There is a small but growing market in eastern states for an unusual crop from the South Australian Riverland.
Almond growers have been out picking their crop green for customers, most with Mediterranean backgrounds, in Sydney and Melbourne.
Almonds are usually harvested in March or April, but green almonds are picked three to four weeks after trees flower in September and October, when the crop is soft and fuzzy.
Ibrahim Demir produces green almonds on his small acreage near Renmark.
“These are just regular almonds. It’s just we’re picking them green,” he said.
Mr Demir’s grandfather picked almonds green in Turkey.
They can be eaten whole, when the embryonic almond inside its shell is soft like jelly.
“They’ve been eaten for thousands of years, I suppose. It’s not a delicacy, but at this time of year there’s no real fruit so they would have just eaten it naturally,” Mr Demir said.
William Hilsaca sells green almonds at his grocery store in suburban Niddrie in Melbourne.
“They are quite popular, getting more popular each year,” he said.
But he said many customers still needed an introduction to the unusual product.
“We do explain to them. Once they know what it is and how they eat them, they accept them, they try them and come back for them, no worries,” Mr Hilsaca said.
Tiny niche in a big industry
The Almond Board of Australia represents an industry which is one of the biggest in the world.
The average almond harvest in March and April is about 80,000 tonnes, while the green almond harvest is estimated at only 100 tonnes.
The board’s industry development manager Ben Brown made clear how small the niche was.
“They don’t get a lot of support from the industry, no, I don’t think they need it. They seem operate quite well on their own, given it’s such a small market as well,” he said.
Mr Brown does not think green almonds will become a significant industry sector.Â
Ibrahim Demir and other growers agree there is not yet enough demand to build the industry without risking flooding the market.
He says growers would like to be paid more for their crop.
“Essentially it’s leaving the paddock, getting to the markets for $3 a kilo and then everyone else is marking it up from there on,” he said.
“At the greengrocer level, they could be between $10 and $15 a kilo, but that’s not what we get.
“The greengrocers have their mark-up because they’ve only got about a week to sell it and if they leave it any longer the almond starts to shrivel and it doesn’t eat as well.”
But despite the low return for the growers, Mr Demir has no plans to stop supplying a market which is enjoying the unusual treat.