Thursday, August 9, 2007

Almond Extract

Almond extract is made with the oil of bitter almonds. Bitter almonds, unlike their more common sweet almond counterparts, are very bitter but also poisonous due to the presence of cyanide (eating 20 of these almonds raw is lethal for adults). The poison is broken down when the almonds are processed and also when they are heated from cooking. The sale of bitter almonds is illegal in the United States but in Europe small amounts are added to marzipan, amaretto, and amaretti cookies to heighten the flavor (usually 1 bitter almond for every 100 sweet almonds). “Pure” almond extract is made by combining the oil from bitter almonds with alcohol and sometimes water, whereas "natural” extract has the same major flavor compound, benzaldehyde, but derived from other plant sources. “Imitation” extract is made with food-grade, lab created benzaldehyde. Chemically speaking, all three extracts are the same but taste wise, many people prefer pure or natural extracts over the synthetic imitation.

Almond extract is very potent so a little bit goes a long way (but I certainly don’t mind a little bit more). The flavoring enhances the taste of peaches, apricots, and cherries because the stone fruits are in the same family as almonds. It also pairs well with vanilla, chocolate, apples, coconut, and berries. Interestingly, almonds are also distantly related to berries and roses. Plant family trees are so fascinating don't you think?

So what are your favorite food scents? Perhaps the buttery, nutty fragrance of caramel, the piney smell of rosemary, or maybe the hearty aroma lightly charred Italian sausages with a hint of fennel seed?

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