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What Are Almonds?

Shelled and whole almonds.
Almonds.
Almonds on an almond tree.
Cupcake decorated with marzipan, a type of almond paste.
Almonds can be processed into essential oils.
A small jar of smooth almond butter.
Almond extract is commonly used in baking.
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  • Written By: Michael Pollick
  • Edited By: Lindsay D.
  • Last Modified Date: 05 October 2014
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Although many of us would consider almonds to be nuts, scientifically speaking they are closer to peach pits. They are actually the fruits of deciduous (meaning that the leaves fall off every year) trees originally found in Asia and North Africa. Instead of growing a sweet fleshy pulp around the seed, almonds develop a leathery coating. Beneath this shell lies a hardened pit with a dark skin, much like a pit from a freestone peach.

Almonds come in two varieties, sweet and bitter. Sweet almonds are used in many Asian dishes, as well as dessert pastes and garnishes. A popular use for crushed sweet almonds is a European candy base called marzipan. They are mixed with glucose and water to form a thick but pliable paste. Marzipan can be molded into cookies or other identifiable shapes by skilled dessert makers.

Sweet almonds can also be processed into essential oils or extracts. The extract is commonly used as an alternative to vanilla extract in diabetic-safe recipes. The sweet type are often roasted and turned into slivers or chunks for texture in ice creams or puddings.

The bitter form is also used in cooking, but it must first be processed in the raw stage. Bitter almonds contain a toxic amount of prussic acid, which can be further refined into a poison called cyanide. Consuming a handful of unprocessed, raw ones can lead to death from this poison. Consequently, the prussic acid must be leached out before they can be used by humans as food.

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The designation "bitter almond" does not necessarily mean a disagreeable bitterness. Extracts from them are used to flavor a very flavorful liqueur called amaretto. The slight bitterness is a distinctive characteristic of amaretto, which is often mixed with orange juice or other sweet mixer to balance it out. They are also processed into slivers and whole pieces for salads and casseroles.

Almond trees can be found in Asia, Europe, North America and Africa. In the United States, virtually all those for commercial sale are produced in California. Grocery stores may carry raw ones for cooking, roasted ones for snacking, ground ones for pastes and chopped almonds for garnishes and salads. They are very high in the good form of cholesterol, and are often treated with hickory-smoked salts or other savory flavors.

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Discuss this Article

anon349301
Post 37

I was eating about 30 almonds each morning before I went to work. After about two months of this, I started having a funny feeling in my upper chest, right behind the sternum like my heart was jumping and twisting. I thought I was having the beginning of a heart attack.

Then a co-worker suggested I stop eating the almonds. The next day, no more funny feeling in my chest. These almonds were purchased at a national shopping chain and are commercially produced.

anon319826
Post 36

I bit into an almond and it had a lot of oil in the middle, it like exploded in my mouth. It kind of freaked me out. Is that normal?

anon305688
Post 35

Almonds are a commodity item, and California is by far the largest and finest producer of this high quality food. Unfortunately, there are processors and handlers that are taking advantage of this leadership position. There are some less than reputable processors that are flirting with this reputation, by selling and shipping product of a lesser grade, selling product that is not the specified variety, selling imported product as California product.

According to the law, each instance of the violations above is punishable buy a $1,000 fine, and continued abuse of these irregularities also incurs a five year jail term.

Some organic almonds are processed in such a way as to potentially render these products non-organic (cross contamination with non-organic materials). Certificates and credentials obtained by these facilities are not a true or reliable measure of the products authenticity.

anon244447
Post 33

Bitter almonds contain B-17 which cures cancer. The disinformation is dubbed real information and is a farce.

anon240896
Post 32

Thanks for all the info on almonds.

Question 1. I am assuming Marzipan which is a processed product from almonds is pasteurized? I believe the answer is yes.

Question 2. Horses can eat sugar and cookies as a treat on occasion, unlike other animals. Is Marzipan considered poisonous to horses? The raw seed and bark are (as in humans), but what about a Marzipan treat for a horse?

This isn't a joke. I run an animal assisted therapy farm and we are looking to do fundraising with Marzipan candies. Thanks!

anon212380
Post 31

I am allergic to raw almonds but if they are roasted, I can eat them.

anon168102
Post 30

Politics aside, as a kid (I live in California) I gathered a bunch of rancid almonds from the ground of an almond tree in my parents' front yard, tried to make a milkshake with them in a blender (hey, I was a kid) and wound up in Poison Control with cyanide poisoning vomiting my guts out. So, yes, though it is probably rare, it does happen and isn't some weird government plot.

anon161954
Post 29

Yes, it is correct. In Chinese, almond is xing ren. However, together they mean almond, not apricot pit. The ren in xing ren is used to refer to any seed or nut that has been hulled.

anon142689
Post 28

I find it very interesting that despite the deaths of thousands due to drugs that should have never been put on the market that are proclaimed safe by the Food and Drug Administration, the US found "raw" bitter almonds to be an even greater threat. Yet, I can find no information on an epidemic of death by toxicity due to "raw" bitter almonds before 2007 or after.

Hundreds of people need to die first before the government will even bother to recall an unsafe car, drug or unsafe toy. Need I even mention alcohol or cigarettes? Oh. I am sorry, alcohol has been proclaimed "heart healthy." The problem is alcohol is a drug and by definition, a drug cannot be heart or any organ healthy for that matter.

I digress. I would think that "raw" bitter almond deaths would have been big news: "Man dies from eating an overdose of "raw" bitter almonds." "another senseless death as a child dies from consuming "raw" bitter almonds." "Just retired elderly woman robbed of her golden years tragically after eating "raw" bitter almonds." What I can find is that cancer treatments can range from 20 to 40 thousand dollars per person with approximately 1.5 million cases in the US projected in 2010. Do the math. With that kind of money at stake, any "cure" for cancer will not have a chance.

So, are "raw" bitter almonds a cure for cancer? The answer is we will not likely ever definitively find out. If you live to be 150 and proclaim the secret is 10 "raw" bitter almonds every day, your statement will be dismissed, edited or never included in the interview release. Can bitter almonds kill you? Of course, just like drinking too much water and holding your urine. Or hitting your head. You could choke to death while eating a bitter almond.

If bitter almonds was such an effective method of death, why from 1990-2002 in NY there were only 17 confirmed suicides due to cyanide? Yet the 17 people actually had access to the more pure form of cyanide from their profession? Would it not have been easier to just take a handful of the alleged highly toxic bitter almonds?

I again digress. Please people, you have to just stop and think. What makes more sense: "Raw" bitter almonds are deadly, our government banned the sale of "raw" bitter almonds because they cared, and the safety and health of the country has the highest priority. Or cancer treatment, which is a 30 billion dollar industry and the beneficiaries of that $30 billion are not going to lose it, stopping at nothing to keep it going politically, financially, legally and illegally? Besides, cancer has turned out to be a nice method of population control. Unlike China or India where their good health has cost them exponential population and geometric poverty.

I again ask, if "raw" bitter almonds was such a threat then why not regulated it like they did Sudafed purchases. For years people were illegally making big bucks producing methamphetamine with the purchase of boxes and boxes of Sudafed on a single purchase and the DEA knew. Finally, now you are limited on how much you can buy and must provide ID. Why didn't they just ban Sudafed or take action sooner?

Consider this: Take more than 240mg (eight tablets) of Sudafed and that is considered an overdose. It allegedly takes 50 "raw" bitter almonds before there could be a concern – although there is no proof of this as I could not find any deaths that were due to toxicity of "raw" bitter almonds from consumption. So just package "raw" bitter almonds in packs of say 30 and require ID and report it to the government. The best cure is prevention. Once you have cancer, it is kind of silly to try to properly dose a purer form of cyanide. However, "raw" bitter almonds do not contain pure cyanide.

I digress. Knowledge is power. You just have to ask the right questions.

anon136672
Post 27

you all should check out a book called "World without Cancer" and judge for yourself whats the right thing to do. --jo

anon78252
Post 26

A almond producing company is having trouble because the skins are falling off during production. Does anyone have a guess as to why this is happening?

anon74364
Post 25

I just bought some almonds from the store and ate a handful and have been throwing up for the last 15 mins. I had to do some research to see if i was dying. Thank you for the information above, i guess there are still traces of poison in the ones i took and i have a very sensitive stomach.

anon64959
Post 24

So that's what happened to me. I spent some time in nigeria as a kid. I eat a a heap of those and almost died from food poisoning. could not stop throwing up. even though there was nothing in there anymore. it was crazy!

Tchay
Post 22

anon62678, I appreciate your comment, but I was referring to the bitter almonds. I am not talking about US sold almonds, which are not technically raw.

DocRock, I have "heard" of numerous accounts where people will eat the raw "bitter" almonds their whole life without any issues. Are you saying that this is not possible?

Also, are imported almonds from Brazil (the ones that Trader Joe's sells) poisonous? Since they are not actually processed, then the supposed cyanide would still be present, right?

Two more things: first, it was my understanding that the cyanide was only poisonous if mixed with another chemical and thus bitter almonds would not harm humans.

Second, do the pasteurized (at 115 degrees) almonds have any significant nutritional value that comes close to that of purely raw almonds? If so, then I would have no problem eating pasteurized almonds; however, I have heard that truly raw almonds are much more healthy - to the point of preventing most cancers.

DocRock
Post 21

Ok guys, let an MD answer this.

It is true that if you eat too many truly raw bitter almonds, you will get cyanide poisoning. But...

If you live in the United States of America, then you are not eating truly raw almonds. Starting in 2007, all almonds in the USA, Canada, and Mexico are required to be pasteurized by law. This even applies to "organic" products.

So, if you live in the good ol' US of A, eat as many as you want.

anon62678
Post 20

Tchay - You probably shouldn't let yourself get so upset over almonds, first of all. But more importantly, I think you might have misread the article.

It said one type of almond (bitter, unprocessed almonds -- not the sweet version that you typically buy at your local store) can contain toxic amounts of whatever. I don't think you can make the logical jump from that to eating almonds will kill you.

Best, Sara - a grateful follower of Internet publications since it helps spread information that some people otherwise wouldn't have been able to attain! :)

Tchay
Post 19

Sites like this make me so mad. Not only are they making a controversial claim without any scientific evidence to back it up, they happen to be wrong.

Viewers, do not lose hope after reading this load of horse crap.

Are truly raw almonds safe to eat??

Ask these four people: a doctor, a chemist, a botanist, a person who has been eating truly raw almonds their whole life.

Ask those four individuals (and then some) and you will have your answer. And I mean actually, physically talk to them. Cyberspace is not the place for truth - which is why I am not making a definite claim about truly raw almonds.

Now, if you will excuse me, I am going to shove a handful of raw poisonous almonds down my throat.

masarati
Post 16

Almost every time that I eat a peach or a nectarine, I get the pit, crack it with a hammer and eat the almond inside it. It's a bit bitter but I like it and it is not poisonous, at least I am still alive.

What happens is that the seed has two main compounds: the cyanide and the benzaldehide, both poisonous, but the combination of both makes it perfectly OK, just like salt. Sodium and chloride, each one of them is a poison, but in combination are not poisonous.

Disclaimer: if you eat them, ask your doctor. I am not recommending anything.

Continue with the information: "The Hunza Tribe" in Asia eat this bitter almond of the peaches and apricot all the time, they claim to live an average of 160 years and they do not get cancer, which cannot coexist if you eat this seed on regular basis.

The women from the Hunza tribe get the apricot seed and they make an oil to apply in their skin and women at age 80 look like in their 20's. Again I am not advocating the use of this. If you want to try it research it further on your own and ask your doctor (this is further disclaiming in this suit country).

One thing I would appreciate if someone could tell me where to buy these bitter almonds, specially the organic type. Trader Joe's used to sell them now they don't have them any more.

anon52046
Post 15

i want to eat to raw, bitter almonds. Is it ok? please confirm.

masarati
Post 14

Hello, could anybody tell me where to buy "poor man's almond"? is the "almond that is inside the pit of peaches and apricots. Traders Joesd use to sell them, but they discontinued. It has substances that fight cancer.

I would appreciate your help, since I want to buy it for the mother of a friend that has advanced stage cancer.

anon46738
Post 10

I was eating a peach last night and the pit opened and the seed inside looked and tasted very much like an almond. But I didn't eat the whole thing because I was worried it might be poisonous.

anon36884
Post 9

I discovered by accident that the pit of a nectarine has a nut also, it tastes like almond, which brought me to this site to read up....

anon17545
Post 8

Family: I doubt they would be edible. XP

minombre
Post 7

Since almonds and peaches belong to the same family they can pollinate each other if growing in the close proximity. Almonds will produce much better if pollen is available from another tree.

anon11160
Post 5

apricot pits are bitter almonds.

anon6399
Post 4

apricot pits are often used as a substitute for bitter almonds. gmza

anon1628
Post 3

I've heard that the Chinese translation of almond is xing ren, which means apricot pit. I don't think that is true, but the the chinese friend who told me insists that it is true. Is it?

can2family
Post 2

There was mention that almonds are much like the inside of a peach pit...is the almond looking portion on the inside of a peach edible?

anon232
Post 1

I think you mean they are high in good fats, ie monounsaturated. Plants do not contain cholesterol, only animal products do. Plants however do contain compounds that can effect cholesterol. Almonds are also quite nutritrous despire being calorie dense.

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