Almond and bitter almond
Other Names: Bitter almond: Almendra amara (Spanish); amande amère (French); amêndoa amarga (Portuguese); bittermandel (German); ku wei bian tao (Chinese); lawz murr (Arabic); mandorla amara (Italian); pikromygdalo (Greek).
General Description: Bitter almonds are the seeds of the small, light green almond fruits of the bitter almond tree (Amgydalus communis amara), with an enticing, bittersweet aroma. Almond fruits are leathery and can only be eaten when immature, in early spring. Bitter almonds contain hydrocyanic acid, making them poisonous. In the United States, it’s illegal to sell bitter almonds; they are sold in Europe, where they’re added in small quantities to marzipan, amaretti biscuits, and amaretto liqueur.
Almonds, the nuts of the almond tree (Amygdalus communis), have long been cultivated in the Mediterranean; further north, the trees do not thrive. Due to centuries of cultivation and breeding, sweet almonds are very low in the amygdalin found in bitter almond fruits. However, even sweet almond trees sometimes yield bitter almonds (up to 1 percent), and some sweet almond cultivars contain traces of bitter almond aroma.
Marzipan, a well-kneaded mixture of finely ground almonds and sugar often molded into various shapes, has a long history in Europe and the Arab world. Almond paste is similar to marzipan but is less sweet and coarser in texture; it’s used for baking. Bitter almonds and almond extract are used mostly for sweets and, because they are so concentrated, always in small quantities. Delicate and expensive, almond oil is extracted from bitter or sweet almonds and used in baking.
Purchase and Avoid: “Pure almond extract” derives from bitter almonds, “natural extract” usually contains benzaldehyde produced from cassia bark, and “imitation extract” contains synthetic benzaldehyde.
Note: The poisonous hydrocyanic acid contained in bitter almonds breaks down when heated, so the poison is unlikely to accumulate when used in any cooked dish. It is unwise to eat raw bitter almonds. Serious almond poisoning is rare in adults, but children may die after eating just a few bitter almonds.
Serving Suggestions: Add pure almond extract to almond custard sauce or ice cream to intensify its flavor. Use pure almond extract to flavor pound cake, angel food cake, sponge cake, or cookies. Add a few drops of pure almond extract to fruit salad.
Food Affinities: Apricot, cherry, cream, honey, lemon, nectarine, orange, peach, plum, sugar, vanilla.
from Quirk Books: www.quirkbooks.com