Cultivation Practices, Nutritional Value, Uses and Suitable Varieties of Almond for Central Himalayan Region
Author: A.K. Trivedi
ICAR - National Bureau of Plant Genetic Resources
Regional Station Bhowali (Niglat), District - Nainital - 263 132 (Uttarakhand)



Introduction

Almond tree is a member of family Rosaceae, group of plants which includes other fruits like apple, apricot, peach, pear, plum, raspberry and strawberry etc. The almond tree is a small deciduous, the adult plant achieves the height of about 4 - 10 meter and the diameter of trunk is about 30 - 40 cm. The first young small branch of new plant is green in colour, but after the exposure to the sun light it becomes purplish and appears grey after the second year of growth. Leaves are about 3-5 inches long with serrated margin. The length of the leaf petiole is about 2.0 - 3.0 cm long. Almond flowers are white or pale pink in colour. Flowers appear singly or in groups early in spring before leaves. The diameter of flower is about 3 - 5 cm with five petals. The flower is bisexual in nature i.e. the male and female reproductive organs are present in the same flower.

Almond tree starts bearings in the third year after planting. After six year of planting it reaches in full bearing. The fruits mature after 7-8 months of flowering. The fruit is a drupe consisting of an outer hull and a hard shell with the seed 'nut' inside. Almonds are commonly sold shelled i.e. the outer shell is removed. The mature seeds of almond can be stored at room temperature for one year in an air tight container to protect from sun light and humidity. If moisture is present in the stored almond seeds, these can be destroyed by fungus or other microbes because almonds provide nutrients for growth of these microbes.




Soil preparation

For the cultivation of almonds, a sunny area with well drained soil is required. The pH of soil should be in between 6 to 7. But this pH is also suitable for the growth of bacteria and nematodes. The presence of nematodes in the soil is harmful for almonds because nematodes damage roots of almonds. In the soil preparations, it is necessary to test the soil, if nematodes are present in soil then soil fumigation is required for killing nematodes. Soil should be turn over several times and allowed various layers to dry. It is not necessary to add various type of fertilizer in the soil while compost can be added to the soil to improve the amount of organic content in the soil. Soil rich in organic matter provides both proper moisture and aerations for roots. After turning over soil several times compost should be added in the soil (3 inches layer of compost), which help to prevent weed and some pest. During first two year no further fertilizer is required but after two year nitrogen fertilizer should be is used.

Propagation techniques

Almonds are cultivated by several methods like root stock propagation, hardwood cutting, grafting. Micro propagation is an advanced technique used for plants cultivation from tissue but it requires sophisticated laboratory and skilled persons.

For root stock propagation, extract mature seed from fruits, then wash, dry and store in a cool place. Then a treatment is required for breaking the dormancy of seed this process is called stratification. Almonds seeds stored at 1o C to 5o C for one month to break seeds dormancy. After this treatment plant the seed at 5-8 cm deep in the field. Space between two seeds should be 10-15 cm and distance between two rows should be 1 to 2 meter.

Other technique used for almonds cultivation is hard wood cutting, this methods is comparatively easy and common. Trees which are developed by this method are genetically identical to source plant. Therefore, it is necessary to select a healthy and good source plant. The wood cuttings should be 1 to 3 cm in diameter and 30 to 40 cm long. For enhanced rooting these wood cuttings are dip in indolbutyric acid (IBA), naphthalene acetic acid (NAA) or in hormodin. Then these cuttings are planted in fields about 15 cm deep and 15 cm apart.

Once the root stocks are developed then any method of grafting like whip grafting, cleft grafting, bark grafting may be used. The month of December and January is suitable for grafting. Almond orchards planted in square 6-7.5 m distance are usually used. But now 2 X 4.5 m is recommended, since like peaches almonds have limited life span.

Irrigation

The almonds can tolerates the hot climate; therefore water is not a limiting factor, although for better crop production proper crop irrigation is required. Almond plants are well adapted to dry and hot climate and are able to tolerate very limited rainfall in summer. Because of this extraordinary property to tolerate hot climate, the almonds can be easily cultivated in such areas of CHR where irrigation is a problem.

Optimum season

Almonds require less winter chilling environment than other temperate fruits like apple, cherry, peach, plum etc. Almonds require only 250-400 hours chilling at =7 oC. Average rainfall required for almonds is 300 to 900 mm. Therefore; it can be cultivated in such areas where average rain fall is low and other fruit crops like apple, peaches are not producing properly due to lack of chilling requirement.

Age of starting production in plant

Almond trees start producing fruit at the age of 3 or 4 years, but reach maximum production at the age of 6 - 7 year. An almond tree can bear fruit for more than 50 years.

Nutrient and antioxidant value

Almonds are good source of fat, in which 80% is in the form of monounsaturated fatty acids (MUFA) which decreases unwanted cholesterol of body. Almonds contain omega-6 fatty acid which is good for the heart. The amount of saturated fat is very less in almonds. Almonds have enough amount of phosphorous and calcium which is required for bone growth. Magnesium, manganese, vitamin B6 and vitamin E are also available in almonds. Magnesium and manganese are used in carbohydrate metabolism as cofactor of enzymes while Vitamin B6 helps in protein metabolism restricting level of homocysteine which is detrimental to heart. Almonds are friendly to the heart like oats and soya and does not cause increase in weight. Out of nine phenolic compounds found in almonds, eight exhibits strong anti - oxidant activity. Vitamin 'E' and dietary fibers help in preventing cancer. Leaves are used in the treatment of diabetes and the plant contains antitumour compound taxifolin.

Nutritional value per 100 g

Energy - 2,418 kJ (578 kcal), Carbohydrates - 20 g, Sugars - 5 g, Dietary fibre -12 g, Fat -51 g, Protein - 22 g, Thiamine (vit. B1) - 0.24 mg (21%), Riboflavin (vit. B2) - 0.8 mg (67%), Niacin (vit. B3) - 4 mg (27%), Pantothenic acid (B5) - 0.3 mg (6%), Vitamin B6 - 0.13 mg (10%), Folate (vit. B9) - 29 ug (7%), Vitamin E - 26.22 mg (175%), Calcium - 248 mg (25%), Iron - 4 mg (31%), Magnesium - 275 mg (77%), Phosphorus - 474 mg (68%), Potassium - 728 mg (15%), Zinc - 3 mg (32%).

Almond oil contains glucosides, minerals, vitamins and rich in protein. It is good for all skin types and helps to relieve dryness, itching of inflammation with an ability to soften, soothe and recondition the skin. Almonds possess a very high nutritional profile and are valued for their ability to strengthen the body and soothe mucus membranes. Powdered almonds have been historically made in to cakes, bread, and pudding for people suffering from diabetes. An emulsion or an almond drink soothes the intestine and can be used in lung ailments and coughs. It has a sweet taste, benefit the lungs transform phlegm and soothe the intestines. In ayurveda and unani it is a primary tonic food used to promote vitality and is used to treat anaemia (due to its high iron content and vitamins), mental fatigue, constipation, impotence, respiratory disorders and warm the body during winter.

Economic importance

While the almond is often eaten on its own, raw or toasted, it is also a component of various dishes. Almonds are available in many forms, such as whole, sliced (flaked, slivered) and as almond butter, almond milk and almond oil. These variations can be used in both sweet and savory dishes. Along with other nuts, almonds can be sprinkled over breakfasts and desserts, particularly muesli or ice cream based dishes. Almonds are used in pastries, cookies, cakes and other sweets and desserts. They are also used to make almond butter, a spread similar to peanut butter, popular with peanut allergy sufferers and for its naturally sweeter taste. The young, developing fruit of the almond tree can be eaten whole ("green almonds") when they are still green and fleshy on the outside and the inner shell has not yet hardened. Pickling or brining extends the shelf life of fruits.

Almonds can be processed into a milk substitute called almond milk; the soft texture of nuts, mild flavour, and light coloring (when skinned) make for an efficient analog to dairy and a soy-free choice for lactose intolerant people. Raw, blanched, and lightly toasted almonds work well for different production techniques some of which are similar to that of soymilk and some of which use no heat resulting in "raw milk".

Uses of almonds in different Countries:

1. In China, almonds are used in a popular dessert where they are mixed with milk and then served hot.

2. In Greece, ground blanched almonds are used as the base material in a great variety of desserts, usually called amygdalota. Because of their white colour most are traditionally considered "wedding sweets" and are served at wedding banquets. In addition, a soft drink known as soumada is made from almonds in various regions.

3. In India, almonds are the base ingredients of pasanda style curries. Badam halva is a sweet made from almonds with added coloring. Almond flakes are added to many sweets (such as sohan barfi), and are usually visible sticking to the outer surface.

4. In Iran, green almonds are dipped in sea salt and eaten as snacks on street markets. They are called as 'Chaqale badam'. Also sweet almonds are used to prepare a special food for babies, named 'harire badam'. In Iran almonds are added to some foods, cookies and desserts to decorate foods. People in Iran consume roasted nuts for special events such as during New Year parties.

5. In Italy, the bitter almonds are used as base for amaretti (almond macaroons), a common dessert. Traditionally, a low percentage of bitter almonds (10-20%) is added to the ingredients, which gives the cookies their bitter taste. Commercially apricot kernels are used as a substitute for bitter almonds.

6. In Morocco, almonds in the form of sweet almond paste are the main ingredient in pastry fillings and several other desserts. Fried blanched whole almonds are also used to decorate sweet tajines such as lamb with prunes. A drink made from almonds mixed with milk is served in important ceremonies such as weddings. Southwestern Berber regions of Essaouira and Souss are also known for "Amlou" a spread made of almond paste, argan oil and honey. Almond paste is also mixed with toasted flour, among others honey, olive oil or butter, anise, fennel, sesame seeds and cinnamon to make "Sellou" a sweet snack known for its long shelf life and high nutritive value.

7. In Pakistan, almonds are the base ingredients of many food items. Meat dishes containing almonds include pasanda-style or Mughalai curries. Badam halva is a sweet made from almonds with added coloring. Almond flakes are added to many sweets (such as sohan barfi), and are usually visible sticking to the outer surface. Almonds form the base of various drinks which are supposed to have cooling properties. Almond sherbet or 'Sherbet-e-Badaam' in Urdu, is a popular summer drink. Almonds are also sold as a snack with added salt.

8. In Spain, the 'Marcona' almond cultivar is recognizably different from other almonds and is marketed by name. The kernel is short, round, relatively sweet and delicate in texture. It has been grown in Spain for a long time and its origin is unknown; the tree is very productive, the shell of the nut very hard. 'Marcona' almonds are traditionally served after being lightly fried in oil, and are used by Spanish chefs to prepare a dessert called turron.

Main producers in the world and rank of India

Global production of almonds is around 1.7 million tones, with a low of 1 million tons in 1995 and a peak of 1.85 million tones in 2002. According to the FAO, major producers are the USA (41%), Spain (13%), Syria (7%), Italy (6%), Iran (6%) and Morocco (5%). Algeria, Tunisia, and Greece each account for 3%, Turkey, Pakistan and China each account for 2%.

In India domestic production is miniscule at 1200 MT. Almonds cultivation is restricted to selected hilly areas of Jammu and Kashmir, Himachal and Uttarakhand. India imports 98% of its almond requirement. The exporting countries for India are USA, Australia, Iran and Afghanistan. India ranks 3rd in the world, in import and consumption of Almond. Consumption of almonds in India is growing by around 20% annually due to increase in disposable income and awareness about nutritional benefits of almonds. Therefore, there is need to promote and popularize suitable varieties of almond among farmers for cultivation in CHR.

Usually fruit varieties have been selected from the naturally occurring superior chance seedlings taking into account their earliness or lateness and qualitative attributes. There are several varieties of any fruit crops out of which only a few have commercial importance. Preference of a variety differs from region to region depending on agro-climatic condition. Following are some almond varieties with their important characters suitable for cultivation in CHR:

1. California Paper Shell: Upright trees and medium in vigour, mid blooming, nuts are long, light brown in colour, paper shelled and mid to late season maturity.

2. Drake: Spreading trees and low in vigour, mid blooming. Nuts are small to medium in size, bold and roundish with pointed apex, colour is light creamy whitish brown. Semi soft shelled and mid season maturity.

3. IXL: Spreading trees and intermediate in vigour, mid bloomer, nuts are medium, bold, brown in colour, kernel is medium, soft shelled and mid to late season maturity.

4. Merced: Upright trees and medium in vigour, mid blooming, nuts are medium, bold, slightly flattened and light brown in colour. Paper shelled and mid to late season maturity.

5. Mukhdoom: Spreading and large trees, mid blooming, nuts are broad at shoulder with bold and slightly curved at apex. Nut colour is brown, soft shelled and mid to late season maturity.

6. Ne-Plus Ultra: Spreading and vigourous trees, mid blooming, nuts are medium to large flattened, bold and light brown in colour, paper shelled and mid season maturity.

7. Non-Pareil: Upright to spreading and moderately vigourous trees, mid blooming, nuts are medium, bold and light brown in colour, thin shelled and early season maturity.

8. Pranyaj: Spreading moderately vigourous trees, mid blooming, nuts are medium, brown and flattened to bulge, kernel is medium to large. Papery shelled and mid season maturity.

9. Primorskij: Spreading and moderately vigorous trees, mid to late blooming, nuts are medium to large, bold, slightly flattened and brown in colour, kernel medium to large. Soft paper shelled and late season maturity.

10. Shalimar: spreading and medium trees, nuts are long in size and bold with tapering at curved pointed apex. Nut colour is creamy brown to slightly whitish, soft shelled and mid season maturity.

11. Waris: Upright and moderately vigorous trees, mid blooming. Nuts are medium in size, bold and bulged at shoulder with sharply pointed apex. Nut colour is brown to creamy whitish, soft shelled and mid to late season maturity.

Horticulture is one of critical sectors in the economy of the CHR. It provides much needed opportunity for diversification and employment in this region. The scope of high rate of growth in conventional agriculture is rather limited due to peculiar topography as well as scattered and marginal land holdings in CHR. Moreover, diversification through horticultural crops has been recognized as one of the options for improving land use planning. Therefore, there is a need to explore possibility to harness the potential of horticultural crops like almond for improving the house hold income and generate livelihood support to the farmers of remote areas of the CHR.

About Author / Additional Info:
Senior Scientist, ICAR-National Bureau of Plant Genetic Resources, Regional Station Bhowali.

Image Source: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/4/4f/Mandel_Gr_99.jpg