Almond Extract: Is It Safe If You Have Nut Allergies?

Not all almond extracts actually come from almonds.

almonds in shell and out
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Certain almond extracts actually may be safe for people who are allergic to tree nuts, because almond extract isn't always made from almonds. However, you should use extreme caution in trying anything that lists almond extract as an ingredient—don't try it unless you're sure you're getting the safe kind of almond flavoring.

Almond extract and almond flavoring can be created from three different sources: almonds, the pits of certain fruits, and from chemicals in a factory.

Most almond extracts and flavorings you see as ingredients in food products are actually made from the kernels of peach or apricot pits, or are made from chemicals in a factory.

This may seem counterintuitive, since you'd expect something claiming to be the extract of almonds actually to be made from almonds. However, peach and apricot kernels carry the same flavor compounds as almond oil, and they are less expensive to obtain and process.

In addition, similar compounds to those found in almonds, peach pits, and apricot pits can be derived synthetically in labs or from cassia (a plant with a flavor similar to cinnamon) to create artificial extracts.

Almond Extract Ingredients

Pure almond extract is made from three ingredients: almond oil, alcohol, and water. Any almond extract product with those ingredients is not safe for someone with tree nut allergy. The ingredients list will look like this: water, alcohol, and oil of bitter almond.

You also should avoid "almond flavor" and "almond flavoring" products that include almond oil in the ingredients.

Almond extract made from peach and/or apricot pits will not be labeled "pure," and will not have almonds or almond oil listed as ingredients. Instead, the ingredients likely will list "natural almond flavor." This generally means that extracts from fruit pits were used to make the flavoring.

There's little or no information about whether these extracts derived from peach and apricot pits are safe for a nut-free diet. So you should proceed with caution, and most likely should avoid foods that contain "natural almond flavor."

Artificial almond extract owes its almond-like flavor to a chemical called benzaldehyde, which is made from chemicals in an industrial setting. It's not made from almonds, peach pits or apricot pits. It's considered a safe choice for almond flavoring, and it has the bonus of almost always being less expensive than "natural" sources of almond flavor. Look for the words "Imitation Almond Extract" on the label, and "artificial flavor" in the ingredients.

Why Do Peach Pits Taste Like Almonds?

Most food allergies fall into one of eight categories, and tree nuts are one of those categories. Although almonds are included in the "tree nut" group for the sake of allergic labeling, almonds are not actually tree nuts at all. Instead, they're what are called "drupes." Drupes actually are a type of fruit with an outer fleshy covering over a hard-shelled nut. Nutmeg is a drupe, as are walnuts and pecans.

Drupes that we think of as "fruit" include peaches, plums, nectarines, cherries, and apricots, and are referred to as "stone fruit" (literally, fruit with stones in the middle.

Almonds are in the same family, the prunus family, as peaches, apricots, plums, and nectarines.

That's why the compounds released from peach and apricot pits taste the same as those released from bitter almond oil, and why it's possible to use fruit pits to make almond-flavored extract. Those compounds from fruit pits are bioidentical to those in almonds.

The chemical benzaldehyde is the primary component of bitter almond oil, and in fact first was extracted from almond oil. However, it's less expensive to make it from other chemicals than it is to extract it from almonds or fruit pits.

Almond allergy may predispose a person to other tree nut allergies, especially pistachio nut allergy.

Pistachio nuts also are drupes.

A Word from Verywell

Artificial almond extract doesn't have the flavor profile purists prefer, since it's difficult or impossible to obtain that flavor from anything other than pure almond extract that's made from almonds.

However, the artificial version has its upsides: it's safe for people who are allergic to tree nuts, and it's almost always less expensive than the nut-based variety. So look for "artificial flavor" or "benzaldehyde" in the ingredients to be sure you're getting almond flavoring that's safe for those with almond allergy.

Source:

Roux KH, Teuber SS, Sathe SK. Tree Nut Allergens. Int Arch Allergy Immunol. 2003; 234-244.

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