The sweet almond tree is a deciduous tree of moderate size and with dark bark. It belongs to the same genus (Prunus) as peach, apricot, plum, cherry, and blackthorn (sloe).
The tree has spreading branches and lance-shaped, finely toothed leaves.
The beautiful, fragrant flowers are pink or almost white.
They have five petals and sepals, and appear before the new leaves.
The ovoid and velvety stone fruits (drupes) are pale green/reddish. They are hard and juiceless.
When fully ripe, the fruit dries and splits, and the seed - enclosed in a rough shell (endocarp) - drops out.
The almond shell is yellowish/brownish, flattened-ovoid in shape and usually has small holes on the outer surface.
The seed itself is whitish, rounded at one end and pointed at the other, and covered with a thin brown skin.
The sweet almond tree is native from Syria to North Africa and widely cultivated in warmer climates.
The seeds from the sweet almond tree - Prunus dulcis var. dulcis - are edible. They are eaten raw, roasted or salted.
Also used as ingredients in many dishes, and in the making of schnapps and liqueurs. Or ground into paste (marzipan). Also ground and diluted with water to make almond milk, and pressed for oil and made into almond butter.
Sweet almond oil is also used for culinary and medicinal purposes, and in the production of massage oils, skin care products, and cosmetics.
Bitter almond - Prunus dulcis var. amara - has bitter, poisonous seeds that are detoxified for culinary use.
Detoxified bitter almond oil is used in commercial food flavouring in cakes, ice creams, liqueurs, marzipan, etc.
California in the US is the largest producer of almonds, followed by Spain, Italy and Greece.