If you love nuts, and specifically almonds, you might have been disappointed the first time you tasted something with almond essence. Because chances are, it didn’t taste like almonds at all! But why is this?
The reason why the almonds you eat and commercial almond flavoring taste so different, is because the almonds we eat are domesticated, and are known as sweet almonds. In fact, almonds come in two different kinds – sweet and bitter. Thus, the sweet kind are the ones you buy in grocery stores. They taste deliciously nutty, and are nothing like the original wild or bitter almonds.
Although bitter almonds are not for sale commercially, you do still consume their by-products. How so? Well, almond extract is actually made from the oil of bitter almonds. Bitter almonds have a compound called amygdalin, which can further be broken down into cyanide (a deadly chemical) and benzaldehyde (a bitter, volatile chemical). The almond extract you buy in stores is made from almond oil extracted from bitter almonds, but also from the kernels of peaches and apricots (known as drupes). Benzaldehyde is present in these kernels as well and gives almond extract it’s distinct strong almond flavoring. So, pure almond extract is made by combining water, alcohol, and bitter almond oil. In this day and age artificial almond essence can also be used in the form of synthetic benzaldehyde.
Not all almond extracts taste the same though. When extracts are made from bitter almonds only, the resulting extract is somewhat mild. Extracts made from other drupes have a more intense and bolder flavor.
If you want to make your own almond extract (that tastes a bit more like almonds!), try this recipe: Place raw, skinless almonds in a glass jar and cover completely with alcohol (vodka works great). Place in a cool cupboard, and leave to sit for about 2 months, giving it a shake every now and then. “Naturally” flavored almond extract made in the comfort of your own home!