1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Almond

ALMOND (from the O. Fr. almande or alemande, late Lat. amandola, derived through a form amingdola from the Gr. ἀμύγδαλο, an almond; the al- for a- is probably due to a confusion with the Arabic article al, the word having first dropped the a- as in the Italian form mandola; the English pronunciation á-mond and the modern French amande show the true form of the word). The almond is the fruit of Amygdalus communis, a plant belonging to the tribe Pruneae of the natural order Rosaceae. The genus Amygdalus is very closely allied to Prunus (Plum, Cherry), in which it is sometimes merged; the distinction lies in the fruit, the soft pulp attached to the stone in the plum being replaced by a leathery separable coat in the almond. The tree appears to be a native of western Asia, Barbary and Morocco; but it has been extensively distributed over the warm temperate region of the Old World. It ripens its fruit in the south of England. It is a tree of moderate size; the leaves are lanceolate, and serrated at the edges; and it flowers early in spring. The fruit is a drupe, having a downy outer coat, called the epicarp, which encloses the reticulated hard stony shell or endocarp. The seed is the kernel which is contained within these coverings. The shell-almonds of trade consist of the endocarps enclosing the seeds. The tree grows in Syria and Palestine; and is referred to in the Bible under the name of Shaked, meaning “ hasten.” The word Luz, which occurs in Genesis xxx. 37, and which has been translated hazel, is supposed to be another name for the almond. In Palestine the tree flowers in January, and this hastening of the period of flowering seems to be alluded to in Jeremiah i. II, 12, Where the Lord asks the prophet, “ What seest thou? ” and he replies, “ The rod of an almond-tree ”; and the Lord says, “ Thou hast well seen, for I will hasten my word to perform it. ” In Ecclesiastes xii. 5 it is said the “ almond-tree shall flourish. ” This has often been supposed to refer to the resemblance of the hoary locks of age to the flowers of the almond; but this exposition is not borne out by the facts of the case, inasmuch as the flowers of the almond are not white but pink. The passage is more probably intended to allude to the hastening or rapid approach of old age. The application of Shaked or hasten to the almond is similar to the use of the name “ May ” for the hawthorn, which usually flowers in that month in Britain. The rod of Aaron, mentioned in Numbers xvii., was taken from an almond-tree; and the Jews still carry rods of almond-blossom to the synagogues on great festival days. The fruit of the almond supplied a model for certain kinds of ornamental carved work (Exodus xxv. 33, 34; xxxvii. 19, 20).

There are two forms of the plant, the one (with pink flowers) producing sweet, the other (with white flowers) bitter almonds. The kernel of the former contains a fixed oil and emulsin. It is used internally in medicine, and must not be adulterated with the bitter almond. The Pulvis Amygdalae Compositus of the British Pharmacopoeia consists of sweet almonds, sugar and gum acacia. It may be given in any dose. The Mistura Amygdalae contains one part of the above to eight of water; the dose is ½ to 1 oz.

The bitter almond is rather broader and shorter than the sweet almond and has a bitter taste. It contains about 50% of the fixed oil which also occurs in sweet almonds. It also contains a ferment emulsin which, in the presence of water, acts on a soluble glucoside, amygdalin, yielding glucose, prussic acid and the essential oil of bitter almonds or benzaldehyde (q.v.), which is not used in medicine. Bitter almonds may yield from 6 to 8% of prussic acid.

Oleum Amygdalae, the fixed oil, is prepared from either variety of almond. If intended for internal use, it must, however, be prepared only from sweet almonds. It is a glyceryl oleate, with slight odour and a nutty taste. It is almost insoluble in alcohol but readily soluble in chloroform or ether. It may be used as a pleasant substitute for olive oil. The pharmacopoeia preparations of the sweet almond are used only as vehicles for other drugs. The sweet almond itself, however, has a special dietetic value. It contains practically no starch and may therefore be made into flour for cakes and biscuits for patients suffering from diabetes mellitus or any other form of glycosuria. It is a nutritious and very pleasant food.

There are numerous commercial varieties of sweet almond, of which the most esteemed is the Jordan almond, imported from Malaga. Valentia almonds are also valued. Fresh sweet almonds are nutritive and demulcent, but as the outer brown skin sometimes causes irritation of the alimentary canal, they are blanched by removal of this skin when used at dessert.