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Marcona Almonds - Inedible?

I purchased some marcona almonds from Trader Joe's that are salted and have bits of rosemary. I was so excited to try a new almond for a snack. I rushed home and opened them up, popped the first couple in my mouth and proceeded to spit them out and gag. They were the most bitter thing I've ever put in my mouth. I can't even describe the level of bitterness because it is unlike anything I've ever tasted. Revolting.

So, is this usual? What's the deal with marcona almonds? Everything I've read online doesn't mention bitterness once - and this isn't rancidity - that I know. It's just bitter like the bitterest greens you've ever tried. Like broccoli rabe. But more bitter.

OK, you get it - they were bitter. My husband thought the rosemary? But I don't think so, I eat rosemary all the time - in all forms and have never encountered bitter.

Thoughts? I'm afraid to open the other bag to see if it's a fluke.

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  1. Really? These are like crack in our house! I can only buy them when we're having company otherwise we'll eat the whole bag in one sitting.

    They were off the shelves in here in AZ for a bit and just came back a couple weeks ago. I haven't bought any since they've come abck(need to invite some people over! LOL)...hope they haven't changed the recipe!

    Trader Joe's is so good about returns. Open the other bag too to see how they are and if they're both bad take them back for a refund.

    1 Reply
    1. re: ziggylu

      hahaha! They are like crack in my house too, ziggylu!

      Personally, I find TJ's oversalts their marcona almonds. If you have Whole Foods nearby - definitely try theirs. Marcona's are absolutely delicious...

    2. I eat marcona almonds with every meal -- I usually get them at Costco, $6.99/lb. When I get to the bottom of the can they sometimes turn bitter but that should never happen with new ones.

      I'd return the bag to TJ's and try the other bag you have.

      2 Replies
      1. re: Bob W

        At your behest, I ventured forth. Well, first I had my husband venture forth. He tried the already open bag and said they weren't bitter at all to him.

        Hmmm. I know i have a lower tolerance for bitter than he does, but most anyone with tastebuds would've had trouble with what i tasted.

        So, I took two more out of the original bag and first i licked it, then nibbled, and yep, no bitterness. I'm guessing from all of your reports and from my second try, unfortunately the first one's i pulled out of the bag were bad. I've eaten a dozen or so now and they have all been fine.

        Thanks everyone for your help (and encouragement!)

        1. re: krissywats

          Take the first bag back to TJs- or at least tell them this story. They will refund your money.

      2. Agree with other posters. Try them from Whole Foods, they are delicious! And TJ's will take yours back

        2 Replies
        1. re: coney with everything

          Also, in Manhattan, you can get them at DiPalo's for $9.99 a pound - much cheaper than WF - and many other places.

          1. re: coney with everything

            Whole Foods marconas are what got me hooked on this devilish treat. They are like crack dipped in crack. (Not that I would really know what crack tastes like, of course.) But, once they hooked me, they jacked the price up to $14.99/lb. For that I can get two pounds at Costco -- they aren't slathered in oil like WF's but they are still delectable.

            And since I can incorporate them into my Zone-ish diet, so much the better. I used to eat marconas at home and TJ's crunchy blister peanuts at work but the peanuts have been displaced and now it's all marconas all the time.

          2. Maybe it's the rosemary flavor. Plain ones from Costco seem to have less almond flavor and a light crunch, to me at least.

            1. In Minnesota we get them from Lund's. They are never bitter, always wonderful. I like Lund's because they are not overly salted or drenched in oil, like some that I've had.

              1. Something had to be wrong with them. I find them to be almost buttery, crispy and deeply addictive!

                1. They sound like they are rancid. Marcona almonds have such a high oil content that I've found they don't keep as long as other nuts. I've had a bag of TJ's rosemary marcona almonds that I opened and then didn't finish for a few weeks. They had the same bitter/rancid flavor when I tried them after several weeks. I'd take them back and try a new bag. Marcona's are usually delightful.

                  2 Replies
                  1. re: ExercisetoEat

                    Crack?.... Oh yeah. I am totally addicted. I do prefer Whole Foods, but TJ's used to be serviceable. But what happened to them? All but gone suddenly. Anyone have an explanation?

                    btw krissywats, don't buy another package. We don't need competition for this delicacy.

                    1. re: sfkjeld

                      I couldn't find the Rosemary ones at the Newport Coast location the other day. :( I laughed at the person who thought they were too salty - I ADD more Maldon salt and rosemary to the bag & shake it up really good...

                  2. They are definitely bad. There shouldn't be any bitterness. They are much creamier and milder than regular almonds and they turn quickly.

                    1. Marcona almonds are bitter when they are raw. Absolutely terrible. But I buy them raw and dry roast them on the stove top over low-medium heat in a stainless steel frying pan.

                      Is it possible that a batch of raw almonds slipped passed their QC ...?

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: AntarcticWidow

                        That's strange. I eat raw marcona almonds all the time (practically every day!)... they shouldn't be bitter. Here in Spain the raw ones are used all the time in baking and sweets with no accompanying bitterness.

                      2. Never had a bitter experience w/ the plain. I've been hesitant to try the rosemary ones and your experience suggests that I stay w/ the plain ones. Take 'em back... something was wrong, girl! Get you some of the plain ones! :-)

                        P.S. As the other posted suggested they are a bit like crack!

                        2 Replies
                        1. re: lynnlato

                          I eat the one's with rosemary now all the time. However, I figured out it WAS rancidity and it was just one nut in that whole bag.

                          However - I opened a bag a while back of the rosemary and salt variety and forgot about it. About a month later they had the EXACT same bitter flavor as that unfortunate very first one I tried.

                          Seriously - do not be afraid of the rosemary variety. They are fantastic!! I've gotten all my friends now addicted and we go through many bags per week.

                          1. re: krissywats

                            Oh, well thanks for that info. I will try the rosemary ones now then. I was just recently introduced to these little gems and I'm a total addict now too!

                        2. Marcona Almonds are one of my favorite guilty pleasures. and I've never noticed a bitter flavor!

                          1. I've had problems with rancid nuts at TJs, so I will no longer buy them there. The marcona almonds I've bought from WF have been great, but sometimes you have to dig to find a container that's not just dripping in oil.

                            1. I'm sorry to have to be a "thread bumper" but I want to re-open this.
                              I've had a similar experience w/TJ's Marcona Almonds. 2 in the bag were impossibly bitter. However, I have a theory that I'm surprised nobody else has postulated. There is such a thing as a bitter almond that contain much higher levels of benzaldehyde (almond odor) and a glycoside that yields cyanide on hydrolysis. Therefore they are poisonous in large quantities and their sale is illegal in the US but not in Europe. <<sarcasm>>Our state looks out for us - yeah!<</sarcasm>> Cf. the wiki article on almonds for a detailed write-up.

                              I know rancidity very well, I'm quite sensitive to it. Peroxides have a very distinctive taste and I've had freshly opened packs of Planter's peanuts I found inedible. This was definitely NOT a rancid flavor. It also had a strangely ethereal quality which I would expect from the release of gaseous cyanide (a very small amt., not lethal) or more likely, the easily volatilized benzaldehyde. It seems to spread out into my entire mouth from the meat of the nut. Few flavors can do that at room temperature. LIke menthol from a mint.

                              I think what is going on is one of these 3 possibilities:
                              some true bitter almonds are slipping into the Marcona almonds during harvesting
                              a Marcona almond is being pollinated by a nearby bitter almond tree leading to a hybrid seed with bitter characteristics. (quite unlikely, but possible)
                              a Marcona almond is really a bitter almond after all, that has somehow been prepared for consumption by high heat frying to inactive the glycoside that would yield cyanide. A few of them slip past the treatment.

                              Do we have an almond expert in the house? In any case, I've been curious for many years to try a bitter almond. I kept meaning to buy some when I was in Europe but forgot. I'm convinced what I tasted was a bitter almond, so, I'm glad I had the experience. Too bad they are toxic in stomach-filling quantity - I rather liked the taste!

                              4 Replies
                              1. re: Fin De Fichier

                                What you describe sounds exactly like my experience - It did not seem at all like rancidity which is why I posted originally. and it was the FIRST nut I had out of the bag and was concerned if they all tasted that way.

                                I did not care for the flavor, but bitter is not a flavor i enjoy except in very small quantities and typically only accompanied by sweet (like a super dark chocolate).

                                I'll be interested to hear what others have to say. Thanks for posting this!

                                1. re: krissywats

                                  Thanks for clarifying your experience. I forgot to mention that, rancidity, by its very nature, would tend to "spread" to the other nuts unless they were protected by an antioxidant like Vitamin E or TBHQ. I do sometimes experience, for example, a batch of hazelnuts where they are all at varying stages of rancidity, some worse than others. But the rest of the nuts in this case, as you and I both experienced, were just fine.

                                2. re: Fin De Fichier

                                  My understanding is that a sweet almond tree pollinated by a bitter almond tree will not produce a bitter almond. If you plant the sweet almond that was pollinated in this way, it could produce a bitter almond tree that could produce bitter almonds. I think you just got a few bad ones. If they whole bag was bad, then there was obviously a problem in the processing (they certainly process them differently for the US market, where they will sit on the shelves longer).

                                  1. re: Fin De Fichier

                                    This is exactly correct. It has nothing to do with rancidity. There was a previous thread here on exactly this topic wherein it was explained that with Marcona almonds, a few in every hundred or so has much higher levels of that chemical, and is therefore extremely bitter.

                                  2. i bought the rosemary marconas about..... 5 years ago from trader joes, and i found them quite delightful, it sounds like yours might be rancid somehow, maybe air in the bag somehow??? :/ im sorry you had a bad experience. i really enjoyed the marconas from tj.

                                    10 Replies
                                    1. re: tinymango

                                      As we have both made quite clear, it was definitely NOT a rancid flavor at all. Very different.
                                      Also, I must say that rosemary contains a chemical called rosmarinic acid that has powerful antioxidant properties, being several times more effective than the classic phenolic antioxidants (BHA, BHT, TBHQ). It is also slightly more toxic, but that's really not a concern for the small amounts of either type of chemical added to preserve oils. I advise anyone to avoid eating an entire rosemary bush though. Your liver would not be happy with that.
                                      So it would be highly unlikely for TJ's Marconas with rosemary to develop a rancid flavor unless the product had been extremely mishandled, for example, left on the side of an Arizona highway all summer.

                                      1. re: Fin De Fichier

                                        Do you still have the package? Maybe you could get it tested/investigated.

                                        1. re: Fin De Fichier

                                          um, im sorry but it still sounds to me like it was time/temperature abused. lord, do you really need to be so snippy? even if it wasnt completely "rancid", it still sounds like the product has gone off in some way.

                                          not sure why you felt it was necessary to include that bit about rosemary in the middle?

                                          1. re: Fin De Fichier


                                            I investigated this further myself. At first I found a possibly helpful citation in a publication that charged $15 for a copy of the article. I emailed a friend getting a PhD at Harvard to see if she could get me a copy of the article (all research universities can get online versions of any academic research articles, often from more than 20 years past)

                                            Luckily I found a free online article that had exactly what I was looking for. I'll just simplify it by saying that, Marcona almonds, even fertilizing themselves, are capable of producing the odd bitter kernel. Because they are heterozygous for the recessive gene that causes bitterness. Interestingly the article slightly contradicts itself, implying but not stating that another gene may control the degree of bitterness expression.

                                            This is the key statement:
                                            occasionally the presence of the recessive allele may produce a certain
                                            degree of bitterness.

                                            CASE CLOSED!

                                            F.J. Vargas, M.A. Romero and I. Batlle
                                            Departament d‘Arboricultura Mediterrània, Institut de Recerca i Tecnologia Agroalimentàries (IRTA),
                                            Centre de Mas Bové, Apartat 415, 43280 Reus (Tarragona), Spain, e-mail: Francisco.Vargas@irta.es

                                            Bitterness in almond is controlled by a single recessive gene with two alleles: S (sweet) dominant over
                                            s (bitter) and was first identified by Heppner (1923, 1926). This monogenic relationship has been
                                            confirmed by almond breeders and the genotype of some cultivars has been known. Most Californian and
                                            some Mediterranean almond cultivars are heterozygous for bitter (Ss) and a number of homozygous
                                            sweet (SS) have been also identified through crossing (Kester and Asay, 1975; Kester et al., 1977;
                                            Spiegel-Roy and Kochba, 1977, 1981; Grasselly and Crossa-Raynaud, 1980; El Gharbi, 1981; Vargas
                                            et al., 1984; Vargas and Romero, 1988; Dicenta and García, 1992; Kester and Gradziel, 1996). Among
                                            the heterozygous cultivars (Ss), it is possible to find sweet (‘Atocha‘, ‘Marcona‘) or slightly bitter
                                            (‘Garrigues‘) kernels. Dicenta and García (1992) suggest that slightly bitter forms must correspond to
                                            heterozygous trees (Ss) and occasionally the presence of the recessive allele may produce a certain
                                            degree of bitterness.

                                            1. re: Fin De Fichier

                                              One more supporting citation:
                                              Fruit breeding by Jules Janick and James N. Moore
                                              "Since several biochemical steps are involved in the reaction, the inheritance pattern may be more complex than described. [exactly as I hinted above...I had not read this citation at the point I made the first post] Crane and Lawrence (1947) reported that when the almond cultivar 'Marie Depuy' was pollinated by pollen from a bitter almond, the seeds were decidedly bitter, suggesting a xenia effect...Inheritance of bitterness in peachXalmond hybrid populations is more complex and shows quantitative variation."

                                              PeachXalmond hybrids are more common in the Med. as rootstocks than in California, because they are more drought and disease resistant. Peach pits are bitter too. Those plants being around to serve as rootstock sources could explain why Mediterranean almonds are more prone to this random bitterness phenomena than Calif. almonds. The writers go on to state that:
                                              "Variation in amygdalin content may account for flavor differences and the distinct flavor characteristics claimed for Mediterranean produced almonds"

                                              1. re: Fin De Fichier

                                                Wow! You really DO research!

                                                I'm so glad you found this and I can put my mind at ease that I'm not nuts (pun intended) and that I do know the difference between rancid and the bitterness I experienced with the marconas.

                                                I have experienced this since that first time with the marcona almonds and I noticed the ones that were bitter were darker in color. so now I simply avoid the darker ones. I'm also extremely sensitive to bitter, as I said (super taster, and all) so if it's possible for some of the nuts to pick up some of this trait rather than being fully bitter, I would surely notice that as well.

                                                Thanks again for all your hard work!

                                                1. re: krissywats

                                                  i just opened a bag of marcona almonds yesterday, from trader joe's, and found the same incredible bitterness! unfortunately i was not in a place to spit them out. i was hoping it was a fluke but several handfuls later... the same experience.

                                                  i see the above genetic research about bitter versus sweet. is this bitterness still linked with cyanide? are these occasional super-bitter almonds likely to contain the higher levels of cyanide found naturally in bitter almonds (even after supposedly being roasted)?

                                                2. re: Fin De Fichier

                                                  thanks for this posting. i found the same experience with tj's rosemary marcona almonds.

                                                  any more info on the link between this bitterness and the presence of cyanide? are the bitter almonds that sneak through in trader joe's rosemary roasted marcona almonds likely to contain high levels of cyanide? is amygdalin accounting for the bitterness, and is amygdalin associated with cyanide?

                                                  still tasting the bitterness i experienced in two handfuls of almonds last night.

                                                  1. re: samherndon

                                                    This is an old thread - but I wanted to thank the posters above for the informative research. I recently had the exact same experience with TJ's marcona almonds with rosemary. I got a couple of incredibly horribly bitter ones in the bag, definitely not rancid, and not the rosemary. But I have never experienced this with the Marconas from Costco or even a different type from Trader Joes' (in oil, might not be available any more). I think I'll stick to the ones from Costco from now on!

                                                    1. re: 2m8ohed

                                                      Since I was the resident troublemaker on this thread, I'll response to the latest posters.

                                                      I think there are 2 main possibilities: 1) The xenia effect, which the research paper I posted above said can occur in almonds and cause a sweet phenotype to revert to the bitter phenotype because of its recessive alleles. 2) Simple cross contamination of almonds being collected from bitter almond trees for the production of "natural" almond/amaretto flavor. I don't think the almonds are flavored post harvest (polyphonic's #3) because the label would have to disclose that and adversely affect the product's marketability. (who'd buy almonds with added "almond flavor" listed as an ingredient?) Nor do I think almonds are somehow leached of their benzaldehyde and sold later as marconas, because after such a process they would taste terrible, all the nonpolar oils would be removed. I think they would have the mouthfeel of compressed cardboard. And they are probably macerated to get all of the valuable non-petroleum based benzaldehyde extracted. (I think this might be Polyphonic's #2, but I'm not sure) And besides there's a problem with either of these processing theories: how would one almond in 200 magically escape the process? Has anybody found a non-sugar shell coated M&M, ever, in a pack of M&Ms?
                                                      Some thoughts about each plausible theory:
                                                      The xenia effect assumes that Marcona almonds orchards are either next to bitter almond orchards, or that the orchardists maintain a few bitter peach X almond hybrids around to serve as seed or whip source of rootstocks. Well, EDS said you can't wrangle cats but you definitely can't wrangle bees! There's going to be cross contamination in either scenario if the cultivars bloom at the same time and are close enough together. I suppose you could cover a couple trees with a big net, on pollination day, if you had to isolate them. Importantly, the xenia effect, since it might only involve one gene not activating correctly, probably leaves a nut that looks exactly like other marconas.
                                                      The cross contamination assumes that the facilities for producing bitter & marconas harvest and process at the same time, and whatever machine collects the fallen nuts accidentally picks up a few bitter almonds on the border between orchards. (NB they actually look like a dried up green peach at this point, so they are all identical) There are a couple problems with this theory: mostly importantly we'd assume these nuts look slightly different from Marconas. Nobody including myself has noticed the appearance of the bitter nuts to be any different from the marconas. I can't be 100% sure, but I'd expect an actual bitter peach/almond hybrid, or even a known bitter almond cultivar, to be noticeably small and rounded compared to the rather flat marconas. Second, since it's an obviously controllable factor unlike the pollination, you can assume they'd put the orchards far enough apart to ensure it doesn't happen. The almond doesn't fall very far from the tree...haha. But I wouldn't completely rule cross contamination out. It's still got something going for it.

                                                      So the elephant in the room is still: how does this not affect other brands? Maybe the majority of sweet almond orchards are far from bitter almond orchards, but the one used by TJ's happen to be close together. I really doubt there's an easy way to separate and/or process the almonds to remove the bitter ones, if they have same shape. But maybe there's some odd subtlety to the processing that other brands have discovered, like only exporting marconas from the center of the orchard to North America, because they know of the possible outcome of xenia pollination and the trees far from the bitter almonds have almost no chance of being cross pollinated. Would be interesting to hear from a European on whether marcona almonds there sometimes demonstrate the characteristic of odd, random ethereal bitterness. I was in Europe last summer and purchased a very expensive bag of premium marconas at El Corte Ingles in Bilbao. Not a single one was bitter. Nor did I see bitter almonds for sale there.

                                                      BTW - I don't think cooked versus raw is a factor. Again, there's the "how would one escape" issue. I've never found a raw anything in a package of cooked anything. All the nuts we've experienced with this issue were roasted, and one can purchase raw marconas that seem entirely free from the phenomena. This article says you'd have to cook *macerated* almonds to remove most of the amydalin, and even then not completely: http://www.cookuk.co.uk/techniques/Co... Based on the extremely powerful flavor of the TJ's rogue almonds, I have no personal doubt that eating a large quantity of them, say more than 1 cup, would be dangerous. There's a lot of the glycoside in there, clearly. It was like having CRC throttle body cleaner sprayed in one's mouth.

                                                      So, hopefully I've made this less of a mystery, while certain aspects of it definitely do remain a mystery!

                                          2. It has nothing to do with the rosemary, I can tell you that much, because I have had this experience with Trader Joe's raw almonds, and not just in a single bag, but on multiple occasions. This has led me to believe that there is an underlying problem in the source of almonds that Trader Joe's uses, and I think this is cause for serious concern. From everything I have read, it appears very likely that this is linked with cyanide content. The reason I suspect this is that in most cases when I have run across one of these almonds, it is not just a bitter flavor but it is also accompanied by strong amaretto overtones.

                                            I have always wondered why on earth someone would associate the flavor of amaretto with an almond, because the almonds I have eaten have nothing to do with this flavor. The point here is that since I am not a fan of amaretto flavor, I know when I've tasted it. And I definitely tasted it here. Why is that significant? Because this flavor comes from benzaldehyde, the "bitter" in bitter almonds, and it is bitter almonds that contain this substance, which is non-toxic, but they also contain enough cyanide that one handful of these almonds can kill you.

                                            My guesses are that this is happening for one of the following reasons:
                                            1) There is cross-contamination in the processing facilities, and these are actually bitter almonds that are being eaten, rather than sweet almonds.
                                            2) There is cross-contamination, in that the leeching process used for processing bitter almonds is resulting in a high concentration of bitter almond extract, which is finding its way into the occasional rogue almond in high concentration.
                                            3) There is some of this benzaldehyde or bitter almond extract being used in small doses to flavor the almonds (make them more "almond-flavored?") and occasionally the additive is getting spilled.
                                            4) Perhaps the sweet almond trees themselves are actually cross-pollenating with the bitter almond trees?

                                            It seems to me that 1 and 2 are the most likely causes, and in either case this is potentially quite dangerous. So I strongly encourage everyone to speak up and report these incidents back to your retailer or distributor. We need to get to the bottom of this.


                                            After posting the above, I noticed that I had missed the research on the gene theory. I wonder if TJ's raw almonds are also the same Marcona variety...

                                            1. Just to add some evidence to the above. I just finished a 130 gram jar of marcona almonds (a relatively small jar). There were exactly three extremely bitter almonds. The rest of the almonds were sweet and delicious. None of the almonds were rancid, and there was no rosemary. The bitter almonds were not noticeably darker or differently shaped than the others (but I must admit I didn't closely inspect each almond I ate). I'm partial to the recessive allele theory, and will take the contamination by bitter almonds theory as a runner up.

                                              1 Reply
                                              1. re: brancron

                                                Here's a simple recipe for a great marcona almond party snack... But first the backdrop:

                                                Before a little party I was having, decided to pop into Eli's in Manhattan (known for being VERY pricey) to get a few special treats. Saw a quart or so plastic tub of something called Marcona Almonds in olive oil, sea salt and fresh thyme. I'd HEARD of Marcona Almonds...never had them...but this snack looked nice so I decided to add it to my cart. No price to be seen though. Hmmm... Well I just ask at the register.

                                                Got home with my bags and checked the receipt. Realized I'd forgotten to ask about those almonds. WHAAAA???!! $32! That is insane. I am definitely returning these.

                                                But then considering I don't live near the store...would have to make a special trip there...would have to hold onto to them for a week or so before I could get to the store...I thought 'screw it'! I was curious to see what this creation tasted like so...I opened them up and OMG! So creamy! I put them out in a bowl at my party with a sign that read "$32 almonds. Please eat each one lovingly.' ;-) Needless to say everyone loved them.

                                                So anyway, I am guessing that all you need to do is buy yourself some marcona almonds, quickly saute them in olive oil, allow to cool, add sea salt and fresh thyme and voila!!

                                              2. Something so addictive and expensive I'm afraid to try.

                                                1. "So the elephant in the room is still: how does this not affect other brands?"

                                                  It does. This is not in any way TJ's specific.

                                                  Being a big almond fan I've eaten large quantities for decades now and regularly came across the occasional horribly bitter amaretto like specimen long before I'd ever walked into a Trader Joe's.

                                                  Eat enough raw almonds and you're virtually guaranteed to have the same experience no matter where you're getting them from.

                                                  2 Replies
                                                  1. re: NuMystic

                                                    "So the elephant in the room is still: how does this not affect other brands?"

                                                    It does. This is not in any way TJ's specific.
                                                    I'm glad you pointed this out. My mom loves the marconas from Costco, and I tried them when I was visiting her. I only took a small handful, and several of them were so bitter I spit them out and abandoned the rest. I've had them from other sources in the past and never come across a bitter one, but those were horrendous.

                                                    1. re: goodhealthgourmet

                                                      Neglected to mention that not only is it something occuring outside of TJ's almonds, but also outside of the marcona variety altogether.

                                                      I was coming across the occasional bitter almond years before I'd ever even heard of Marconas.

                                                      Can't speak to whether it is more common in some varieties than others though.

                                                  2. This is an old conversation but it is beginning to clear up the answer to my question about bitter almonds. Although I can't be positive, I think you have come across the reason it is illegal to sell bitter almonds in the US. It is not because of toxicity, which can be altered with heat, but because of contamination by cross-pollination of our huge almond industry. I would bet that those bitter almonds were not from the US and some bitter almonds accidentally got into the sweet almonds of the supplier.

                                                    3 Replies
                                                    1. re: ruby2shoes

                                                      " I think you have come across the reason it is illegal to sell bitter almonds in the US. It is not because of toxicity, which can be altered with heat"

                                                      Yes, they could be so altered; but if you ate a reasonably large amount of them raw or improperly processed, you could definitely die of cyanide poisoning. Our government doesn't trust us to understand this. So that is why they are illegal. No doubt about it. Heck the US banned saffrole for the much less immediate and certain risk of causing liver cancer. I can think of other areas where US food policy has been much more risk averse than Europe's - for example the banning of raw milk cheese.
                                                      One more thing to correct: someone posted that marcona almonds are bitter and undergo a heat treatment. This is simply incorrect. The marcona is a sweet variety, and the characteristic large, flat shape is not shared by typical bitter varieties. However unlike most California almonds (SS) however, it is a heterozygous sweet variety (Ss). Therefore the possibility exists under rare cases to produce a (ss) nut. These would be bitter.
                                                      I didn't even eat them that much, but Marcona almonds I've bought elsewhere like Wholefoods have not had the problem. My guess is TJ's just happened to buy from an orchard that was near some bitter-pit Prunus of some kind, and their pollen produced the xenia effect once in a while. And for the record the last time I bought them at TJ's, I didn't get any bitter ones. I was rather disappointed! They are definitely a thrilling alimentary experience. You can imagine if they were legal, our nation's bone-headed teenagers would be having "bitter almond eating contests" - kind of a cross between the cinnamon challenge and playing chicken with freight trains.

                                                      1. re: Fin De Fichier

                                                        You're right, I just did a project on bitter almonds and the risk of liver disease from cyanide toxicity. In the US, they are illegal to sell but not illegal to own or use. You can buy them on Amazon. Just as a note and an interesting fact - bitter almonds also referred to as vitamin B17 have been proposed as a treatment for cancer. In the 1970s and 1980s there was a rise in popularity of the use of bitter almonds as an alternative chemotherapy. Laetrile is a synthetic compound similar to amygdalin the primary compound in bitter almonds which is converted into cyanide within the body. It was never shown to be effective but many people are still able to access bitter almonds and use them for therapy.

                                                        1. re: fldhkybnva

                                                          Ehhhhh...just seeing this now. Minor correction, cyanide causes whole body death, not liver toxicity! Actually if you eat a purified cyanide salt, or too many bitter Prunus seeds or pits, the net effect is always the same...production of HCN gas in your stomach, which you either inhale via your lungs or diffuses into your bloodstream. The first thing it starts inactivating is your RBCs. That is why injected cobalamins are part of the treatment. Thus the overall effect on your body is similar to asphyxiation.

                                                          One supposes that chronic low levels of amgydalin could have a toxic effect on the liver, but I really think they were more concerned with 1) people just plain killing themselves or 2) using it as a so-called quack cancer treatment. The thing is I'm pretty sure Benzaldehyde is detoxified by the same route as Benzoic Acid, and that's one of the less toxic aromatics; in fact, large amounts of it are given to people with certain rare diseases. Even normal persons generate about 0.5 g/L per day as hippuric acid in urine. So it's odd they would worry about the liver toxicity of cyanogenic glycosides. In other words, by the time you ate enough bitter almonds to worry about them bothering your liver, they would have killed you without it. ;-)

                                                    2. i'd return the remaining marconas to Trader Joe's and go to Costco because
                                                      1) the flavor that you object to may be one that TJ's added and may not be the flavor of the nuts. Costco nuts not likely to have added flavoring ingredients.
                                                      2) generally speaking, i've found the costco nuts to be much higher quality and MUCH fresher than those sold at TJ's
                                                      3) if you end up not liking the costco nuts they will let you return them just as TJ's will

                                                      2 Replies
                                                      1. re: westsidegal

                                                        IMO Costco nuts are dry and mostly tasteless. Much prefer TJ's and when I feel flush, Whole Foods.

                                                        Actually, I'd like to know what happened to the TJ's marconas that were not skinned. They were in the same bags but appeared dark brown as the skin was still on the nut. Went away a few months ago. Loved them.

                                                        1. re: westsidegal

                                                          " the flavor that you object to may be one that TJ's added "
                                                          Trust me, no one - Costco or TJ's - would deliberately add a flavor to their almonds that is likely having nail polish remover forceably sprayed in your mouth. When you actually experience one of these, you will realize your assumption is rather naive.

                                                        2. take 'em back to TJ's and say "here, taste these please"

                                                          1. Wow, this is an interesting thread. I was planning to buy the TJs Marcona almonds with Rosemary tomorrow afternoon, has anyone had them recently? Same hit or miss bitterness issue?

                                                            6 Replies
                                                            1. re: fldhkybnva

                                                              @fldhkybnva - Been eating them for the last 3 weeks. They're stellar and haven't come across a bitter one yet. Don't hesitate to buy and enjoy them.

                                                              Especially since TJ's will happily take back anything you're not happy with for any reason.

                                                              1. re: NuMystic

                                                                Oh yea, I often feel bad for returning food but with TJs I take full advantage. Tomorrow, I have 2 items to return neither of which I still have and they just told me to walk on in and let them know. I think I was secretly hoping they were bad so I wouldn't buy them. I think a nice almond dish would be a good way to use them to feel as if I'm not just eating them straight out of the bag which will inevitably happen.

                                                                1. re: fldhkybnva

                                                                  Inevitable is right. :)

                                                                  Interestingly though, between being richer than regular almonds and the added oil they've been lightly fried in, I find I'm satisfied with far less than the common nonpareil variety.

                                                                  1. re: NuMystic

                                                                    I'm lost and gone forever. I figured I wouldn't find them too addicting given that almond aren't a particular favorite nut, but these are so much better than almonds! Perhaps this should be my last bag :)

                                                              2. re: fldhkybnva

                                                                I've never had any issue with the rosemary marconas over the past few years.
                                                                Beware of the neighboring coconut cashews. Just. Walk. Away. So freaking good half the bag was gone by sundown....

                                                                1. re: Ttrockwood

                                                                  I've been warned! I'm not looking at those cashews. I like almonds but I can inhale cashews without looking.

                                                              3. There seems to be no shortage of replies in this vein, but I felt compelled to weigh in as well. Everyone in our house thinks these almonds are amazing. This almost has to be a fluke,

                                                                1 Reply
                                                                1. Seriously there is something wrong...these are the best almonds i have ever eaten...i buy at least 1 to 2 bags a week from TJ and can't atop eating them...they are wonderful! and the salted rosemary...yummmmmmmmm

                                                                  3 Replies
                                                                  1. re: kcochenour

                                                                    I hide them in the fridge to control myself.

                                                                    1. re: fldhkybnva

                                                                      I hide them in my stomach to control myself.

                                                                      Only way to keep from eating more is for there to be no more to eat. *nods*

                                                                      1. re: NuMystic

                                                                        Well, now I guess I am too! A handful emerged from the fridge.

                                                                  2. Im gonna buy them at Costco and make my own with rosemary! and salt

                                                                    1. What about the flavor macron almonds from whole foods? I saw that they have BBQ, curry, garlic etc. flavors and look delicious! How are those compare with the one from TJ?
                                                                      I have been buying the unsalted sprouted almonds, pecan and walnuts from whole foods since I read somewhere that sprouted nuts are more beneficial to our body. They are pretty tasty.

                                                                      1. I just bought Marcona almonds from Costco and while they were salted they tasted like a cross btwn a salted peanut and a traditional roasted almond. My family loved them.

                                                                        1. In contrast to almost everyone here, I've never gotten a bag from TJs that wasn't bitter. I bought four in the past few months and took them all back (I live in suburban DC, so it's not like they sit on the shelf--does anything sit on the shelf at TJs?) and they definitely weren't raw.
                                                                          I tried the ones from Costco long time back and wondered what the heck the fuss was, dull tasting, dry... but my son brought me some from his restaurant and yes, they are my crack now too. I buy them raw, do them up with a little Greek olive oil with a little walnut oil, sauteed, pink salt and...Yum!! Wegman's has nice ones too in the cheese dept. yeah, lectins (I think?) are what's bad in nuts. Almonds are esp hard on sex hormones, like soy is. but that's for another thread..

                                                                          3 Replies
                                                                          1. re: rmh123

                                                                            No idea where you got the idea that Almonds have a negative impact on sex hormones "like soy". Soy is linked to elevated estrogen levels which poses a health risk.

                                                                            Almonds on the other hand have a documented positive effect on sex hormones and are a known libido booster for both men and women:

                                                                            1. re: NuMystic

                                                                              My brother has an aggressive form of prostate cancer. He drank almond milk all the time (not that carrageenan is all that great either). His oncologist told him to stop ALL almond products. Can't find the link. In a "normal healthy" person the omnivorous diet is great. That's what we're all about here, right? But I was unaware of that particular issue till it came up in that context. (Cancer very common in my family--already lost a younger brother to glioblastoma so I'm hyper aware of health+food.) Didn't mean to hijack the thread. Apologies all.

                                                                              1. re: rmh123

                                                                                So very sorry to hear about your brother!

                                                                                Would have been great if you did have a link because the only clinical studies I can find specifically cite almonds and almond milk as being strongly recommended specifically for those with prostate cancer:

                                                                                "According to a study published in a 2011 issue of “Cancer and Nutrition,” cow's milk stimulated the growth of prostate cancer cells, while almond milk suppressed prostate cancer cell growth. The same study found that soy milk increased growth rates of breast cancer cells, but almond milk did not affect breast cancer cell growth."

                                                                                Googling almonds and prostate cancer turns up literally hundreds of such results.

                                                                          2. Glad I found this thread. Have been eating almonds my whole life (rarely rancid ones, but I know what rancidity tastes like), and had my first bitter almond last night. This didn't taste like rancidity but something entirely different. It was so bad it turned me off to the whole container...marcona almonds from Costco. I have had them before with the high oil content from other sources but this is my first "Kirkland" branded container from Costco, and the first time I've had them "dry" without sitting in some kind of oil.

                                                                            As a side note, I am able to smell cyanide. I work in the medical field and years ago once attended an autopsy where the person had died of ingesting cyanide. I was the only one in the room who could smell it, and to me cyanide smelled revolting. Now that I have finally tasted a bitter almond, I think there was a definite similarity but it's hard to compare a taste to an old memory of a smell.

                                                                            Either way I understand why people would be reluctant to finish their almonds. Even though it was only one almond, I'm thinking I will throw my container away (already half empty...the rest of the almonds were fine, though not as tasty as other marcona brands I've had) and not buy these marconas from Costco again. It was truly awful.

                                                                            5 Replies
                                                                            1. re: cariqunyil

                                                                              Interesting. The trusty old Grant and Hackh's Chemical Dictionary does say that HCN (cyanide) smells of almonds. But of course, the other chemical that splits from amygdalin, benzaldehyde, is _by definition_ the smell of almonds, even when no HCN is around at all! Benzaldehyde (C6H5CHO) doesn't even have a nitrogen atom in it. ( btw I've worked with the pure chemical in the lab - it's a common college-level organic lab. testing material. I've also seen a bottle of KCN in a lab storeroom, but we dared not even touch it, much less open it!)
                                                                              Maybe there was some kind of coevolution of sensory flavor, such that the poison came to activate the same nerves as the "warning" odorant? The funny thing is I find the smell of benzaldehyde delightful...basically, any almond flavoring, natural or synthetic, is just C6H5CHO and a few other minor chems. in a solution of alcohol. But I agree with you, there is something curiously nauseating about hitting a bitter almond. Is it simply because it's a overdose of C6H5CHO, or is because our sensory system somehow knows that HCN is present and we should stop eating whatever that is, immediately? A fascinating experiment might be to somehow artificially "construct" a "fake" bitter almond, by filling a sweet almond with a tiny burst of pure benzaldehyde. (but obviously no HCN!) Would that also cause a sense of revulsion?
                                                                              Sorry...former wannabe-scientist here!

                                                                              1. re: Fin De Fichier

                                                                                What I found fascinating when I hit my first horribly bitter almond decades ago was that it was also the very first time I'd ever tasted in a natural almond something akin to the almond *flavored* things like Almond Croissants and Amaretto.

                                                                                While these are of course more pleasant than hitting a bitter almond I still don't find that such things flavored with almond extract taste or smell anything like regular natural almonds do.

                                                                                1. re: NuMystic

                                                                                  Yes, indeed.
                                                                                  You wonder why more people don't question why almonds don't taste like almond flavoring.

                                                                                  1. re: Fin De Fichier

                                                                                    Well I know there are quite a few flavorings that are quite different than the taste of the whole food, what I'm fascinated/befuddled by is that the flavoring DOES taste similar to these rare bitter almonds… but without the intense bitterness.

                                                                                    1. re: Fin De Fichier

                                                                                      Too lazy to go to wikipedia, but I think that once upon a time there were just bitter almonds. People knew not to eat too many of them. The sweet form was a mutation that produced neither cyanide nor benzaldehyde. So in antiquity, the flavor and the nut were very connected. That's why the flavoring tastes similar to the bitter almonds. They were the original almonds.

                                                                                      If they called it "bitter almond oil" in your average grocery store, nobody would buy it, but I think flavor wholesalers still call it that.
                                                                                      One thing many people don't understand is that "natural" flavors don't necessarily come from what they are named after. For example, benzaldehyde is found in the roots of certain Prunus species, so I would not be surprised at all if some "natural almond flavoring" actually comes from steamed tree roots. Natural only means it isn't derived from petroleum feedstocks. A VIP in the US flavoring industry has confirmed this for me, without providing specific examples.

                                                                              2. Marconi almonds are mellow and delicious. Never had any bitter ones, ever.

                                                                                1. Exciting update to this thread.
                                                                                  A couple weeks ago I had added a bit of Seitenbacher Musli #22 to my regular cereal. This contains almonds among other ingredients. Because the milk in my mouth somewhat delayed the ethereal, burning sensation of amygdalin hydrolyzing to benzaldehyde to a few seconds after biting into the almond, and because I was so totally unprepared for this alimentary development, there was a brief moment of abject terror. "Good God, my Wegman's Organic Toasted Oats are possessed by Satan. What should be my next move?" But a couple seconds later I realized, "oh, that was just a bitter almond! Ffeeeww!" Sure enough, now that I was prepared for them, it came as no surprise a couple days later when I hit another one. So there were 2 out of maybe 25 total almonds in there. I just finished off the last of it (I used it sparingly since the 16 oz bag was over $6 - also bought at VVegmanz) and didn't hit anymore.
                                                                                  BTW - these were just listed as plain almonds, not Marconas. However they were smaller and flatter than typical California almonds. Maybe they were another variety with Ss bitterness alleles instead of the homozygous SS California ones, which cannot produce bitterness under any circumstances.