Almond nuts are rich in "heart-healthy" mono-unsaturated fats, vitamins, nutrients and protein, making them among the most nutritious and beneficial snack foods. Closely related to peaches, the almond (Prunus dulcis) produces a fruit called a drupe with a leathery skin around a hard pit with seed inside. The almond nut we eat is the seed. Almonds may be eaten raw once dry and ripe, stored in the hard shells for months or roasted.
After blooming in late winter, almond fruits need a long, hot and low-humidity summer to properly develop and ripen. In the United States, harvest time ranges from mid-August to Halloween, depending on the variety of almond tree. In midsummer, around mid-July, the hull of the greenish fruit that looks like a flattened peach splits open and the shelled kernel and seed inside begin to dry. When ripe and ready for harvest, the fruit's hull becomes widely open and the fruit will easily separate from the tree or drop to the ground.
Don't pluck off almond fruits that haven't naturally split open and are not at least partially dry. Shaking the almond tree causes the ripest fruits to drop to the ground for easiest harvest. Rather than immediately cracking open the almond kernel to eat, remove the hull from the almond fruit and allow it to dry in the sun for one or two days. Once you shake a kernel and the seed inside rattles, crack the kernel open and eat the seed nut.
Eat fresh almond seed nuts by cracking open the kernel shell. If not eaten immediately after harvest, almonds store much better if left inside their shells and placed in a cool, dry location with low humidity. Shells that are dark in color or moldy should be discarded, including the nuts inside. The fats in almonds can go rancid after awhile. Never eat almond nuts that are shriveled or smell bitter or sour. The almond should be firm and plump with an orange-brown skin, and smell sweet and nutty. Frozen almonds store for years.
Almond trees produce fruits only in specific growing conditions. In the United States, the Central Valley of California possesses fertile, well-drained soils; a cool winter; and a dry, long and hot climate ideal for large commercial orchard production. Almond trees can grow anywhere in U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 5b through 8. If summers are too cool or summertime humidity too high, almonds fruits rot or abort on trees and harvests are absent or rare but inconsistent and of low quality. Untimely frosts in late winter and early spring often destroy the flowers, diminishing crops, too.