New Year. No more chips. Almonds! Hubby Patrick, friend Lissa, and I sat down for a tasting, beginning with the kind most likely to be served in-flight: Blue Diamond Roasted & Salted ($3.49 for 6 oz. at Vons). “These are very crunchy and salty, like a chip,” said Lissa. “I like them, but you really get more smoke and salt than you do almond flavor.” Still, they fared better than the Safeway Roasted & Salted ($3.99 for 9 oz.). Patrick liked that they weren’t as salty as the Blue Diamond, but, he said, “The main thing I taste is the almond skin. Kind of bitter and papery.”
Lissa’s eyebrows rose in delight as she bit into the Blue Diamond Whole Natural ($3.49 for 6 oz. at Vons). “There’s no salt and they’re not roasted, but I like them because they remind me of candied Jordan almonds. Ha! Am I really judging my food by my candy?”
“Better than judging it by your booze, like me,” said Patrick, lamenting the nut’s lack of “the piquant bite you find in almond extract. Still, I like the way the sweet, mild flavor comes on as you chew. Because they’re not roasted, they don’t have that crunchy snap, but the sweetness could be addictive.”
Everybody agreed they were a lot more almondy than the Emerald Dry Roasted ($3.50 for 11 oz. at Vons). “This has no almond flavor at all,” marveled Patrick. “But it’d make a great beer nut. It tastes like meat tenderizer.” Small wonder: the ingredients listed both onion powder and garlic powder. “I’m the kind of person who would buy a flavored nut like this,” said Lissa, “but I think the packaging is deceptive. Unless you read the ingredients, you wouldn’t even know they were salted. I like the savory flavors, but after four or so, I can feel all the seasoning starting to tear up my tongue.”
We moved on to Henry’s Dry Roasted ($4.99 for 16 oz.). “I like the oily, fat flavor of this one, even if there’s a hint of bitterness,” said Patrick. “They’re dense.” “I get a savory, almost umami character,” agreed Lissa. But nobody went for the Henry’s Smokehouse ($5.69 for 16 oz.). “Eating these is like coming home from camping,” complained Lissa. “You know — when your hair and clothes and everything smells like smoke.” “Acrid” was Patrick’s summation.
We were happy to move on to the comparatively pure experience of Trader Joe’s Organic Dry Roasted Unsalted ($3.79 for 12 oz.). “These have a hearty crunch and a punch of flavor,” rhymed Lissa. “And there’s that blend of sweetness and tang that I like,” added Patrick. “A really almondy essence.” The nonorganic version from Trader Joe’s ($4.99 for 15 oz.) also had a hearty almond flavor, but Lissa didn’t care for the texture. “The skin is very dry; it feels unpleasant on my tongue. I need something to wash down these almonds; saliva won’t cut it.”
I got her some water, and she needed it again after the salty blast of Trader Joe’s Roasted & Salted ($4.69 for 16 oz.). “These are too salty and don’t taste much like almonds,” she said. Last up from Trader Joe’s: Roasted & Salted Marconas ($4.69 for 6 oz.). A Spanish specialty, the almonds were skinless and oddly flat. “Looks like a Corn Nut,” suggested Patrick. “Don’t be lowbrow,” I countered. “They’re a delicacy.” Lissa disagreed, grimacing as she chewed. “It’s so brittle that it shatters in your mouth as you chew it, and then it becomes pasty on the tongue and hard to swallow.” “And it’s kind of nasty,” added Patrick. “Gimme a Corn Nut any day.”
“All right, time for the Whole Foods goodies,” I said, breaking open the organic ($7.99 for 12 oz.) and regular ($4.69 for 12 oz.) offerings from the store’s 365 brand. Both were tops in the crunch department and offered hearty roasted flavors. Extensive comparisons revealed the organic to be the more flavorful, “but I don’t think the difference warrants that much more money,” said Patrick.
I handed him one of the Whole Foods store brand raw almonds ($5.99 for 16 oz.). “A little chewy, like the Blue Diamond,” he mused, “but it gives you a sense of why they call it the meat of a nut. It fills your mouth in a substantial way. And the almond flavor is pure.”
“Now compare it to this,” I said, passing the store’s Supreme Raw ($15.99 for 16 oz.). “For being raw, it has an amazing amount of crunch,” he allowed. “I like the sweetness,” I said, “and the way the nut slivers along these planes as I chew. It’s so well balanced.”
“Figures,” said Patrick.