What Are Sweet Almonds and What Are Bitter Almonds

Almonds have endless positive effects and their uses in confectionary and cosmetics are countless. However, it is very important to be aware of the various types of almonds that exist, since they all have a different purpose and should be utilized in an informed and correct way. Thankfully we are here to give you some tips about that.

The two most common types of almond trees produce either sweet or bitter almond. Native to the Mediterranean, South Africa, and the USA, the sweet almond comes from the tree called Prunus dulcis var. dulcis. The color of the flowers of this tree is usually white. The bitter version of the almond is a product of the Prunus dulcis var. amara and is grown in the Middle East and Asia. The coloring of the tree is pink.

It is possible that in Ancient Rome, bitter almond oil was used to fight intestinal parasites and during the Middle Ages, it was used as a laxative. Bitter almonds were also used as a cough medicine.

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Contrary to their “sweet brother” the bitter almonds have a shorter, rounder shape. The reason these nuts taste bitterer is that they contain a chemical called benzaldehyde. This exact compound is actually the bases for the almond-like odor we use as a flavoring in cakes. The sweet almond, however, is often used directly in the confectionary and can be added without any processing – not like the bitter kernels.

The bitter almond consists of about 42 times more of cyanide, compared to the sweet one. This is why; the cyanide must be extracted from the bitter almond in case it is used as a medicine, as it is harmful or lethal to humans (especially children) or animals, depending on the dosage. Eating cyanide – containing products could cost vertigo, confusion, shortness of breath, vomiting and many other symptoms consistent with poisoning – even coma.

Although selling raw, bitter almonds or bitter almond oil in the USA is prohibited, there are reports from The US Food and Drug Administration that a percentage of the imported sweet almonds, contained – bitter ones. But the good news for all the bitter almonds lovers out there is that boiling or baking the nut, eliminates the dangerous compounds from the kernel and it can be consumed freely. It is required by the FDA for the nuts to be “free from prussic acid (cyanide).”

The stronger and more potent aroma of the bitter almonds makes them perfect to use in cosmetics, such as oils, body butter, and lotions, soaps and shampoos. The bitter almond contains about 50% the fixed oil that the sweeter version of this nut has. Maybe this is the reason why the bitter almond oil is considered to be more of an essential oil, which means that it is more commonly preferred as a flavoring or aromatherapy purposes.

The sweet almond oil has many applications when it comes to cosmetics and beauty. The minerals, vitamins and the proteins this little, brown nut contains; making it perfect for nourishing and vitalizing the hair and the skin. The sweet almond oil has endless possibilities and is a perfect way to pamper yourself and elevate your beauty regime. However, the bitter almond oil is not recommended to be used on the skin. Its only purpose is to give that amazing, deep, almond aroma a lot of us enjoy.

According to the WebMD, bitter almonds can slow down the nervous system. Which means that combined with an anesthetic it can be fatal, so it is recommended to stop almond consumption two weeks pre-surgery.

Image copyright: I_Nneska, License: CC BY-ND 2.0

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