Spain’s favourite nosh, the almond, serves up advantages to your fitness.
Improve your cycling Performance & Endurance by eating Spain’s favourite tapas, the almond. This humble Spanish nut of the autumn harvest has some powerful and positive health advantages to enjoy.
Read time: 5 min
SPANISH ALMONDS, BEAUTIFUL, TASTY AND A HEALTHY SNACK
If you choose Spring to cycle Iberia you will be amazed by its flowering almond landscape.
Granada’s countryside is normally seen as stunning. However, visit in March and April, when the almond trees festoon themselves in the frilly Andalusian delicate pink dress, it is positively fiesta like. When their green furry growth comes through and leaves the blossoms strung around on the floor like discarded party favours, it shows a tree back at work. Creating a delicious high fibre treat linked to lowering cholesterol and heart disease. This magnificent beauty is not all looks, almonds are also packed full of magnesium, crucial for cell growth and creating muscle strength and strong bones.
WHEN IS THE ALMOND HARVEST IN SPAIN?
Here in autumn when these trees that have stayed so coy during the summer have come back to life and now having offered their fuzzy green grey cocooned harvest to us; slunk back into spiny indifference. This deciduous tree’s crop, which is part of the Rose family, is technically, not a nut, but a stone fruit (drupe). Inside their fuzzy husk, is a hard shell, which once cracked gives us the yummy part of the almond we enjoy and it is back to decadence again!
Truly a part of the landscape, in these autumn days, travel to any Andalucian inland village and find heaps of shells, the aftermath of an afternoon spent shelling by every household. The almond bounty spread on their sun-soaked doorsteps, drying. Those husks are not ditched and instead, so usefully, keep us warm (thanks to a wonderful almond husk stove) or maintaining our weight through overindulgence! However, do not stress, as there are powerful benefits in eating almonds.
THE FAMOUS MEDITERRANEAN DIET LOVES ALMONDS
More than a tasty tapas bar nosh, almonds are one of the mainstays to this former Arabic land. Islamic cuisine and their sweet and savoury dishes make plentiful use of slivered morsels, the chefs tossing them into dishes as if they were planting seeds. So here in this landscape that saw Moorish kitchens dust, slice, grate and pulverize them, and add them to savoury or sweet, they are well loved. Found everywhere from a slight hint in some Andalusian fino sherries and definitely at postre (dessert) time. One famous and ancient example is Ajo Blanco, a white gazpacho soup, one of the more Moorish derived (or even said to be Roman) of Spanish dishes made with blanched almonds. The healthy Mediterranean diet includes these nuts for a good reason, tasty but oh so good for you.
Almonds in Spain and their use in Convent Desserts
When you do taste what is done with them (usually in dessert form), you won’t complain. The honey drenched almond mixes that make up the polvorones and alfajors of the region are worth looking up in local pastelerias (Cake shops). As we move towards winter holiday season, of course watch out for Turron, a classic delicious and thoroughly Spanish Christmas treat made with sugar, almonds, and honey, that will soon be out on display in every shop. Just think about all the antioxidants almonds have.. don’t worry about the sugar!
HISTORY OF THE ALMOND
A venerable history, the tree grows freely in Palestine and the Middle East and it is referred to many times in Biblical Scripture as one of the best fruit bearers in the land of Canaan. An attractive tree in bloom, it is susceptible to the morphism prone to poets and writers from whence there arose tales from ancient Greece of broken hearted Phyllis changed by the Gods into an Almond tree and on her lover’s return, he hugged it so much, it bloomed, an eternal symbol of undying love. Although the Romans tended to take a more pragmatic approach and believing in its obvious fertility powers showered their newlyweds with them. Maybe those Romans knew more than they were confessing to, as almonds are chock full of zinc, which is of course, very important for brain health, immune function and.. having babies!
Almond Cultivation in Spain
Said to have accompanied Alexander the Great’s troops home from the east. It arrived in Greece in the early 300B.C era and spread beyond, easily adapting to the Mediterranean climate, and filling the rolling hills. This mainly due to being so hardy and having a deep root system that seems to allow them to take care of themselves in shallow rocky soil, despite drought conditions as experienced here year after year. Today over 55% of Spain’s almonds are exported making it the 2nd largest producer in the world.
HEALTHY DIETS WORLDWIDE DEMAND ALMONDS
However, the last few years seeing hot exceptional weather even affected these strong soldiers. Spain, being a leader in a very competitive health conscious market, (after the USA which provides 80% of the world’s almonds), is having to change practises to keep up with demand. The market growth in part due to the popularity of vegetarianism/Veganism, who revel in the powerful health benefits of eating almonds, and their wonderful Vitamin properties, has boomed in the last 10 years. The 2018/19 harvest saw about 60,000 tonnes picked there with over 570,000 hectres farmed. Reacting to worldwide climate change, drought, the water usage in growing these treats is being re-examined and reformed to make them more sustainable and make the process as healthy as the product.
The Almond and its many uses
The great thing about these lovely nuts is they have multiple uses. In socializing and in a country big on tapas and… drinking, it was thought by many that its most important assets were in preventing drunkenness. Eat them while imbibing, is the thought. A versatile fruit, the lovely fatty properties of the nut whilst extracting its oils, have great advantages to the cosmetic industry. A natural and organic base for massage oils, creams and the creation of scrubs with the husks, a good exfoliate. The oil of the almond was and is used as a skin softener beneficial for chapped skin and dermatological conditions. As the Spanish Almond Board professes, they are also very high in antioxidants and have loads of vitamin E, so perfect for the skin in general!
POWERFUL BENEFITS OF EATING ALMONDS, A SUPER FOOD
Queen of the Almonds! The popularity of Spanish tapas and pintxos swells, with local delis worldwide stocking Jamon Iberico, quince paste and fig jam. Thus, has come, the appreciation and great demand of the particular exclusive Spanish product, the Queen of the almond, the Marcona. It has made the average Spanish farmers sit up and notice (now often ploughing cereals crops under to plant nuts instead). These lovely buttery Spanish beauties are a real attention getter. Round, soft and tasty, full of vitamins and anti aging properties, these almonds are a real favourite for nut aficionados.
The Powerful Health benefits of eating Almonds – Attention Cyclists!
However, aside from their historical and sculptural effect on the landscape, their natural great taste does not take away from their nutritional qualities. Almonds are great protein sources. Ask any Chinese herbalist and they’ll suggest any woman should be partaking to beat off osteoporosis, just a handful a day is beneficial due to its calcium content. These buttery babies are also great for zinc, folic acid and vitamin E. Although often accused of adding calories and weight to the diet, the opposite is true. They contain the right kind of fat – unsaturated (monounsaturated) with an eating of a few staving off hunger longer. They also help in heart nutrition too, reducing heart and cardiovascular disease.
As if you needed any better news about ingesting this tree fodder, a 2014 study from China actually showed results that whole almonds about 75g taken prior your ride, improved cycling distance and endurance performance for cyclists by enabling greater and more effective oxygen use. This is compared to when test subjects ate the same calories from other sugary foods/cookies, etc.
Thus, these freebee foods you will find roadside cycling here in Andalucia, is absolutely perfect for tucking into your handlebar bag or back pocked before going out into the countryside to pick some more.
An amazing little nut. Eat, Enjoy and Energize your Ride.
” Almond blossom sent to teach us
That the spring days soon will reach us,” Edwin Arnold | Poet
- – Quiet Paths
- – White Villages of Andalucía
- – Coastal Camino
- – Spain’s Green Coasts
- – Cycle to the Med