Bitter almonds contain traces of hydrocyanic acid, which can be lethal to animals and humans. 7 to 10 unprocessed bitter almonds can be lethal to a human, according to “Encyclopedia Brittanica.”

The sale of raw bitter almonds is prohibited in some countries but it's quite often to find bitter almonds mixed with sweet ones.

My question is: How does food industry to detect the bitter ones?

If you just eat some almonds at home you are unlikely to swallow big quantities of poison because you would spit out the bitter ones.
But when the almonds are processed to make some raw preparation everything gets mixed and the presence of minimum quantities of bitter almonds would be perceptible, unpleasant and even dangerous. I guess they don't throw everything to the bin.

The toxicity of the poison is destroyed by heat and processing, usually by boiling or baking them. Thus my concern is about raw preparations. How are bitter almonds detected? (*) Or how is prussic acid removed without affecting the food?

How is their flavour used at Disaronno or Amaretto leaving out the poison?. I have friends that drunk a whole bottle in one night and are still alive.

(*) of course without performing a chemical analysis to each almond nor using spectrography nor having somebody tasting every almond.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Amaretto PD: Some spirits use apricot kernel instead, but the problem is the same.

  • 2
    My understanding is that Disaronno is made from apricot pits (stones), not from almonds at all.
    – dbmag9
    Jan 8, 2017 at 13:12
  • But don't apricot pits (kernels) contain that same chemical?
    – Lorel C.
    Jan 8, 2017 at 15:10
  • en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Amaretto
    – skan
    Jan 8, 2017 at 16:54

2 Answers 2


I only have an answer for your first question: How does the food industry detect the bitter almonds? They don't need to.

According to Wikipedia, bitter almonds come from bitter almond trees, and "sweet" almonds from that variety, so if you plant only "sweet" almond trees in your orchard, you don't need to sort through your almonds rejecting the bitter ones.

This is from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Almond#Sweet_and_bitter_almonds and matches my experience of seeing certain almond trees that remain loaded with almonds even as the squirrels are stripping all the other trees in the area. No wonder! Those almonds taste terrible; even the squirrels won't eat them.

  • 1
    For the second question, bitter almonds are used to produce an essential oil that is used, among other things, in the production of perfume (and also in food production as a flavour (aroma ?)). To remove the cyanide the oil is treated with calcium hydroxide and iron sulfate - this forms a salt (I do not actually understand the chemistry behind this), and the oil is then distilled to remove the cyanide salt.
    – user27055
    Jan 8, 2017 at 15:34
  • 1
    I use to buy "sweet almonds" at the supermarket and the bags always contain some bitter ones. I don't think they mix them deliberately. I guess the "sweet" trees always contain a small proportion of bitter almonds.
    – skan
    Jan 8, 2017 at 16:52
  • 8
    There may need to be a distinction made between "almonds that are bitter" and "bitter almonds" Jan 8, 2017 at 17:03
  • 1
    @skan: hmm, not what I have found at the supermarket here (Calif, US), or the almond trees here. By "bitter almonds", they don't mean the occasional spoiled or yucky rancid one. Rather these are so bitter, that you just spit it out almost involuntarily, and the literal "sting" of bitterness lingers on your tongue until you wash it out.
    – Lorel C.
    Jan 8, 2017 at 17:06
  • 1
    @skan, the salt in a solid that separates during distillation. I'm pretty sure that the same process is (or at least was at some point) used in producing liquor, since in German it's actually called "Bittermandel-Likör" ( literally "liqueur made from bitter almonds").
    – user27055
    Jan 8, 2017 at 17:07

DiSaronno is as easy as reading the box the bottle comes in, or their website (perhaps not anymore - they seem to be back to "mysterious and secret" but that's what it used to admit to.) The flavor is produced from DiSaronno amaretti (which are apricot kernel and egg white and sugar, baked - i.e. heat processed) that the alcohol is filtered through to flavor it.

I gather (but have had great difficulty finding actual details) that things like almond/apricot kernel paste are heat-processed to render them safe as packaged. Without some bitter almond content (or almond extract, which I think is mostly from those), most "almond" flavored things are pretty bland if made only from sweet almonds.

Exhibits: The front and back (showing ingredients, including egg whites) of a bag of Amaretti Di Sarrono. The front and back (showing production method involving Amaretti) of an Amaretto Di Sarrono tin box for a bottle.

Front of a bag of Amaretti Di Sarrono

back of a bag of Amaretti Di Sarrono

front of Amaretto Di Sarrono tin box

eback of Amaretto Di Sarrono tin box


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