Serious Eats

What Are Jordan Almonds?

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[Photograph: ©iStockPhoto/JamesBrey]

Some years, it seems like summer is nothing but a string of weekends spent at weddings of friends and family. And if you're attending a number of weddings this summer, you'll no doubt find yourself at a reception with one of my favorite nutty confections—the Jordan almond.

So how did this candy become so ingrained in wedding culture? Well, it's about more than just the pastel colors that can be custom blended to match the bride's dress.

While ancient Romans ate honey-coated nuts and seeds when celebrating births and marriages, Jordan almonds as we know them today got their start when Europeans were introduced to sugar cane in the fifteenth century. The sweet coating around the almond proved irresistible and people couldn't get enough. The sugared almonds were served at celebrations and special events. When Lucrezia Borgia (daughter of Pope Alexander VI) married her third husband, Alfonso d'Este, the Duke of Ferrara, guests at the banquet gobbled up more than 260 pounds of Jordan almonds by the end of the night.

Along with the sugary shell, a great deal of symbolism and lore coats these almonds. At Greek weddings, the candies are only given out in odd numbers (usually five), which are indivisible—just as the newly married couple should be. And if an unmarried woman puts a Jordan almond under her pillow, it's said that she'll dream of her future husband.

To the Italians, five Jordan almonds symbolize five wishes for the bridge and groom: health, happiness, fertility, financial stability, and longevity.

In the Middle East, too, Jordan almonds have an association with fertility; they are considered an aphrodisiac and are made readily available to guests and newlyweds at marriages.

And in most cultures, the pairing of the bittersweet almond and sugar combination is a reminder of the good and hard times the couple will face in their life together.

Annie, one of our summer interns at Peanut Butter & Co., even came across this poem, which is meant to be placed inside a tulle satchel filled with Jordan almonds and passed out to guests as party favors:

Five sugared almonds for each guest to eat/
To remind us that life is both bitter and sweet/
Five wishes for the new husband and wife/
Health, wealth, happiness, children, and a long life!

When was the last time you were presented with Jordan almonds at a celebration? And if you're married, did you serve them to your guests?

About the author: Lee Zalben was a PB&J-loving kid that grew up to be the founder and president of Peanut Butter & Co., which began as a Greenwich Village sandwich shop serving nothing but peanut butter sandwiches and expanded to include the now-famous line of all natural flavored peanut butter. Lee is a graduate of Vassar College and enjoys traveling the world in search of interesting foods made with peanuts, tree nuts, and seeds. When he's not working, eating, flying or writing, he enjoys scuba diving and training elephants.

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