The Reason You'll Likely Never See Bitter Almonds At The Grocery Store

If you're looking for a snack that stores a ton of health benefits in a tiny package, look no further than the humble almond. Along with containing high levels of protein, this little tree nut can also help control cholesterol and blood sugar levels. It may surprise you to learn that there are actually two types of almonds: sweet and bitter. However, it's likely that you've only ever had sweet almonds, whether you enjoyed them by themselves, in a bag of trail mix, or part of a recipe like almond brittle. That's because their cousin, bitter almonds, are poisonous, and not available for purchase.

According to Healthline, "bitter almonds contain a toxin known as glycoside amygdalin. When eaten, this toxin gets broken down into several compounds, including hydrogen cyanide — a toxic compound that can cause death." It takes eating at least 50 almonds to cause death, but even consuming just a handful can lead to a lot of damage, like potentially causing breathing and nervous system problems. Fortunately, it's hard to accidentally buy a bag of raw bitter almonds in the United States, as it is prohibited to sell them to consumers.

Bitter almonds have a deadly reputation in the U.S.

Despite their deadly reputation, bitter almonds are still used in Europe to make things like marzipan, which is a confectionary treat similar to almond paste. Bitter almonds are also used to flavor almond liquors like amaretto. That's because the application of heat through cooking or boiling removes the toxic qualities present in bitter almonds. But you still won't be able to find raw bitter almonds at any commercial store since the risk of not properly preparing them is too high. However, you may find bitter almond trees used as decoration throughout the United States.

As it turns out, sweet almonds also technically contain the dangerous amygdalin, but in such negligible amounts that they're completely safe to eat. The knowledge of bitter almonds may make you distrustful of this little snack. After all, they aren't even nuts! But rest assured that no deadly bitter almonds will be present in any bulk bin or bag of sweet almonds available at the store.

Even if a bitter almond did somehow find its way into your midday snack, you would be able to tell right away due to its overly bitter taste. It would take more than one bitter almond to do any real damage to you, but if you're ever concerned that you've eaten something you shouldn't have, call a poison control line or emergency services.