January 26, 2021 by D.Fathia
Bitter almonds: are they safe to consume?
Almonds are crunchy sweet nuts that do not need any introductions or definitions. They already make an essential part of our diets and daily meals either as healthy snacks on their own or part of other dishes and recipes.
However, what might seem odd is that there exist bitter almonds! I have discovered this interesting fact myself years ago. A few bitter almond trees grew in our family’s lands. Having no record of this species and no knowledge of how it came to be planted, as none intended so, I pursued the matter no further.
Years of looking in awe and doubt at those lofty trees in our orchards pushed me to dig deep and find out more about this unique fruit. So let’s embark together on a journey towards the secrets of this tree.
What are bitter almonds?
Almonds, the seeds of Prunus Dulcis, are generally sweet. However, a second variety exists, Prunus Dulcis Amara, which is the bitter variety.
Like sweet almonds, bitter almond trees are native to Iran and Asian countries, yet cultivated widely in different African and European regions. Like the former variety, they thrive in hot and dry climates.
Amygdalin, the recessive gene in the second variety, produces benzaldehyde and prussic acid which gives them a bitter taste. The latter compound is also known as Hydrocyanic acid, the organic, natural version of the cyanide poison.
The consumption of raw bitter almonds is lethal and might cause instant death, especially for children. It is estimated that eating about 10 drupes can be fatal for the young, whereas it takes more dupes for adults to cause severe damage. The health conditions and sensitivity of each person might intervene in determining how many kernels can cause damage.
Can raw bitter almonds kill you? Yes! Cyanide affects the nervous system and causes breathing problems and eventually death. That is why you mustn't consume raw, unprocessed bitter almonds.
Bitter almonds cannot be detected easily; they look exactly like the normal sweet almonds, oval-shaped, brown colored, and have no smell.
Tests are necessary to judge whether or not your harvest is bitter. Ferriferrocyanide Testis one such used method.
- Fixed oil 40-50 %
- Protein 20 %
- Enzyme emulsin and bitter glycoside amygdalin 1-3 %
- Volatile oil 0.5 %
- 80 % of the oil is benzaldehyde and 2-6 % is hydrocyanic acid.
How to process bitter almonds?
Consuming raw bitter almonds is dangerous to the health. You need to process it first. The processing procedure is quite simple and easy to perform at home. Boiling your bitter dupes and then blanching them is one way to reduce the cyanide amounts. Microwaving also has the same effect since heat causes the poisonous acid to vanish.
What uses of bitter almonds?
These bitter nuts have been considered to have medicinal effects in ancient folk beliefs. These dupes have been used for medicinal purposes for a long time. Some of the most common practices include using bitter almonds to treat coughs, spasms, and itches.
Nevertheless, no scientific evidence is found to assist these claims. Exposure to raw bitter almonds is detrimental to the body, and large quantities might lead to instant death.
It was reported that vitamin B17, abundant in bitter kernels was investigated for potential positive effects on cancer; however, death was the sad reward for people who tried it in search of a cure.
You must not consume unprocessed bitter almonds and pay attention when using them.
One beneficial way to use these dupes is by extracting their oil. This unique oil is usually restricted to the outer usage to avoid unwanted side effects. It has excellent moisturizing properties for the skin. It is also recommended to use it on the hair for a healthier scalp and hence stronger and longer hair.
Bitter almond oil can be used to treat infections, coughs, and digestive issues. However, it is essential to control the dose you take.
Bitter almonds are prohibited in the United States; they cannot be sold commercially. Yet recent regulations by the FDA permitted controlled interstate exchange for professional use. However, they can be found on groceries’ shelves in Europe, Asia, and elsewhere.
Hydrocyanic acid evaporates in the air when heated; therefore either heating them before using them or cooking with them suffices to eliminate their inherent poison.
A few American chefs dared to try the dangerous forbidden fruit.Los Angeles Timesreported about Tim Woods, of Echo restaurant, who cultivated bitter almond trees in his backyard and harvested the crop to use it “to add a pleasing bite to the richness of bread pudding with caramel and stone-fruit cobblers.” He shared his treasure with Sean Lippert to make “her bitter almond granita, and with Judy Rodgers, who uses the nuts to flavor panna cotta and ice cream.”
European chefs learned to make good use of these bitter nuts. A wide range of recipes can be found. Italy has been known for using the bitter almond paste to prepare the famous amaretti cookies and the extract to make amaretto liqueur.
Bitter almonds can be mixed with sweet almonds to make almond pudding. They can be chopped and used in desserts and salads. They also make tasteful Greek soumada syrup.
Bitter almonds are a double-edged weapon or nuts in this case. They need to be treated carefully and consumed under strict control and in small doses. Once well processed to remove the cyanide from them, they can be used in several recipes and for a few medicinal purposes.