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Food Safety

To ensure the wholesomeness of California Almonds, all products are produced with careful consideration for food safety. From orchard to manufacturer, the Almond Board of California works closely with industry experts, university specialists as well as federal regulators to develop and implement consistent best practices and procedures.

Pasteurization

Pasteurization is a process to reduce microbial contamination in almonds. Speak to your supplier about pasteurization needs.

High standards have been set to ensure the optimal attributes of each almond’s quality (crunch, taste) as well as its nutritional value are maintained.

Quality Assurance

The California Almond industry has developed and endorsed the following quality assurance programs:

Good Agricultural Practices (GAPs):
Guidelines to help growers minimize pathogens, contaminants and pests during production and harvest.

Good Manufacturing Practices (GMPs):
Define the proper procedures for handlers who process, pack, store and distribute almonds.

Pathogen Environmental Monitoring/Post-Process Contamination Control:
Targets microorganisms in the processing environment, with an emphasis on the prevention of post-process recontamination.

Sanitation Standard Operating Procedures (SSOPs):
Help to ensure clean and sanitary processing facilities.

Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point (HACCP):
Provides a systematic approach to identify, assess and control the risk of biological, chemical and physical hazards.

Together, these programs provide a complete food quality and safety portfolio. Technologies and methods can vary, so always check with your supplier about any questions you have.

VARIETY

When deciding what almond to use, you can specify a classification or variety. This lesson will break down these groups as well as differentiate them by their unique characteristics.

Classifications

Almond varieties are categorized according to several broad classifications for marketing purposes based on distinguishing characteristics such as size, shape and “blanchability” (skin removal). The majority of almond production in California falls into the following three types:

Nonpareil: With the widest range of uses among the marketing categories, Nonpareil-type almonds are readily blanched (skin removal) and sliced for processed forms. A thin outer shell and smooth kernel allow for easy, blemish-free processing. As a result, Nonpareils are used anywhere an attractive appearance or a strong almond identification is important.
California: This classification includes a number of varieties that are blanchable and used primarily in manufactured products. California-type almonds have a wide range of shell hardness, kernel shapes, skin colors and surface characteristics. As a result, they are quite adaptable and well suited for nearly any process or application.
Mission: Mission-type almonds have hard shells, and their kernels are small, wide and often plump. The kernel skin is generally darker than Nonpareil and wrinkled, which enhances salt and flavor adherence. Blanching is not as common for this type.
Carmel: Carmel is a relatively long, narrow, large, light-colored kernel. All Carmel types are also listed as California types.
Inshell - Hard Shell: Peerless is the principal variety sold to consumers as an inshell-hard-shell product, although it can be cracked out and blanched. These inshell varieties are characterized by an attractive closed shell with a firm outer “cork,” which protects the kernel against both worm damage and other contamination. The inshell-hard-shell market is firmly established, but has a relatively limited volume in relation to other marketing outlets.
Inshell - Soft Shell: Soft shells have greater suture openings, allowing seasonings to permeate the shell. Kernels with soft shells allow for manual cracking. Please consult your handler to determine the right soft-shell variety for your needs.

Primary Varieties

Among the multitude of almonds produced in California, 10 varieties represent more than 97% of production. It is important to understand that some varieties may fall under more than one classification because they have characteristics of one type (such as Mission), but are also blanchable (a characteristic of the California classification). All California Almond varieties have been developed using traditional breeding methods; genetically modified almond varieties are not planted or available in California.

If you only specify “California type,” you could receive a mixture of varieties that could include those classified as California but also several varieties that are Mission type.

Almond Variety Market Classification Matrix

Inshell almonds are broken down into two types: hard shell and soft shell.

When deciding on soft-shell almonds, important considerations are shell thickness and the opening along the seam of the shell (suture).

Shelled vs Inshell

Summary

There are a number of almond varieties that are grouped into several main almond classifications. It is important to work with your supplier to determine the most suitable variety and classification for your use.

USAGE

This lesson will introduce the wide assortment of almond forms and their versatile usage options.

Forms

Natural Whole
Natural Slivered
Diced
Blanched Whole
BLANCHED Sliced
Ground

Form Considerations

California Almonds are an exceptionally versatile, value-adding ingredient. Available in more forms than any other nut, almonds are easy to work with from a formulation perspective. California Almonds also complement a wide array of food flavors and applications, including confectionery, bakery, dairy, prepared foods and snacks.

Because they are available in whole, sliced, slivered, chopped, diced or ground forms, with either the skin still on (natural) or removed (blanched), the application opportunities are unlimited. The selection of a particular almond form can vary the appearance, texture, flavor and application potential of the finished product.

Here are some things to consider when deciding on the right almond to use:

  • Taste: California Almonds can vary from strong and buttery to light and nutty. Blanched almonds provide a slightly milder taste than natural almonds, while roasted almonds have greater flavor intensity.
  • Texture: The crunchy texture is retained across a wide range of applications like sweets, fruits, entrées and creamy dairy products. Some almonds can be used to thicken sauces or as a coating for meats and seafood.
  • Aesthetic Appeal: Whether sprinkled or garnished, almonds provide an attractive color contrast to other ingredients. Blanched almonds beautifully contrast with colorful foods and chocolates; natural almonds can create a nice color contrast against lighter backgrounds.
  • Consumer Popularity: Adding California Almonds to desserts and other foods can increase the protein value of the food as well as enhance the product’s natural value, making it appear more upscale.

Processing Options

This chart introduces the processing flow of how whole, natural almonds are transformed into a range of manufactured almond forms.

blanch sort whole broken slice - sliver dice - grind screen or sort dry and oil roast flavor - enrobe

BLANCH

Almond skins are peeled off after the kernels are scalded in 90°C to 100°C water for 2–5 minutes. Kernels are dried by hot air, and then cooled to ambient temperature.

Primary Steps:

Scalding, skin removal, drying, cooling, sorting

Whole

Whole means that there is less than one-eighth of the kernel chipped off or missing, and that the general contour of the kernel is not materially affected by the missing part. It refers to both natural (brown skin, or with skin on) and blanched kernels that may be stock inputs for shipments or the slicing and slivering process.

Broken

Broken means seven-eighths or less of a whole kernel, and that the piece will not pass through a round opening 8/64ths of an inch in diameter. It refers to both natural and blanched pieces that may be stock inputs for dicing or the grinding process.

Slice — Sliver

Almond kernels are made pliable by dry or steam heat prior to being cut by blades into different forms. The cut product is dried and cooled to ambient temperature and then screened for uniformity.

Primary Steps:

Plasticizing (slightly heating first to soften kernels), cutting, drying, cooling, then screening for uniformity

Dice — Grind

Almond kernels are diced or ground, then screened for particle sizes.

Primary Steps:

Cutting, screening

Screen or Sort

Defects and foreign material are removed prior to further processing. Screens in varying sizes are used throughout processing for uniformity and sizing the almonds.

Primary Steps:

Electronic or manual sorting; round-hole screens with different diameters

Dry and Oil-Roast

Almond kernels are roasted by either hot air at a temperature of 130°C to 145°C or by oil at a temperature of 130°C to 170°C for varying times, depending on application needs.

Primary Steps:

Dry heat or oil roasting, cooling

Flavor — Enrobe

The subtle flavor of almonds can be enhanced by adding spices for different savory flavorings or chocolate coatings for added texture and sweetness.

No one size almond fits all

It’s a common misconception that whole almonds are the best choice for all applications. However, whole almonds are only one of the many forms that may suit your application needs. Whether sliced, diced, chopped or whole, almonds add various flavors, textures and visual appeal.

Common Forms of Almonds

There are a number of almond varieties that are grouped in several main almond classifications. It is important to work with your supplier to determine the most suitable variety and classification for your use. Let’s take a closer look at seven almond forms that blend well with other ingredients.

Almond Applications

Adding almonds as an ingredient, whether as a snack, a topping on a treat, or mixed in with other ingredients, can be a welcome blast of flavor to infuse into everyday eating.

SNACKING

Lesser grades can be used where visual appearance is not essential.

Mix almonds into yogurt or granola mix, or flavor fruit slices with some almond butter spreads.

Visit the recipe center for fresh ideas and almond inspiration.

SNACK BARS

Lesser grades can be used where visual appearance is not essential.

Snack bars with almonds are popular because they are often viewed as crunchier, tastier and more nutritious.

Taste, protein (6 grams per ounce), fiber (4 grams per ounce) and filling are among the main reasons people choose to have snack bars that include almonds.1

CHOCOLATE

Lesser grades can be used where visual appearance is not essential.

Consumers worldwide believe almonds make chocolate more satisfying, uplifting and relaxing. In fact, two-thirds of consumers said that they are more likely to buy chocolate if it has almonds in it.2

BAKING

Whether you’re topping off baked goods or infusing them into a mixture, almonds remain among the top products introduced into baking year after year.3
1. US Bars Exploratory Study, Sterling-Rice Group, September 2014.
2. Global Chocolate Report, Sterling-Rice Group, 2013.
3. Innova Global New Products Report, 2013.

EXACT
SPECIFICATIONS

Depending upon the ultimate application, you may require exact specifications. Make sure you’re checking all key considerations before making any decisions.

Key Considerations
  • Size
  • Grade
  • Cost
  • Variety
  • Form
See the two sections on grades and size for more information.

Almond Applications

Certain almond-containing products such as molded confectionery products may require very specific size considerations, but not be as affected by minor chips or scratches.

  • Communicating your needs will help ensure the product delivered is the most suitable for the intended usage.
  • Be sure to review the Usage section for more information.

SIZE

When deciding on the right almond for your use, a key parameter is size. Almonds are sized and sorted during processing. This ensures complete separation of almond sizes for quality assurance. Make sure you choose the right-size almonds for your needs.

Sizing Procedures

  • Market size is determined by the number of whole kernels per ounce (28.35 g).
  • Length variation of kernels can also affect product uniformity.
  • Almonds pass over various sizes of round-hole screens that separate the kernels by size.

Bigger isn’t always better

Although size is a factor, it does not necessarily mean larger almonds are the most expensive or the best quality. Some varieties have smaller kernel sizes. In addition, size can vary year to year, which affects the demand for certain sizes of almonds.

Sorting

There are a few key factors to note regarding the sorting process:

  • Almonds are available both sized and unsized.
  • The screening process separates almonds into sizes based on their diameter.
  • Almonds are ultimately categorized by weight or kernels per ounce.

SUMMARY

While some applications necessitate strict size parameters, being flexible on sizing may provide more options when deciding what type of almond to utilize.

DELIVERY

This lesson will introduce how almonds are delivered as well as provide you the storage and handling information you need for quality assurance.

Almonds may be shipped directly from a handler in California to customers worldwide.

Almonds are supplied in several formats:

  • 25-pound (11.34-kg) cardboard cartons to 1-metric-ton fiber bins or poly bags ("tote bags," or "big bags")

Examples of Common Packaging

PRODUCT VOLUME CONTAINER
Natural Almonds 25 lbs (11.3 kg)
50 lbs (22.7 kg)
2,200 lbs (1 mt)
Cartons
Fiber bulk bin
Super sacks or tote bags
Cut Almonds 25 lbs (11.3 kg)
1,000 lbs (454 kg)
1,500 lbs (680 kg)
Cartons with plastic liner
Fiber bulk bin with plastic liner
Fiber bulk bin with plastic liner
Roasted Almonds 25 lbs (11.3 kg)
50 lbs (22.7 kg)
Cartons with vacuum-packed foil bags
Inshell Almonds 50 lbs (22.7 kg) Sacks

*Always talk to your supplier about specific packaging requirements.

Almond Storage

Compared to other types of nuts, the shelf life of natural almonds, with proper storage, is relatively long:

  • Natural almonds with their skins: up to 2 years
  • Roasted/Manufactured almonds: up to 1 year
Recommended Storage Conditions
  • Store under cool and dry conditions
    (<10°C/50°F and <65% relative humidity); almond moisture should be maintained at 6% or less.
  • Maintain almonds under controlled conditions for a long storage life.
  • Avoid high temperatures and moisture, which can lessen quality and storage life.
  • Avoid storing near strong odors, which might be absorbed by the almonds.
  • Roasted products require protection from oxygen by using packaging with an oxygen carrier property and packaged under vacuum or nitrogen flush.
  • Rotating stock optimizes shelf life.
  • Consider using plastic liner with good water and oxygen barriers, regardless of product size or packaging type: Ensure liner is sealed.

Moisture Management

Initial moisture and relative humidity (rH) of the surrounding environment can affect texture, microbial stability and the shelf life of various almonds.

Two simple solutions to stop moisture migration are:

  • Moisture-barrier packaging; and
  • Reducing the humidity of the environment in which the almonds are stored.

Ideal moisture levels for almonds exist within a range of 3.0 to 5.0%, which can be achieved in an environment with 20 to 55% rH. Roasted and blanched almonds are impacted by relative humidity differently than whole almonds.

Understanding

Proper handling and transportation may affect the quality and shelf life of almonds. This online moisture and texture model (below) demonstrates the effects of environmental rH on almond moisture content and the impact on texture properties. To understand the effects of handling and storage on the quality of almonds, visit the moisture calculator.

COST

*Cost is often a key consideration when deciding what almonds to choose for your needs. Working closely with your supplier, you can discuss the factors that ultimately affect price, including:

  • Market supply and demand
  • Kernel size
  • Variety
  • Form
  • Grade
  • Other specifications

GRADES AND
STANDARDS

USDA grades for natural almonds are voluntary minimum standards. The California Almond industry can supply almonds to customers’ unique specifications, both in terms of sizes and grades, based on the intended applications.

USDA grades establish tolerances for various quality factors. Depending on the ultimate use, different grades may be more relevant than others. Other terms like "Supreme" are also used in the industry when referring to particular grades. Be sure to speak with your supplier about your specifications.

Understanding USDA Grades

The different grades are defined by the allowable minimum standards/tolerances for each grade of almonds. The higher the percentage listed on the following chart, the higher the tolerance for that particular grade factor.

USDA Charts


Variations

There are various grades that help differentiate customers’ needs. They are the following:

U.S. Fancy:
The highest grade and often best used in products in which the visual appeal of the almond is critical.
U.S. Extra No. 1:
Similar to U.S. Fancy, this almond is ideal for food applications in which the appearance of the almond is very important.
U.S. No. 1:
Sometimes referred to as "Supreme," and often used for whole-almond applications or for further processing like blanching and roasting.
U.S. Select Sheller Run:
A mid-quality grade, this is a good choice for applications that occur within a mix or are used with other ingredients. This grade is also optimal for grinding, roasting, dicing, blanching and slicing.
U.S. Standard Sheller Run:
A good grade, best used when a higher level of split and broken kernels is not a concern. Blanching, dicing, grinding and/or paste are the best use for this grade of almond.
U.S. No. 1 Whole & Broken and U.S. No. 1 Pieces:
Lower grade, often used for grinding.

Parameters

View the complete standards: USDA Standards Almonds Inshell and USDA Standards Shelled Almonds or the USDA grades cards for inshell and shelled. For your own copy of the USDA Grade chart, click here.