What’s Bitter Almond?

FR: Amande amere

GER: Mandelbittere

IT: Mandorla

SP: Almendra amarga

BOT: Prunus amygdalus, var. amara, Cuddapah Almond BOT: Buchanania lanzan, Buchanania latifolia FAM: Anacardiaceae bitter almonds have quite another taste with no similarity whatever to sweet almonds. The powerful taste occurs not only in bitter almonds but also in the kernels of plums, peaches, cherries and other related fruits, as well as in peach leaves and cherry-laurel leaves (Prunus laurocerasus) as practical sources. There are also bitter almond essences of varying degrees of crudity, as well as ratafias made from bitter almonds or the fruit kernels we have mentioned. These are known as noyau (with variations in spelling) and are made in many parts of the world. The flavour of bitter almonds is due to substances formed when the nut is mixed with water. Then an enzyme promotes a reaction between the water and a glucoside (a bitter substance related to sugar) which the kernels or leaves contain, and two new substances, neither present in the living plant, are formed. These are benzaldehyde (or oil of bitter almonds) and hydrocyanic acid (prussic acid, present in quantities of two to four per cent). Both taste of bitter almonds, but hydrocyanic acid is a deadly poison. Luckily it is also very volatile and vanishes into the air when heated, but raw sources of bitter almond flavour are likely to be poisonous and should not be taken in quantity.

What’s Bitter Almond? Photo Gallery

A bitter almond flavour is commonly used in sweet dishes and biscuits. In fruits such as plums and cherries, where the taste occurs naturally in the stones, it can be intensified by crushing a few stones to expose the kernels before cooking. Much less usual is the flavour of bitter almonds with meat.

Roast pork or chicken dishes are very interesting with bitter almond, but the perfuming needs to be done with the subtlety of a Chinaman. When achieved it is delicious.

Besides ‘oil of bitter almonds’ there is ‘sweet almond oil’. This is not an essential or flavouring oil, but a fatty oil used particularly in confectionery. It can be expressed from either sweet or bitter almonds; in fact, it is mostly made from bitter almonds. Whatever its source the flavour is mildly nutty, sweet and not bitter. But, of course, if the residue left after pressing bitter almonds is mixed with water, then the bitter almond substances will develop, and oil of bitter almonds can be recovered by steam distillation. This is the basis of good almond essence.

Those interested in the reactions which produce the bitter almond flavour should compare mustard in which a similar reaction occurs. If bitter almonds – like mustard seeds – are roasted before being broken, then the enzyme is destroyed and the bitter almond taste will not develop. Poor samples of sweet almond sometimes contain a few bitter ones amongst them, so this is a useful fact to know. tropical almonds (Country, Java, Malaysia, Malabar almonds etc.). True almonds do not grow in the tropics and in these regions many nuts with some resemblance to almonds are given the name and may also be mentioned under their local names in blogs on Indian, Malaysian and Vietnamese cookery or in the cooking of former colonial countries. Badam is the common name for such almonds in India and further East. The French call them badamier. cuddapah almonds or chironji nuts. References to chironji nuts are often mentioned in blogs on Indian cookery, but one can always substitute sweet almond as the chironji nut itself is regarded as an almond substitute.

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