In a nutshell: Why doesn't Hazelnut/Almond flavoring taste like their namesakes?
May 12, 2009 10:03 PM   Subscribe

Vanilla extract tastes of vanilla bean... Mint extract is minty... Why are hazelnut and almond extracts so unlike hazelnuts and almonds?

Snacking on almonds in the kitchen. Love almonds. Sniffing almond extract. Smells fantastic. Not seeing (smelling or tasting) the connection. Is it a different variety of almond? (And if so, why don't they sell those?)

Love hazelnut flavor (yum Frangelico), but it doesn't taste much like hazelnuts either. Sorry if this is silly, but I'm not so creative with the Google keywords. But you guys are smart! Please help!
posted by for_serious to Food & Drink (16 answers total)
Not all flavor components are readily soluble in alcohol, which is the solvent they usually use to create those kinds of extracts.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 10:16 PM on May 12, 2009

By the way, it's the same reason why coffee (the beverage) doesn't smell like coffee (fresh ground beans). Not all the flavor components are equally soluble in hot water.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 10:17 PM on May 12, 2009

To me, almond essence tastes like marzipan, but marzipan doesn't taste like almonds to me. You really want to get me going talk about lemon essence. Yuck. Nothing worse than buying a lemon tart or muffin that tastes like lemon essence instead of lemonds.
posted by slightlybewildered at 10:17 PM on May 12, 2009 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Almond extract imitates the flavour of bitter almonds. You're only familiar with the aroma and taste of sweet almonds, because bitter almonds are toxic.
posted by Joe in Australia at 10:36 PM on May 12, 2009 [3 favorites]

Actually, when I eat raw almonds I can sometimes taste that marzipan/almond extract flavor. Never in a roasted or otherwise cooked almond, though.
posted by crinklebat at 10:56 PM on May 12, 2009 [2 favorites]

That's because you're getting a tiny bit of benzaldehyde, responsible for a lot of the flavour of marzipan. You're lucky you're not getting very much, because you'd also be getting hydrocyanic (also called Prussic) acid which is very toxic indeed.
posted by Joe in Australia at 11:03 PM on May 12, 2009

Also, essences are solutions in ethanol, and ethanol has its own smell.
posted by flabdablet at 11:15 PM on May 12, 2009

When you eat a nut, you're tasting all the flesh as well. Also, I think the oil of a nut has to be refined a lot before you can get the strongly-scented essential oil from it. A mint leaf pretty much just tastes like mint oil, and mint oil is very strong right from the leaf.
posted by showbiz_liz at 1:17 AM on May 13, 2009

Mod note: A couple comments removed. This isn't a "and what's the deal with essence x" bull session, please try to stick to answering the question.
posted by cortex (staff) at 7:16 AM on May 13, 2009

I wondered about this one for a while. I now make almond milk on a regular basis, and often soak the almonds in water before grinding/straining. What I discovered was that there is a difference when I use cold water vs. hot/near boiling water.

When soaked the almonds in near/boiling water, then the almond flavour that is the one like marzipan and almond flavouring (which I absolutely hate) was drawn out. This did not happen when I use cold or warm water. These are with the same types of almonds.

So, I don't think it's just the type of almond, or that it requires alcohol (although this may be correct as well), but that the characteristic flavour of almond extract, requires heat to be activated. On the other hand, it does not come out when you toast the almonds, and that I can't explain.
posted by kch at 10:50 AM on May 13, 2009

I think most "natural" almond flavor is from peach pits, to avoid the almond toxicity and reduce cost. Maybe that?
posted by degrees_of_freedom at 10:58 AM on May 13, 2009

Best answer: Joe in Australia has it absolutely right. That marzipan almond flavor (I call it the C4 flavor) is extracted from quite toxic bitter almonds rather than sweet or common almonds. McGee covers this well in his book "On Food and Cooking." If you don't have the book, I suggest you get it. It is a masterpiece.
posted by bz at 5:35 PM on May 13, 2009 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Wow I had no idea about bitter almonds, the links were really fascinating. Now that I think about it, I've also picked up a tiny hint of 'almond-extract' flavor from raw almonds. Cool!

McGee's book has been on my list for a while now, looks like it's time to finally read it.

If anyone stumbles across this and has information on hazelnut extract/flavor, I'd love to learn. I'm guessing the alcohol-solubility explanation is not the whole story. Thanks everyone!
posted by for_serious at 11:46 AM on May 17, 2009

Well, for the record, I just bought a bag of schmancy almonds freshly imported from Italy and not only are they flatter than the American almonds and more delicate tasting, but every fourth one tastes like a giant burst of marzipan/almond extract. I'm pretty sure they aren't bitter almonds.
posted by CunningLinguist at 4:40 PM on May 18, 2009

Of course, you're Italian sourced almonds may be wild almonds or a cultivar or variety similar to wild almonds. McGee mentions that domesticated (as in USA domestic) almonds don't generally contain the chemical, benzaldehyde, that is responsible for the marzipan aroma. Apparently, European wild almonds have this chemical in some amount. Doesn't say whether the wild almonds have the rather less edible hydrogen cyanide component but does say that benzaldehyde is a by-product of cyanide production.


Better stick to the you'll check in here so that we know you're still alive approach of imported almond identification.
posted by bz at 5:17 PM on May 18, 2009

Still alive, though now sadly addicted to pricey almonds only available at one place way downtown.
posted by CunningLinguist at 8:26 PM on May 18, 2009

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