Sicilian almond processing

The processing of Sicilian almonds that combines ancient knowledge with modern technology, obtaining a finished product of the highest quality, without affecting its organoleptic characteristics.

Given that there are different ways of managing the processing phases all over the world, the following will explain the methods currently used in Sicily:

The harvesting is carried out between August and September, with:

  1. TRADITIONAL METHOD (BACCHIATURA), it consists in spreading large nets under the trees and with long wooden sticks, the branches are hit vigorously, so as to drop the almonds, and conferred in an area dedicated to hulling.
  2. MECHANIZED HARVESTING: One of the most widespread systems is the inverted umbrella shaker which, hooking to the trunk, vibrates and makes the almonds fall down, which will be loaded in a cart and transported to a dedicated area for the next phase: hulling.

The first operation carried out after harvesting is hulling. It is an important phase as it allows the almond to be separated the hull from the shell to facilitate the drying process. This operation was once performed by hand, while today it is done by specific electric or traction machines (Hulling machine or “scrucchiolatrice”). The almonds, once inserted into the hopper, enter in the conical chamber (The sides have slits from which the hull separate from the almond comes out, with a shaft provided with brushes in the center), through the rotation of the axis it causes a mutual friction and the mechanical removal of the hull. Subsequently, the almonds come straight out of the conical chamber, ready to be dried. If necessary, the operation is repeated.

As soon as they are harvested, the almonds have a high level of humidity, therefore, they are dried to prevent the formation of mould. It can be done naturally, exposing the almonds to the sun for 3-4 days or with the help of special industrial dryers. If the natural method is applied, the almonds are placed on nets and are turned over during the day, in order to facilitate drying. During the night or in case of rain, the almonds are moved to shelter or covered under a waterproof sheet. The optimal percentage of humidity must be around 8-10%.

It is an operation carried out by special machines that select the almonds according to the different sizes, both to be traded in the shell and to optimize the shelling phase.

In ancient times, it was done by hand, while today there are special machines which, using a mechanical process, shell the almonds by compression, making the seed come out. Subsequently, the mass composed of crushed shells and seeds is separated through an aspiration system and vibrating planes.

The shelling operation has been carried out, with optical selectors that recognize the presence of foreign matter, removing the slags from the previous processing. In any case, the almonds go through a selection counter, for a final quality check.

At this point, the almonds are mixed size and before being packaged or subjected to a subsequent processing step, they are calibrated through a system of vibrating planes (In Italy, the caliber of the almonds would be the measurement of the hole by the width of the vibrating planes, expressed in millimetres) which equipped with perforated grids of different sizes, select the shelled almonds according to their size (For example for the size 34/36, is used the hole of 11-14 mm, for the size 36/37 is used the hole 14-15 mm, and so on). Regard American almonds, the system is different, as indicates the number of fruits present in an ounce (28,35 grams) (For example, the 23/25 size indicates that 23-25 almonds are needed to reach one ounce).

The peeling consists in removing the brown skin, carried out with peeling machines which, after scalding for a few minutes at 90°C, remove the skin thanks to the friction caused by the passage between a series of rollers. Subsequently, the almonds are dried and cooled rapidly for a couple of hours so as not to reabsorb the humidity. After a further quality control, the almonds are ready to be packaged or to be subjected to another type of processing (As indicated in the pattern).