Almonds are thought to have originated centuries ago in ancient China and Central Asia. An ancestor of stone fruits such as nectarines, peaches, plums, and cherries, the almond is categorized botanically as a fruit. The almond fruit grows on trees closely resembling peach trees in size and shape, and has a tough gray-green hull similar to that of an elongated peach. At maturity, the hull splits open to reveal the almond shell, which encloses the nut.
It was this nut that explorers carried with them as sustenance while traveling along the “Silk Road” between Asia and the Mediterranean. The land they were passing through provided fertile ground for almonds that were dropped along the route. Dry, hot summers and winter rains proved to be ideal growing conditions. Thus, almond trees spread to the Mediterranean, where they flourished in Turkey, Iraq, Syria, Iran and throughout the region. Spain and Italy eventually became the first major almond producers.
Spanish Monks settling missions along the coast were the first to plant almond trees in California. The cool, wet weather of the coast hindered development of almonds as an annual crop. It wasn’t until settlers began moving further inland that they discovered almonds flourished in the Mediterranean-like climate for which central California has become famous. Almond orchard began to prosper along the great Central Valley, a 400-mile stretch of the world’s most productive farmland. Today, more than 6,000 growers farm an estimated 5,000,000 acres of almond trees, making almonds the number one tree crop in California.