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May 13, 2010 11:10 AM

ISO Bitter Almonds (amandes amères)

My supply of bitter almonds is almost gone, and with summer approaching there are many things to be made with them- especially since we have just ordered an ice cream maker!

Does anyone know where they are available? I have asked in Anatol Spices on St. Laurent but they don't carry them.

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  1. Are you inquiring about the actual nuts or the extract?

    Raw bitter almonds contain prussic acid, a cyanide-like toxin. It's illegal to sell them over the counter in the US (exceptions may be allowed for bakeries and medical prescriptions). Have never learned whether Canada has a similar ban but do know that buying non-artificial bitter almond extract here is next to impossible.

    A 2004 query about bitter almond extract on that other board elicited several interesting suggestions including contacting Italian bakeries/pastry shops, which often use bitter almonds and the extract, and looking in Chinese stores, which sometimes carry them. And one poster says that the ingredients in McCormick Pure Almond Extract are listed as "water, alcohol (36%) and oil of bitter almonds."

    In "The Mother of All Ice Cream" chapter of The Man Who Ate Everything, Jeffrey Steingarten recommends avoiding the artificial extracts ("sorry substitutes, containing synthetic benzaldehyde alone, with none of the numerous other aroma coumpounds found in true bitter almond oil") and suggests the follwoing 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.

    3 Replies
    1. re: carswell

      The actual nuts themselves! I have heard of a similar taste using apricot kernal "nutmeats" and I suppose I will try that if all else fails.

      Is it possible to do (accidental) damage with bitter almonds? I know they contain prussic acid when raw, but can't figure out how you could eat enough to harm yourself since the taste is so unpleasant and strong when you eat them on their own.

      1. re: karela

        Folks, please discuss the properties of these nuts on the General Chowhounding board. Thanks.

      2. re: carswell

        Not all apricot pits are bitter. It depends on the variety. Some taste like almonds.

      3. More than a year late, but maybe someone can use the info.... Spotted some Persian Bitter Almonds at Akhavan today, in small bags using the store brand.

        2 Replies
        1. re: TheSnowpea

          Thanks, I always look for good excuses to go to Akhavan!

          1. re: karela

            their marinated bavette's a good reason too!