Almonds are natural products, so there can be variations in size, shapes, grades, and granularities depending upon the origins and climatic conditions. The Almond Board of California has defined the permissible standards/ tolerances for various almond grades. The higher the percentage on the chart (see below), is higher the tolerance of any grade. For example, while U.S. No.1 Supreme cannot have more than 5% dissimilar almonds or 5% chip and scratches subject to the conditions of that crop year, the actual percentage in the shipment should range from 0 to 5%. Other terms like "Nonpareil" are also used in the industry when referring to the variety. There are over 40 different varieties of almonds, with Nonpareil making up 38% of the crop, followed by Carmel Type, Mission/Butte/Padre, and all others falling under California type.
California is the world's largest producer of almonds and constitutes nearly 80% of the global almond supply, exporting to almost 90 countries. To ensure consistent, high-quality, wholesome almonds and to safeguard the interests of both the growers and buyers, the U.S. Congress set up the Almond Board of California in 1950 to administer a grower-enacted Federal Marketing Order under the supervision of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).
USDA grade of shelled almonds
USDA grade of in-shell almonds
Shelled Almond USDA Grades
- U.S. FANCY – The U.S. Fancy is the highest grade of almonds and has an excellent visual appeal – they're critical for businesses where the visual appeal is significant.
- U.S. EXTRA NO. 1 – Like U.S. Fancy, the U.S. Extra No. 1 almond is also ideal for businesses, where the visual appeal of the product is critical.
- U.S. NO. 1 – Popularly known as Supreme, they are widely used for whole almond applications or further processing like blanching and roasting.
- U.S. SELECT SHELLER RUN – These are typically mid-quality grades and easily the best choice for applications where almonds with minimal sorting/processing can be incorporated with other grades/ingredients. E.g., a confectionery product where a higher level of chip & scratched kernels is accepted, while they're also best suited for further processing - such as blanching, grinding, roasting, dicing, and slicing.
- U.S. STANDARD SHELLER RUN – Ideal for businesses that procure and engage in processing it further, such as blanching, dicing, grinding, or mincing precisely where a higher level of split and broken kernels is not a concern.
Established Tolerance Limits for Various Quality Factors - Shelled Almond USDA Grades
- DISSIMILAR – A wide variety of shelled almond grades in a single load. They're used for whole almond applications and/or for further processing, such as blanching and roasting.
- DOUBLES – These are two kernels developing in a single shell; one side is either flat or concave.
- CHIP & SCRATCH – The kernels could have minor chips or scratches due to processing. Chips and scratches if greater than 1/8" (3.2mm) in diameter are defined as injury and almonds greater than 1/4" (6.4mm) in diameter are defined as defects.
- FOREIGN MATERIAL – Smaller pieces of shells, hulls, and/or other foreign particles that do not pass through the round-opening screen measuring 8/64" (3.2mm) in diameter.
- PARTICLES & DUST – Almond kernels fragments or other materials that pass through a round-opening screen measuring 8/64" (3.2mm) in diameter.
- SPLIT & BROKEN – 7/8th or less of complete whole kernels that will do not pass through the round-opening screen measuring 8/64" (3.2mm) in diameter.
- OTHER DEFECTS – Other defects due to gum, shrivels, brown spots, and/or discolored almonds where the appearance of individual kernels or the edible or shipping quality of the almonds are defective.
- SERIOUS DEFECTS – Typically, unsuitable kernels (includes damage caused by insects, decay, rancidity, or damage due to mold).
In-shell Almond USDA Grades
U.S. NO. 1 – Shells are clean, bright, uniform in color. The almond kernels are well dried, free from decay, rancidity, damage caused by insects, mold, gum, skin discoloration, shriveling, brown spots, or by any other means. They're free from loose, extraneous, and foreign material.
U.S. NO. 1 MIXED – This grade of almond is no different from the U.S. No. 1 grade, except that two or more grades are mixed.
U.S. NO. 2 – The U.S. No. 2 grade meets the requirements of U.S. No. 1, except that it allows an additional tolerance of 20% for almonds with shells damaged by discoloration.
U.S. NO. 2 MIXED – This grade of almond is no different from the U.S. No. 2 grade, except that two or more varieties of almonds are mixed.
SIZE – The standard & specified size is about 28/64" in thickness, unless otherwise explicitly specified.
Established Tolerance Limits for Various Quality Factors - In-Shell Almond USDA Grades
DISSIMILAR – Typically different in-shell almond grades in one load.
LOOSE FOREIGN MATERIAL – Can contain 2% loose foreign materials, which includes about 1% passing through a 24/64" screen (by weight).
INTERNAL DEFECTS – A typical lot may contain about 10% internal defects, including 5% serious damages, undetectable until shelled.
UNDER SIZE – An actual shipment can contain about 5% under-sized almonds (specified size is 28/64" in thickness)
EXTERNAL DEFECTS – An actual shipment of in-shell almonds can contain about 10% External defects. External defects are typically caused due to materiality detracts of individual kernels, including defects owing to gum, shrivels, brown spots, and/or discolored almonds.