Almonds have a tough gray-green hull that looks similar to an elongated peach. At maturity, the hull splits open to reveal the almond shell, which encloses the fruit. Almonds are believed to be one of the world’s oldest cultivated fruits and there are several theories on how they evolved into one of nature’s most nutritious foods. One theory holds they evolved from a wild species prunus ulmifolia, probably in central Asia. Spain and Italy eventually became the first major almond production areas because of the warm dry climates in both countries. Almonds eventually made their way to the New World and the Central Valley of California. As a $2 billion industry, the industry has 6,000 growers, 115 processors, and 550,000 acres of almond trees. The Central Valley of California is the only place in North America that produces almonds commercially and accounts for 75% of the world’s production. California ships about 70% of the almond crop to more than 80 countries throughout the world.
Farming almonds is a costly investment with a significant delay in benefits and an unreliable crop yield. In addition, poor quality almonds impact demand and the potential growth demand for almonds. Almonds may be contaminated by aflatoxins which have been shown to cause cancer in certain laboratory animals. Aflatoxins are produced by the molds Aspergillus flavus and Aspergillus parasiticus and may contaminate the product during the various stages of harvesting and processing. Consumer concerns over aflatoxin can impact consumer perception of the quality of almonds and therefore negatively impact demand. The Almond Board of California has developed a Voluntary Aflatoxin Sampling Plan to test almonds for aflatoxins. A marketing agreement and order were issued that set standards for the quality of almonds produced and handled in California by establishing a maximum on the percent of inedible kernels.