[Photographs: Lee Zalben]

Savvy cooks and bakers know that almonds can provide flavors and textures that can wake up many a boring dish, but which kind of almond should you choose?

There are, of course, whole almonds, which are popular in brittles, nougats, and biscotti, as well as for covering in chocolate. Some people like to use them raw, but the flavor really comes out if you toast your almonds a bit in the oven before using them, or you can buy them already roasted.

There are also very thin sliced almonds, which are popular for topping ice cream, cakes, and pastries. Sliced almonds are available with their skins as well as without (let's call those nude)—I think they're a little nicer with the skin on. I'm not sure if there's actually more flavor that way, but they make everything they adorn seem more almondy.

And then there are slivered almonds, which are curious looking things—sort of like giant splinters. These are quite popular baked into cookies and brownies and are often chopped by bakers at home to make toppings.

Slivered and sliced almonds are made by heating the nuts to well over 150°F to make them pliable so they don't break while being cut. Sliced almonds are cut across the length of the nut in thin sheets, while slivered almonds are cut with a different set of blades to create the "splinters" or "sticks," as they are sometimes called.

There are also ground almonds, almond flour, and marzipan, which are all mostly used for baking and for making cute little edible sculptures.

Do you like to cook with almonds? What's your favorite form of this versatile nut?

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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