono unsaturated, 21g of protein, 12.5g of fiber, potassium (670 mg), magnesium (268 mg), phosphorus (484 mg) calcium (265 mg), iron (3.5 mg) and good amount copper, and vitamin B. They are low in saturated fat and contain many other protective nutrients.
Including vitamin-E almonds are good source of antioxidants largely present in the brown kernel skin called pellicle. These antioxidants prevents diseases like cancer, swelling and also have anti-aging effects. Magnesium in almonds helps to reduce blood sugar levels. People who are deficit of the dietary magnesium intake may help themselves by adding almonds to their diet. Almond eating may reduce LDL (low density lipoproteins commonly called as bad cholesterol) levels and increase HDL (High density lipoproteins commonly called as good cholesterol) hence may reduce belly fat. Almonds also protect LDL from oxidation, minimizing the risk of heart diseases.
Almonds, prolific in Vitamin E and other phytochemicals like phenolic compounds, phytosterols, flavonoids etc aid protection against cardiovascular disease and even cancer. Moreover, almonds reduce heart attack risk; lower cholesterol had a favorable effect on blood cholesterol levels. Due to their high oleic acid and linoleic acid contents, almond kernels produce nutritionally desirable oil that has proven to be better than olive oil.
Almonds can also help in weight reduction of obese people as they have lower carbohydrate content but higher proteins and fiber content. Almonds reduce hunger by imparting the feeling of stomach fullness. Due to presence of non-digestible nutrients in the nuts that prevent about 10-15 % of calories from the nuts from absorption.
Keeping in view the above facts about almonds, the ‘king of dry fruits’ should be used in everyday diet plans for their diverse health benefits like presence of healthy fats, fibers, proteins, magnesium, antioxidants thereby availing to reduce blood sugar levels, blood pressure, cholesterol levels and promote weight loss. All efforts should be made to promote almond cultivation, enhance its production, productivity, marketing and utilization from diet to craftsmanship.
(Dr. Irshad Hassan & Mohsin Ahmad are Horticulture researchers at SKUAST-Kashmir and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)