Trader Joe’s recently started stocking Sweet Apricot Kernels – a.k.a. poor man’s “almonds” or “bitter almonds” – in their nut aisle. This came as quite a surprise to me because my first though after seeing them was “aren’t apricot kernels poisonous?” The answer is yes, they actually are. Usually called “bitter almonds” in recipes, the kernels can be used used in jam, marzipan and amaretto liqueur.Â The kernels contain amygdalin, which produces cyanide when metabolized by the body. A study conducted by the State Department of Agriculture and Markets of New York in 1993 found that an 8-oz package of these kernels contains twice the lethal dosage of cyanide needed to kill an adult, but the USDA hasn’t had – or hadn’t at that time – had any reports of death associated with the product so you can still find it in some stores because it has many culinary uses. Consuming a small quantity of apricot kernels is most likely safe, though if you experience nausea, fever, headaches, weakness, lethargy, or any of the other symptoms of cyanide poisoning after eating the kernels, it would be best to seek medical attention.
In many countries outside of the US, sweet apricot kernels remain popular and are still quite widely available.Â They have a distinctly fruity flavor and remind me strongly of an apricot hard cider I had once. Nutty and slightly bitter, with an undercurrent of dried apricot. Despite their appearance, they don’t taste like almonds and are much softer in texture, although they are still crunchy. They grow on you after eating one or two, but they’re a bit of an acquired taste and aren’t going to replace any other nuts in my kitchen.
saraDecember 18, 2008
Eeek! Is there at least a warning on the package about how many a person can safely eat?! I can just see someone chowing down on these as a snack!
CindyDecember 18, 2008
Always wondered what bitter almonds were.
NicoleDecember 18, 2008
Sara – There aren’t any warnings on the package, so it’s hard to know for sure. I suppose that if the USDA considered them to be a potential health hazard, they would suggest some guidelines to go by.
LauraDecember 18, 2008
Oops, I always thought bitter almonds were unripe almonds. Dang! I could probably plow through an 8oz bag of almonds in 2 days. Hopefully these won’t be a dead man’s almonds.
KalynDecember 18, 2008
We had apricot trees when I was a kid and we used to dry the seeds in the sun, then crack them open (with a rock, I’m not making this up) and eat the nuts. Never had any ill effects at all from them, and my siblings and I ate lots of the nuts.
JennyDecember 19, 2008
Oh I saw those the other day and wondered the same thing! To the gal who ate them all the time growing up, I wonder if you built up a tolerance to the poison and now you are a superhero.
DaniDecember 19, 2008
i would have never thought that an apricot nut could be so scary :S
kickpleatDecember 19, 2008
i will often buy a bag of apricot kernals in chinatown where they are commonly snacked on. i put them in my granola or to top my yogurt and have had no ill effects.
ShayDecember 19, 2008
I was under the impression that bitter almonds are still used in other parts of the world. Unrefined bitter almonds are illegal in the U.S., though. I’ve read that heat removes the toxicity, so you’re supposed to blanch the almonds first. So, if these follow the same rules, the bag says the kernels have been dry roasted, so perhaps they are safe to eat because of that? (I had to research for an old recipe, that’s how I found out about the bitter almonds.)
brianDecember 20, 2008
Thanks for the heads up. I seen these in Trader Joes and was tempted to buy them. I think I’ll just stick with almonds .
kateJanuary 4, 2009
they are good for people with cancer
Coffee and VanillaFebruary 1, 2009
Thank you for this post, I just bought sweet almond oil and I was wondering what is a difference between sweet and bitter almonds 😉 Now I know (!)
JohnFebruary 18, 2009
Just an FYI, you shouldn’t be too worried about these.
The recall in New York was from Bitter Apricot Kernels, these are Sweet Apricot Kernels.
As cyanide is the source for bitterness in both apricot kernels and almonds, the sweet varieties do not have dangerous levels of the chemical. They do have some, but even almonds have some cyanide in them.
AnnMarch 12, 2009
STOP!! These are not going to kill you. We don’t get enough fear mongering with color coded levels from Dept of HS??? “you would have to eat at the very least 725 of our sweet apricot kernels in a day to approach a dose which the committee currently consider the to be the (TDI) tolerable daily intake.”
I love the Trader Joe’s kernels. Please…try them. They are a great little kernel 🙂
Fazal MajidMarch 15, 2009
I just used a package to bake some Dutch bitterkoekje-style macaroons (cyanide is broken down by cooking, even though sweet almonds hardly have any). They are indeed sweet and unlike regular almonds (the cookie dough came out more liquid than I would have liked, adjust the ratio of almonds to beaten egg whites accordingly).
Bitter almonds are regulated, and a different breed altogether, related to regular almonds, not to apricots.
Tracy HristovaApril 2, 2009
Apricot Kernals are NOT bitter almonds. Bitter almonds are bitter almonds.
Prunus armeniaca- apricot kernel
Prunus dulcis- almond
EndreMay 22, 2009
Kalyn: I used to do the same. Just I used a hammer (more sophisticated hey) instead. Ate loads of these as a child, but only the sweet ones. I am not sure still what exactly the difference is and if the bitter ones are dangerous why are they not regulated. There are no warnings on the pack…
JohnMay 30, 2009
Ah, wondered what they were! I don’t think Trader Joes would be selling them if they were dangerous!
JayJune 25, 2009
Vitamin B17, was popularized as a cancer treatment by the chemist Ernst T. Krebs. A clinical trial of amygdalin was carried out in 1982 by the Mayo Clinic and three other US cancer centers under National Cancer Institute sponsorship, and found that, “No substantive benefit was observed in terms of cure…” and more than 2 of the 178 patients suffered from cyanide toxicity.
Don’t eat any of these kernals. Its “benefits” are quack medicine.
camieJuly 3, 2009
So very curious – saw these at Trader Joes yesterday. I was intrugued as we’ve been tossing hundereds of apicot pits into the compost bin over the last month.
I would certainly feel safe with TJ’s – but anyone know how to know which ones come out of my apricots???? i could save a bundle.
almondfanJuly 11, 2009
Hey! Just wanted to let you know that you are misinformed. Actually, apricot kernels are different from almonds and almonds are different from bitter almonds. You can consult McGee’s “On Food and Cooking” (which is a fantastic book) for more on almonds, but the gist of the information I gleaned there was that in the US we get sweet almonds which contain no cyanide. However, bitter almonds are used for almond flavoring and do contain cyanide, which is removed for making things like extracts. Apricot kernels, as you can read in this article from the Chicago Sun-Times, http://www.suntimes.com/lifestyles/food/1570218,FOO-News-det13.article, are not the same as almonds, but likewise have two varieties: one without cyanide (that kind sold at Trader Joe’s) and one with cyanide. Both trees are members of the family “prunus”, or the plum family. So, eat up free of poisonings and tip your cap to modern agriculture!
Artem LoshakJuly 29, 2009
My father lived in Ukraine village and almost killed himself eating bitter apricot kernels at age 5. When I was young we have traveled many times to Ukraine with my father, were apricot trees are growing along many public roads and here is what we did. We would find a tree, crack a pit, make a little bite. If it was bitter we would go to another tree. When we found a sweet kernels tree we would pack our bags with apricots and bring them home. At home we would peal the apricots and crack all the pits. Than we would make an apricot jam and add a little, may be a quarter of all kernels to it. And of cause we would never throw away the rest of the kernels. It was the greatest delicacy of my childhood.
DargieAugust 3, 2009
Hello? Dry roasted. Heating destroys the toxins.
Why on earth would anyone think that a company like TJs would sell something that was potentially lethal?
BrittanySeptember 25, 2009
Don’t panic. The package contains SWEET apricot kernels, which do not contain the poisonous substance that the BITTER apricot kernels contain.
UWDCMay 18, 2010
I would have never thought that an apricot nut could be so scary however the fruity flavour does sound like a nice touch. 🙂
JRMDecember 30, 2011
First, these are dry roasted – cooking eliminates any amygdalin – the same as in the almonds you buy (which also have amygdalin in them before roasting). Second, they are ‘sweet’ apricot kernels – the amygdalin is found only in the ‘bitter’ apricot kernels. You should do your research before you start pounding on the keyboard – assumptions don’t do anyone any favors…..
JimSeptember 14, 2012
It’s not cyanide, it’s amygdalin. Amygalin is a compound that contains cyanide, but it is chemically bound to two glucose molecules and is harmless in that form. It also contains another poison called benzaldehyde which is fat-soluble whereas cyanide is water-soluble. Again, it’s harmless when it’s chemically bound to the glucose molecules. The poisons do get released however in the presence of an enzyme called beta-glucuronidase which is found in cancer cells, effectively killing them. There was a famous biochemist in the 50s who claimed that amygdalin would rid the world of cancer, much like vitamin C has rid the world of scurvy, but in this country people make a lot as of money from treating cancer. The “powers that be” want to keep making money from it, so they will spread whatever propaganda they can to keep people from the truth.
maidSeptember 19, 2012
Many and many people got punished by pharmaceutical industry for the reason of discovering natural cures for diseases. One of them is Apricot Kernel.
Cancer is the Industry today just like Oil. imagine how many people would stay without jobs if the cure for cancer was found or how much money would pharmaceutical industry loose. Same goes for Oil. We all heard about engines running on water, well guy who discovered it, got killed more then 30 years ago.
Many people reported that they got cured from cancer using Apricot Kernels, but also Dandeline roots too.
StephenJanuary 3, 2013
“Bitter almonds” are actually almonds from a type of almond tree grown ornamentally. I go foraging and come across them often when I’m looking for edible almonds.