[Sca-cooks] homemade bitter almond extract (long)

Johnna Holloway johnnae at mac.com
Fri Jun 18 03:12:30 PDT 2010

This has always been an odd question because the information
varied from source to source. Now we have the web and blogs and
so we end up with more opinions and "facts" being stated, like

"Posted 19 May 2004 - 01:16 PM
Have never bought them from Chinese store (I'll have to try this -  
bitter almonds are supposed to be unavailable in the US unless by  
prescription), but can't see why they wouldn't be the same as other  
bitter almonds, which do indeed contain prussic acid. I can't give you  
exact chapter and verse on the safe percentage, but there are some  
useful guidelines in various historic recipes. I've written about  
several of these in the past few years, and have tested them both in a  
"safe" modern version (using all sweet almonds and adding bitter  
almond extract for the flavoring) and in a "dangerous" authentic one,  
substituting the kernels of apricot or peach pits for the bitter  
almonds. (The latter BTW was quite common practice in the 18th-19th  
centuries and is a legitimate substitution on all counts; apricots and  
peaches, as well as plums and roses, come from the same family as  
almonds , and their pits taste the same and are equally poisonous.)  
The proportions given in most old recipes call for anywhere from 1/10  
to 1/4 bitter almonds; I have used up to 1/4 without any ill effects.  
The discovery of prussic acid's poisonous properties and its presence  
in bitter almonds dates to the early 19th century (in fact, Mrs.  
Beeton solemnly mentions the danger in 1861); yet recipes calling for  
bitter almonds persisted in cookbooks right up until about 1920.  
Anecdotally, you have to figure that if many people died or got sick  
after eating macaroons or ratafias made from those recipes, someone  
would have noticed the fact! So I venture to suggest that you're OK  
with up to 25% bitter almonds. But if it makes you feel safer, cut  
back on the proportion and compensate with extract."

Which led to this recipe

"Posted 20 June 2004 - 04:57 PM
Explorer, on Apr 9 2004, 10:11 AM, said:

I wonder if anyone knows where we can find Italian bitter almond  
extract in Toronto. We tried several obvious places, but no luck.
Is it available anywhere? (maybe even Montreal?)

Last year, friends and I scoured Montreal in search of bitter almond  
extract, to no avail. Don't have official confirmation but I suspect  
the situation in Canada is similar to that in the U.S. In "The Mother  
of  All Ice Cream" chapter of The Man Who Ate Everything, Jeffrey  
Steingarten writes:

Bitter almonds cannot be imported into the United States because they  
contain the chemical amygdalin, which, when moistened, breaks down  
into benzaldehyde (the chief flavor in marzipan and almond extract)  
and prussic acid, which releases a toxin similar to cyanide. ...  
Imitation or artificial almond extracts are sorry substitutes,  
containing synthetic benzaldehyde alone, with none of the numerous  
other aroma coumpounds found in true bitter almond oil.

Steingarten suggests the following workaround, which produces an  
almond cream: Put five peach or apricot pits in a plastic bag and  
crack open with a hammer. Remove the kernels; you should have about 2  
tablespoons' worth. Blanch the kernels in boiling water for 1 minute.  
Slip off the skins. Drain and toast in a preheated 300ºF oven for 10  
or 15 minutes until light brown ("this procedure will eliminate the  
prussic acid while leaving much of the bitter almond taste"). Put in  
the bowl of a food processor with 2/3 cup raw blanched almonds and 1/2  
cup granulated sugar and "grind to fine powder, alternating 30 seconds  
of pulsing with 30 seconds of steady power, for a total of 6 minutes  
or more, scraping the sides and bottom of the bowl halfway through and  
at the end. Then, with the processor running, add 4 tablespoons of hot  
water, a tablespoon at a time, letting the machine run steadily for a  
minute after each addition." I've used the cream to flavour  
blancmanges; Steingarten dissolves it in a cup of hot water, adds 3  
cups of spring water, covers, chills and freezes the mixture into an  
almond granita."

Will have to try inquiring at an Italian pastry shop, though, as per  
PW's suggestion. "


Then from EHOW:

on 1/20/2010 That toxic chemical? It's cyanide. It's not harmless,  
it's not the flavor we enjoy in almond extract, and you should do  
whatever you can to avoid it. It is fatal in even relatively small  

The flavoring compound from bitter almonds is benzaldehyde, this is  
the primary flavoring component in almond extract, and it's a  
byproduct of the cyanide production. It *is* available in peach and  
nectarine pits, but it's only there again as a byproduct of the cyanide.

Commercial almond extracts have the cyanide removed or destroyed, so  
they are perfectly safe. Looking around on the web, it looks like  
there are ways to accomplish this at home, but definitely do your  
homework before you give it a shot... or just stick to the commercial  

on 9/10/2009 If you make almond extract from the sweet almonds that  
you buy in the store (the only kind you can buy and eat in America) it  
will taste nothing like the almond extract that you buy in the store.  
Have you ever noticed that almond extract doesn't taste like almonds?  
That's because almond extract is made from bitter almonds. The  
chemical which makes the flavor we enjoy in almond extract is toxic in  
large quantities which is why we you can't buy those kinds of almonds  
to eat. In small doses (like a teaspoon in a batch of cookies) it's  
perfectly harmless. If you want to make almond extract at home try  
saving your peach or nectarine pits. The nut inside the pit is almost  
identical to a bitter almond and has that same toxic chemical that we  
love so much!

Read more: How to Make Almond Extract | eHow.com http://www.ehow.com/how_5365668_make-almond-extract.html#ixzz0rCLDmfc6

It's interesting to note that a product like "Cook’s Pure Almond  
Extract is listed as containing
Ingredients: alcohol, oil of bitter almond, and water."

I don't know that it's worth making it at home or not.


On Jun 18, 2010, at 3:24 AM, freyja wrote:

> OK.  I may be totally insane, but I thought I read once that you can
> make your own bitter almond extract from the centers of peach pits
> (and other stone fruits?). If any of you know this to be true (or  
> untrue) please let me know.
> I thought I read this in the "Chez Panisse Fruit" book, but I can't
> locate it at the moment...
> Looking forward to the responses that may come from this!
> -Kitta

More information about the Sca-cooks mailing list