Now’s the time of year when the humble almond tree comes into its own….and Andalucía is looking spectacular!
Almond trees were domesticated as far back as 3,000 BC and have been part of Mediterranean culture for millennia – today approximately 1.7 million tons of almonds are produced every year. Spain is the second-largest almond producer (13% of annual production) after the United States (over 40% annually) and relies on Andalucia and Valencia as its main producing regions.
The trees add a special charm to the landscapes of Southern Spain in late winter. Their willowy, wispy branches and delicate flowers grace hillsides and craggy cliffside areas with an elegant beauty. The colours and scents of their blossoms bring the countryside to life.
It’s an amazing experience to drive through large expanses of land cultivated with almond trees, but even more delicious is to walk through the groves and inhale the intoxicating scent.
While travelling around Andalucía when the almond trees are in full bloom, (usually from late January until mid-February, depending on the altitude), you’ll probably notice that some trees are white and others are pink. The white blossoms produce sweet almonds while the pink ones produce the bitter variety. The latter contain cyanide which must be removed before consuming the extract of these nuts.
In July and August the shell begins to split, allowing the almond to dry. The nuts are then harvested the old fashioned way – by beating the tree with a stick. The nuts fall into large nets and are gathered and sold to the large cooperative processing units in the region.
Interestingly nothing is wasted – the shells are sold as biomass fuels to heat homes and businesses while the almonds are processed into a variety of foodstuffs – almond milk, ground almonds, almond flour, flaked almonds, or simply as raw nuts.
If you’d like to visit and experience this wonderful season for yourself, the very best time to see the blossoms around Casa Azul are the 2nd and 3rd weeks of February.