Almond extract is a concentrated liquid made from bitter almond oil, alcohol, and water. It’s typically used in baking, much like vanilla extract, and a little goes a long way because the flavor is so strong. In fact, many people who like the mildly nutty taste of almonds say they dislike the taste of almond extract.
That said, some people love it and those people are in good luck, because usually just just 1/4 teaspoon is all that’s needed for a good amount of almond-y flavor, which means it’s unlikely that anyone would run out of almond extract quickly. (Unless you’re in full-on Crescent Cookie mode, in which case, stock up!)
Origin: Almonds are stone fruits and part of the biological genus known as Prunus, which also includes fruits like plums, apricots, and cherries.
How it’s made: Most commercial almond extract is not actually made from almonds but from other stone fruit pits.
Flavor: Strong, slightly fruity, and basically you know it when you taste it. Fans of marzipan often like almond extract.
What to Know About Almond Extract
Though it may seem like a straightforward ingredient, there's a lot to learn about almond extract, namely that it might not be made from almonds at all. (Stay with me.) Though they’re known as nuts, almonds are actually the seed of a fruit. Whereas real nuts are found inside hard shells, seeds, like almonds, grow inside of fruit.
Ever had the thought that your peach pit looks awfully like an almond? There’s a reason for that. Almonds, like peaches, are stone fruits. They’re part of the same biological genus known as Prunus, which also includes fruits like plums, apricots, and cherries.
Because many of these stone fruits are used in commercial products like jam or yogurt, their pits, which would otherwise go to waste, are often used to make almond extract. These pits pass because they contain the same ingredient that accounts for the strong flavor of bitter almond oil: a chemical called benzaldehyde.
Almond extracts typically won’t label the origin of the “almond oil,” so you may not know if you’re getting extract from actual almonds or from another stone fruit—and unless you’re a supertaster, you probably won’t be able to tell the difference anyway.
What Almond Extract Tastes Like
So, what does almond extract—from other stone fruit pits or otherwise—taste like? It’s strong and slightly fruity and basically you know it when you taste it.
If you’re a fan of marzipan, you’re probably a fan of almond extract. That’s because marzipan, which is a paste made from sugar, almond meal, and honey, is usually also flavored with almond extract or almond oil.
Where to Buy
Almond extract is ubiquitous at supermarkets—find it in the baking aisle or near the spices.
How to Store
As you should with all extracts, store almond extract in a cool, dry place and make sure it is well-sealed. Ideally you should use your almond extract within a year.
How to Use
Now that you know almond extract’s little secret—that it may come from the pits of other stone fruits, or at least that almonds are part of the same family—it should make sense that its flavor profile works well with fruits like peaches, plums, nectarines, cherries, and apricots. If a dessert recipe using one or more of these fruits doesn’t call for almond extract, add in 1/4 teaspoon for an X-factor.
Cookbook author Jake Cohen, whose book “Jew-ish” came out in March 2021, uses the extract any time he’s making an almond-forward dessert to bring out the flavor. “We’ve become conditioned to expect a certain almond flavor, so I always add a little extract when I’m using almond flour, marzipan, or almond paste (which is the same thing as marzipan with different levels of sugar),” he says.
In his Kosher for Passover Rainbow Cookies, even though he uses all almond flour, there still isn’t a lot of that “almondy” flavor that people are looking for—the flavor not of actual almonds but of almond extract. So, he adds a little in to deliver the nostalgic taste people crave.
Cohen also thinks almond extract works really well with citrus. “I find that a tiny, microscopic, 1/8 of a teaspoon of almond extract adds a little depth to citrus desserts,” he says. Sold.
Almond Extract Substitutes
Don’t have almond oil on hand? Or need to avoid it because of an allergy? Although you won’t get the same flavor as you would when using almond extract, vanilla extract is a good stand-in. You could also use an almond-flavored liqueur, like amaretto or orgeat.
If you’re substituting vanilla extract, use two parts vanilla extract for one part almond extract.
If you’re substitute almond-flavored liqueur, use four to eight parts almond-flavored liqueur for one part almond extract. Be mindful if you’re increasing the volume of liquid significantly in a baking recipe, where quantities make a big difference depending on the dessert.
How to Make Your Own Almond Extract
If you want to try your hand at making your own almond extract, remember that you don’t have to stick to using almonds, so it can be a great way to use other stone fruit pits that you’d probably just throw away.
Samin Nosrat, author of “Salt Fat Acid Heat” and star of the Netflix show by the same name, makes almond extract from apricot pits. She covers 30 apricot pits with a dish towel and, using a hammer, breaks them open to retrieve the kernel inside. Then she soaks the kernels in 2 cups of vodka in a mason jar for up to three months. At the end of three months she refreshes the vodka with new kernels that she’s kept in the freezer if the flavor isn’t strong enough.When the flavor is to her liking, she’ll strain the extract through a cheesecloth or coffee filter and store in a cool, dry place.
Pro-tip (as if this wasn’t one already): If you don’t have 30 apricots in one sitting, you can freeze the pits for later use.
Or try making this recipe for Orgeat, an almond-flavored liqueur that’s used in a lot of tiki cocktails and can serve as a stand-in for the extract.