There are two types of almond trees: sweet and bitter. Sweet almonds grow in Australia, South Africa, the Mediterranean, and the United States, while bitter almond trees live in the Middle East and Asia.
The Difference Between Bitter and Sweet Almonds
The most glaring difference between the bitter almond and its sweet counterpart is evident in their names—bitter almonds have a more astringent taste. Bitter almonds are less palatable for a reason—they contain traces of prussic acid (also known as hydrocyanic acid), which may be lethal to animals and humans. According to Encyclopedia Britannica, seven to 10 unprocessed bitter almonds can be poisonous—no wonder selling these raw is prohibited in the United States.
Fortunately, heat and processing destroy bitter almonds’ toxicity. Boiling or baking them drains most of the hydrocyanic acid.
Usually bitter almond oil is extracted and used to make almond butter, flavored liqueurs, or almond extracts. The bitter almond has a stronger scent, so it’s often used to make almond soaps, lotions, or fragrances as well.
Bitter and sweet almonds look similar—they’re both brown on the outside and off-white on the inside. However, bitter almonds are usually smaller and more pointed than sweet ones.
Products containing bitter almonds are usually perishable because of the high unsaturated fat content. Store these in a cool, dry place, away from heat, and avoid prolonged exposure to direct sunlight. If you want to extend almonds’ shelf life, keep them in vacuum-sealed containers or freeze them in airtight bags.