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The Hidden Dangers: Why Bitter Almonds are Banned from US Grocery Stores

Why bitter almonds are missing from US grocery stores

Almonds are a popular and versatile nut that can be found in various forms in grocery stores across the United States. However, there is one type of almond that you will never find in these establishments: bitter almonds. In this article, we will explore why bitter almonds are not available in U.S. grocery stores and the potential dangers associated with their consumption.

Understanding the difference: Sweet Almonds vs. Bitter Almonds

While almonds may seem like one simple nut, there are actually distinct differences between sweet almonds and bitter almonds. Sweet almonds, which are commonly found on grocery store shelves in the U.S., are perfectly safe to eat. Bitter almonds, on the other hand, contain hydrocyanic acid, a byproduct of which is an organic version of cyanide. It is this cyanide content that makes bitter almonds dangerous to eat in their raw form.

Why bitter almonds are sold elsewhere

Interestingly, bitter almonds are readily available and consumed in many other parts of the world, including Asia, the Middle East and Europe. These nuts are often used in non-food products, such as beauty or skin care products, due to their strong aroma. In European cuisine, bitter almonds can also be found in sweet foods such as fruit tarts, marzipan, and cookies. So how is it possible that bitter almonds are commonplace in other countries, but not in U.S. grocery stores?
The answer lies in the high-heat cooking process that transforms bitter almonds from toxic to delicious. This cooking process neutralizes the cyanide content, making the almonds safe for consumption. However, in their raw and uncooked state, bitter almonds pose a significant health risk.

The dangers of eating bitter almonds

Consuming raw, uncooked bitter almonds can have serious consequences. Cyanide poisoning is a possible outcome, which can manifest as breathing difficulties, nervous system failure, and in extreme cases, death. Shockingly, even a small number of bitter almonds can be fatal. It is estimated that as few as seven bitter almonds are enough to kill a child, while an average adult can succumb to the effects after consuming as few as 12 nuts.
Fortunately, distinguishing sweet almonds from bitter almonds is relatively easy. Although the two nuts may look similar, they taste very different. The bitter taste of bitter almonds is a dead giveaway, allowing consumers to avoid accidental ingestion.

The legal status of bitter almonds in the USA

While bitter almond trees are sold as ornamental trees in the United States, the sale of their nuts for consumption or any other use is strictly prohibited by law. This regulation ensures the safety of consumers and protects them from the potential risks associated with bitter almonds. However, it is worth noting that some restaurants in Los Angeles have chefs who forage for bitter almonds from wild trees. These daring chefs incorporate the nuts into a variety of dishes, including ice cream, panna cotta, cobbler, bread pudding, and other sweets.

Bottom line

In summary, bitter almonds are conspicuously absent from U.S. grocery stores due to their potential health hazards. The cyanide content in these nuts makes them dangerous to eat in their raw form. While bitter almonds are widely available and consumed in other parts of the world, they are banned from sale for consumption in the United States. As a consumer, it is important to know the difference between sweet and bitter almonds to ensure your safety. Enjoy the variety of almonds available in U.S. grocery stores, but always use caution when handling unfamiliar nuts.


Bitter almonds are not available in U.S. grocery stores due to their high cyanide content, which poses potential health risks if consumed raw.

Can bitter almonds be found in any food products in the U.S.?

No, bitter almonds are not commonly found in foods in the U.S. due to their toxicity. However, some restaurants in Los Angeles may incorporate bitter almonds into dishes if proper cooking and preparation techniques are used.

What are the dangers of eating bitter almonds?

Eating raw, uncooked bitter almonds can lead to cyanide poisoning, which can cause breathing difficulties, nervous system failure, and even death. Even a small amount of bitter almonds can be fatal.

How can I tell sweet almonds from bitter almonds?

Although sweet almonds and bitter almonds look similar, they taste very different. Bitter almonds have a distinctly bitter taste, which is a clear indication of their identity. Always rely on taste to distinguish between the two types of almonds.

Are there any legal restrictions on the sale of bitter almonds in the U.S.?

Yes, the sale of bitter almonds for consumption or any other use is illegal in the United States. Bitter almond trees may be sold as ornamental trees, but the nuts themselves may not be sold for consumption.

Are there alternatives to bitter almonds in recipes that call for their unique flavor?

Yes, there are alternatives for recipes that require the distinctive flavor of bitter almonds. Almond extract, which is made from sweet almonds, can be used to provide a similar flavor profile. In addition, other ingredients such as apricot kernels or cherry pits can provide a similar bitter note, although they should be used with caution due to their own potential toxicity.

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