America has a new favorite nut.
The country's appetite for almonds has grown by more than 220 percent since 2005--far faster than demand for pecans, walnuts, macadamias, pistachios, cashews, or peanuts. The rise is even more startling when compared to the early 1970s, when the average American ate just over a quarter of a pound of almonds per year. Now they consume more than two pounds per year.
America's love affair with almonds is such that not even peanuts can compete anymore. In 2012 Americans ate more almonds per capita than shelled and unshelled snack peanuts combined (not including peanut butter).
The country's growing almond obsession has a lot to do with the convergence of a number of popular health narratives and dietary preferences.
Americans, for one, aren't nearly as worried about fat intake as they once were. "Nuts were considered unhealthy due to their high fat content," a 2011 report by the University of Michigan said. "However, this perception has changed over the past decade."
A national shift away from traditional sources of protein, like red meat, has also made the protein-packed nut an increasingly popular foodstuff. Meat consumption has been falling for almost a decade in the U.S., according to research firm Packaged Facts. The growing demand for healthy, but appetite-suppressing snacks, has helped, too—especially considering that nearly everyone in the country now snacks. There is also the rise of vegetarianism and veganism; a recent study found that more than 3 percent of American adults now follow a vegetarian diet.
Almonds have also benefited from years of heavy marketing and scores of favorable studies professing the nut's myriad health benefits. The nut (or at least its consumption) has been linked to (pdf) improved heart health, weight management, and even longer life-spans, among other things. Almond growers haven't been shy about jumping on board. The Almond Board of California happily touts the nut's nutritional benefits prominently on its website. No wonder no other nut is considered as nutritious by consumers.
Almonds have become so popular that they're now creeping into just about everything we eat. Almond milk (which is terribly inefficient, by the way) now accounts for nearly 5 percent of national milk sales, and almond butter can now be found on supermarket shelves around the country. Even almond flour is making its way into the limelight on the heels of the nation's gluten-free kick.