California Almond History

Almond trees are so ubiquitous in California’s Central Valley, that you might think they are natives of the state. But the truth is, like many of the state’s current residents, they are immigrants.

Almonds are literally transplants. They are native to a large swath of what is now the Mideast and parts of the Indian subcontinent. From Central Asia through Afghanistan Iraq, Iran to Greece they are probably the oldest tree nut crop known to man.

Experts have found mention of them dating back as far as the third millennium BC. They are noted in the Bible ten times beginning in the book of Genesis, and according to historians, they were thrown at Roman weddings as a sign of fertility.

Almonds have been found in Egyptian tombs and at the Franchthi Caves in Greece which were occupied until at least 3,000 BC.

California Almond History

Interestingly, many types of wild almonds were actually poisonous producing cyanide when the bitter nut was crushed or chewed. Eating even a small handful resulted in death. Not surprisingly, humans learned that the sweet tasting nut was not poisonous and could be eaten with no problem. This began the long period of domestication throughout the world.

They were brought to the Mediterranean region by traders along the ancient Silk Road trading routes where they were eaten as snacks along the way and eventually transplanted in Europe where they grew well in the dry Mediterranean climate.

Almonds love the wet, but not too cold, winters when they bloom and set fruit, and the long dry, hot summers that can accommodate their 180-240 day maturation cycle.

All along the way they have been the subjects of hybridization as growers looked to encourage larger nut sizes, which held sweeter kernels. Most often, they were propagated from seed and domesticated in the Mediterranean basin around the same time as olives, grapes and date palms.

Almonds arrived in California in the 1700’s when Jesuit missionaries from Spain brought them as food and later planted them in their coastal missions. Eventually, settlers found that the nut grew much better in the inland areas of the state, away from the cool coastal fog.

Experimentation and hybridization continued as species from North Africa, Sicily and Mediterranean Islands have been found in the early California crops. As new varieties emerged along with better grafting and hybridization techniques farmers continued to experiment with various almond variations to determine what would grow best in their area.

That process continues today with both private and state sponsored programs at public universities such as the University of California, Davis.

The result: Over 2 billion pounds of almonds will be grown in California this year supplying all of the United States needs and 80% of the world supply.

If you want conventional or organic almonds contact American Export House.

Source: Handbook of Plant Breeding: Marisa Luisa Badenes, David Byrne, editors. Copywrite 2012: Springer Science and business media P. 696-704

Follow my blog with Bloglovin

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.