SUCHITOTO, El Salvador- I do not know what I once thought unprocessed almonds looked like, it is my impression that I never once considered what they look like on the tree, or even where they come from. I did not know if the Asia eyed looking seed came from a plant, tree, pod, or nut, come to think of it, I had never really thought about too much almonds before.
I tried picking fresh almonds right from the tree yesterday, and I admit that I had to be told what they were.
“What is that fruit?” I inquisitvely asked the Salvadoran boys who where gathering roundish green things from the branches of a tree.
Not knowing an almendra from a shoe horn I turned to my trusty wife.
But the food that I was watching the kids pick were the size of small lemons and green, almonds are as small as a beetle and brown.
Do you mean to tell me that the entire bulk of this food just has one little almond seed inside of it?
It was true: the outer shell of an almond is big and thick, and the part that what we refer to as the namesake is not 10% of the total mass.
But, apparently, the suff around the nut is also edible. I watched as the kids bit into the green parts of the almond and into the meat within. The insides of the fruit is bright red, tendonous, and sour — though very edible. I ate through one.
On the inside of the red area is a hard nut — inside of this nut is the almond. In this way, shucking an almond is at three part endeavor: you must first remove the outer meat, then break through the nut, and only after this can you remove the little tiny almond in the center.
I tried to cut through the nut part with my knife to get into the almond, but it was to no use. I gave up, and tossed the prize of the entire fiasco into the bushes. Something will find it worthwhile enough to bust through that shell, but not me — I admit that I was a little disheartened to think that I would need to go through all of this effort removing a mass of shuck just to get in to one little seed.
I have always taken almonds for granted. I have never before thought too much about where they came from, how they are cultivated, or what sort of outer shell they come from within. I have only ever gruffed at how expensive they are.
But I now can make an assumption as to why they are so expensive: 90% of the almond is unsalable. What we call an almond is just a little seed inside of a large nut inside of a meaty outer fruit. One tree could give crates full of fruit, but only a small sack of almonds. It is my impression that cultivating almonds is like digging a house foundation for enough dirt to fill a sandbox.
[The decline in bee population is blamed to be the reason for the recent rise in the cost of almonds in the USA, and farmers are actually taking to growing almonds rather than cotton or other crops because they can make more money selling this little seed — so my inferences may not be 100% correct.]
It is my impression that the high cost inherent to the sale of almonds could something to do with the inherent under-productivity of cultivation. Almonds are sold by the pound, how many pounds of these little seeds could an entire tree possibly give?
The small bag of almonds that you purchase at a grocery store probably would have left a cart full of discarded nut and husk pieces behind. I can no longer gruff at the high cost of almonds.
Though this does not mean that I am going to rush out to buy them. Even though I understand the expense, almonds are still too expensive for me.
Traveling is the best teacher someone can have, it is the best teacher because it often does not allow you to maintain your simple ignorances. I was simply ignorant about the true nature of almonds: I had no idea what an almond tree even looked like. The most ignorant part of this situation, was that I did not even know that I did not know anything about almonds — I simply never thought about where those little brown seeds came from, I just ate them.
When traveling you learn that the little almonds that are for sale in little bags in the USA actually come from lemon sized nuts, and that 90% of the thing is discarded in the processing.
I am unsure if I am any better off for 99% of knowledge that traveling teaches, but each drop of water that falls into the bucket is one that was not there before. If I keep traveling long enough, there is a chance that bucket could overflow.