What Are Bitter Almonds?

Updated April 17, 2017

There are two types of almonds: sweet and bitter. Sweet almonds are frequently used in cooking or can be eaten by hand. Bitter almonds are frequently used for food flavourings or in oils. Sweet almonds grow on trees in Australia, South Africa, the Mediterranean and the United States. Bitter almond trees are found in the Middle East and Asia.

The Difference Between a Bitter and Sweet Almond

The bitter almond has distinct differences to the sweet almond, besides taste. The bitter almond contains traces of prussic or hydrocyanic acid in its raw state, which can be lethal to animals and humans. The toxicity of the poison is destroyed by heat and processing. The sale of raw bitter almonds is prohibited in the United States. Seven to 10 unprocessed bitter almonds can be lethal to a human, according to "Encyclopedia Brittanica."


Bitter almonds are boiled or baked, which drains out most of the hydrocyanic acid. Once cooked, there is no need to fear any harmful effects from eating these almonds. Usually the oil is extracted from the bitter almond and used to make almond butter, flavoured liqueurs or almond extracts. The bitter almond has a stronger almond scent, which is why it is often used to make almond soaps, lotions or fragrances.


Bitter and non-bitter almonds are similar in appearance. They both have brown skin and off-white coloured insides. Bitter almonds are usually smaller and more pointed than sweet almonds. They also have an astringent and bitter flavour.


Products containing bitter almonds are usually perishable because of the high unsaturated fat content. Store your almond products in a cool, dry place, away from heat. In addition, avoiding prolonged exposure to direct sunlight. If you want to extend your almonds' shelf life, keep them in vacuum-sealed containers or freeze them in airtight bags.

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About the Author

Maria Woehr is a journalist with over 10 years of professional writing experience. She started editing in 2006 and has been published in "The Westfield Leader Times," "Insurance & Technology Magazine," "InformationWeek," "Positive Thinking Magazine," "Go Magazine," "The Deal," "The Financial Times" and many other outlets. She is a graduate of Boston University and has a master's degree from Drew University.