Nat Kelly Nat Kelly1 February 2023 Open Science

Almonds: Health, Cultivation, and Sustainability

Almonds have been eaten and cultivated for thousands of years and have symbolic importance in many historical cultures. In Ancient Rome, newlyweds were showered with almonds as a symbol of fertility. In the Bible, the almond tree represents the eye of God, and several other things besides, such as purity.

More recently, the almond industry has been showing significant growth – from USD 8.16 billion in 2020 to an estimated USD 11.814 billion by 2027. This is in part due to research showing the health benefits of almonds, and also due to the growing popularity of plant-based diets, as almond milk is an excellent dairy-free alternative.

Pressure on the industry

With this rise in demand, however, comes several issues. Due to almonds favoring a hot Mediterranean climate, there are few areas that cultivate them on a large scale. This leads to many problems in areas where they are farmed, most prominently water shortages. Also, this means that they are heavily exported – often thousands of miles away, to countries that are unsuitable for almond cultivation.

Here, we look at the nutritional contents of almonds and exactly why they are so beneficial to our health. Additionally, we outline their cultivation and why farming practices need to change.

Nutrition and health benefits of almonds

Almonds are a high-protein food with many health-promoting properties. They contain vitamins and minerals that are essential to the normal functioning of the human body.

Vitamin E

Almonds are rich in Vitamin E, a powerful antioxidant. This means it protects cells against free radicals, unstable atoms responsible for aging and the development of various diseases. It has been used to alleviate the effects of the carcinogenic compound cyclophosphamide, a drug used in chemotherapy. Additionally, it strengthens the immune system and maintains healthy skin and eyes.

Vitamin B9

Vitamin B9, also known as folate, is crucial for effective cell division, which includes the production of red blood cells (RBCs). A B9 deficiency can cause severe anemia due to the RBCs being abnormal, meaning they cannot distribute oxygen to cells effectively. As it cannot be produced by the body, it needs to be consumed in the diet. The high levels of folate in almonds underline their value as part of a healthy diet.


A high amount of magnesium is also present in almonds. Magnesium takes part in hundreds of biochemical reactions in the body. A deficiency in this mineral has been shown to lead to many physical and psychological problems, including high blood pressure and moderate to severe anxiety and depression.


Calcium is widely known as being important for the health and strength of bones and teeth. However, it also ensures normal clotting of the blood, and is crucial for regular muscle contraction. This involves the contraction of cardiac muscles, and thus it is thought that calcium will play a prominent role in the prevention of cardiovascular disease.

Cultivation of almonds

Almond production is quite a lengthy process, with trees only producing them after around 5 years. Even then, it can take a further 5 to 7 years more for them to reach their full nut-producing stage. The average age of an almond tree is 30 years, meaning they have about 25 years where they are active.

Almonds prefer fertile, well-drained soils, and generally thrive in Mediterranean climates, with the trees producing these seeds usually by the end of July. Once harvested, they are left to dry in the sun until they reach a low moisture content, ensuring they don’t succumb to rot or disease.

Sustainability of almond production

Unfortunately, due to the nature of the production chain, almond farming has a negative impact on the environment.

The main almond-producing area is California, which is responsible for 80% of all almonds on the market. This means that much has to be exported to other locations – around 70% of the overall yield. Food transportation is responsible for around 6% of greenhouse gas emissions; whilst there are many bigger offenders, the significant distance travelled to supply many regions of the world with this product means they have a big carbon footprint.

Water usage

Furthermore, almonds are very water-intensive: around 12 liters of water are required to produce one almond. This means, for a regular serving size of around 23 almonds, 276 liters of water have been consumed. California is a state heavily affected by droughts, with around 95% of the population experiencing repercussions first-hand and frequent hosepipe bans and other measures put into effect to deal with this issue.

The huge amount of water spent on almond production has also affected aquatic biodiversity. With rivers being diverted to support the growth in cultivation, the wild salmon population has been significantly affected.


A possible solution is to ensure that almond trees are more resilient to drought stress to reduce water usage. This can be achieved through the application of algae-based biostimulants, which have been shown to have slight but non-significant effects on almond quality.

One MDPI study found that improved modeling of evapotranspiration is necessary to obtain accurate information on water usage. This will allow for more precise and informed water-use strategies to be developed, so water can be distributed most effectively.

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