Eating just 50 bitter almonds can release enough hydrogen cyanide to kill an adult in under 3 minutes. Fortunately, the sweet variety that we scoop from bins at grocery stores is safe to eat, thanks to a mutation.
While the single-gene glitch behind almond palatability has been recognized for a century, it took genome sequencing to reveal the complex control of the trait. Raquel Sánchez-Pérez, a biochemist at CEBAS-CSIC, an agricultural research center in Spain, and colleagues at the University of Copenhagen and elsewhere in Europe, published their findings in Science in June.
A Beloved Nut Through History
Almonds lead pistachios, brazil nuts, walnuts, pecans, cashews, and pine nuts in tree nut popularity, with peanuts the most popular groundnut.
In 2016 Michelle Obama joked that her husband consumes exactly 7 almonds every night. "That's it!" she exclaimed. When The New York Times reported the observation seriously, eating 7 almonds became a thing.
Headlines shout the attributes. "9 Evidence-Based Health Benefits of Almonds" lists vitamins, minerals, and anti-oxidants, crediting the nuts with lowering blood sugar, cholesterol, and hunger. So many articles tout the ability of almonds to "melt away body fat" that, well, it must be true.
To continue reading go to my DNA Science blog at Public Library of Science, where this post first appeared.