Almonds are a very popular “nut” (they’re actually seeds) and are used in a variety of ways. They’re great in include salty courses, baking, as well as by themselves.
They also have a rich history. They were the prized ingredient in bread that was gifted to pharaohs in ancient Egypt. Though their exact origins aren’t known for sure, it’s thought they originally came from central Asia and were brought to Europe on the Silk Road.
Today, however, they are much more accessible and not exclusively for royalty!
Nowadays, almond extract and almond essence are very common items to use, especially in baking. They can really enhance the flavor when baking a cake or cookies.
You may be wondering what the difference is between almond extract vs almond essence. Are they the same? Can you swap one for the other? Read on to find out everything you need to know!
Almond Extract vs Almond Essence
While almond extract and almond essence are both concentrated flavoring ingredients that deliver similar results, there are some things that differ between them.
First, almond extract is more expensive. This is because of the second difference. Almond extract has more naturally occurring ingredients compared to the more processed almond essence.
Secondly, and perhaps the most important is that almost all extract is made from almonds and the flavor is “extracted” using a solvent – which is most commonly alcohol. Whereas, with the essence, or an artificial flavoring, it’s a chemical/synthetic creation that is supposed to emulate the flavor and aromas of an extract.
Lastly, in the pure almond extract that’s taken from almonds or other stone fruits (more on that later), there are trace amounts of cyanide. In the artificial version – almond essence – there isn’t any due to its synthetic nature. However, such small amounts are safe for human consumption.
What is Almond Extract?
Almond extract is a concentrated flavoring liquid that gives foods – most commonly baked goods – an almond flavoring. It’s very strong and not much is needed when it’s used. It’s only made up of three ingredients: water, alcohol (usually ethyl alcohol), and bitter almond oil.
When making almond extract, bitter almonds are often used instead of sweet almonds. This is because bitter almonds have a stronger almond flavor than their sweeter counterparts. However, sometimes there are actually no almonds in the almond extract at all. This is because other fruits that give a more “almond-y” flavor are used instead.
Remember, I said almonds are actually seeds, which is important. That’s because the seeds from other fruits in the drupe (or stone fruit) family like apricots or peaches are often used to make almond extract. Why? Because the important ingredient Benzaldehyde – an organic compound – is also found in other drupes, not just almonds and it’s what provides that essential almond flavor. Surprisingly, in a taste experiment, more people actually preferred the taste of the almond extract that was derived from the other fruits and not almonds! It turns out that the almond flavor is more pronounced when it’s taken from other drupes and not almonds.
Additionally, it’s also cheaper to make almond extract using the seeds from other drupes like peaches, plums, or cherries because they are often a byproduct when making things like yogurts or jams.
So, in some almond extracts the bitter almond oil may not have actually come from almonds at all, but in fact one of its relatives!
Natural Almond Extract vs Pure Almond Extract
Almond extract also can be distinguished and defined in two groups natural almond extract or pure almond extract. Ironically, most of the options actually exclude almonds – even the pure almond extract!
To be defined as a pure almond extract (according to the Food and Drug Administration) the bitter almond oil in the extract must be made from bitter almonds or the seeds from other drupes or stone fruits. Natural almond extract on the other hand actually uses cassia bark to derive the almond oil.
How is Almond Extract Used?
Far and away the most common way to use almond extract is when baking. There are countless recipes of cookies, cakes, and pies that all call for it. BBC has 47 of them in one place! It’s not surprising. Almond extract can provide a nice almond flavor that goes very well in baked goods. However, you can use almond extract beyond baking cakes and cookies. It can also be used in savory dishes, cosmetics, and even drinks!
While it’s not very commonly used in savory dishes, it can go well in dishes that can have a nutty flavor like a middle eastern rice pilaf or saffron rice. Some other foods you can use it in that aren’t savory but aren’t baked goods either include French toast and oatmeal.
It’s also used in cosmetics sometimes as almond oil can soothe and nourish dry skin.
Almond extract can be used as an impromptu substitute for vanilla. However, you need to be careful as while it can provide a similar kind of flavor, it can be noticeably different as well.
Lastly, it can be used in a variety of drink recipes. You can add it to a latte or coffee to add a rich nutty flavor. Or you can use it to make your own amaretto or even a variety of cocktails!
However, as almond extract has a very strong taste you don’t need to use it very much as just a little bit can go a long way. You generally don’t want to use more than one teaspoon in a recipe as it won’t necessarily provide more almond flavor but rather a bitter taste instead.
What is Almond Essence?
Almond essence, like almond extract, is a concentrated flavoring liquid that’s used to impart an almond-like flavor to various foods – primarily cookies and cakes. However, it’s generally manufactured using artificial ingredients. For it to be a similar flavor as almond extract, it’s made with a synthetic version of benzaldehyde – which is responsible for the almond flavor.
How is Almond Essence Used?
Almond essence can be used in pretty much the same ways that one would use almond extract. So, it’s good to use in a variety of foods and of course baked goods. Some dishes that you can use almond essence in include creamy almond soup, fig and almond salad, cheesecake, or almond cookies. But of course, there are many other foods you can use almond essence as well!
When it comes to the storage of opened bottles of almond essence or almond extract they both should be sealed tightly and stored in a cool and dry section of the fridge. It can last for 3-4 years at a high quality. However, while still safe to use, the quality will deteriorate after that.
McCormick says that their almond extract has a shelf life of 1,440 days.
Almond Extract vs Almond Essence Nutrition
When it comes to the nutritional value of almond extract and almond essence, there isn’t much that separates them both. They both have very little nutritional value. Per serving (one teaspoon) of almond extract or almond essence, there are roughly 10 calories. There is 0.5g sugar (carbohydrates), 6.2mg potassium, and 0.4mg sodium.
Some people have concerns as they have heard that bitter almonds are deadly due to the amount of cyanide that’s produced when they are eaten raw. However, when they are cooked or when the almond oil is extracted, they lose their toxicity. Therefore almond extract poses no risk in this regard.
What About Nut Allergies?
You may wonder whether almond extract or almond essence is safe for those that have a tree nut allergy. In some cases, almond extract may be safe for those with a nut allergy. Of course, though, this depends on the source of the almond oil. If it’s been derived from bitter almonds then it’s certainly not safe to eat for those with a nut allergy. But, if it’s made from the kernels of peaches or apricots then it’s likely safe to consume.
However, you should still use extreme caution to make sure that it’s made with artificial or non-almond flavoring. How it’s labeled is important and shouldn’t contain anything natural almond related, but instead “artificial flavor” or “imitation almond flavoring”.
One should consult with their doctor first before taking such risks, however. They may even have a brand or recommendation for you to consider as nut allergies are quite common.
Almond Extract vs Almond Essence Price
The biggest difference and one that I already briefly mentioned was the difference in price.
Almond extract is much more expensive than almond essence. Though the exact price of it can depend on where you are and perhaps any sales or discounts that are going on, the price for almond extract is about double that of almond essence.
In terms of the price per ounce, almond extract can vary between $1.50-3.50 per ounce and almond essence can cost between $.50-1.50 per ounce. Whilst this may seem expensive, remember that you don’t use much of it at a time.
You generally shouldn’t use more than a single teaspoon in a single recipe. Since there isn’t much of a difference when it comes to the taste, if you use it frequently it may make sense to spend less and just buy the artificial alternative.