Is Almond Extract Safe If You Have Nut Allergies?

Almonds and almond extract

Verywell / Zorica Lakonic 

Almonds are tree nuts, which makes them off limits for those with a tree nut allergy. It would seemingly follow that almond extract should also be avoided, but that's not necessarily the case.

While real almond extract is made from almonds and could trigger a reaction, imitation almond extract is safe for people with tree nut allergies because it is not actually made from almonds. It has a potent almond flavor and scent, but none of the offending proteins found in the nut itself.

However, you should use extreme caution in trying anything that lists almond extract as an ingredient if you're allergic to nuts. Don't try a product that contains almond extract unless you're sure you're getting the safe (imitation) kind of almond flavoring.

Sources

Almond extract and almond flavoring can be created from three different sources—almonds, the pits of certain fruits, and from chemicals produced in a factory. Most almond extracts and flavorings you see as ingredients in food products are actually made from the kernels of peach or apricot pits or are synthetically produced.

This may seem counterintuitive, since you'd expect something claiming to be the extract of almonds actually to be made from almonds. However, peach and apricot kernels carry the same flavor compounds as almond oil, and they are less expensive to obtain and process.

In addition, similar compounds to those found in almonds, peach pits, and apricot pits can be derived synthetically in labs or from cassia (a plant with a flavor similar to cinnamon) to create artificial extracts.

Ingredients

Pure almond extract is made from three ingredients—almond oil, alcohol, and water. Any almond extract product with those ingredients is not safe for someone with a tree nut allergy.

The ingredients list will look like this: water, alcohol, and oil of bitter almond. You also should avoid "almond flavor" and "almond flavoring" products that include almond oil in the ingredients.

An almond extract made from peach and/or apricot pits will not be labeled "pure," and will not have almonds or almond oil listed as ingredients. Instead, the ingredients likely will list "natural almond flavor." This generally means that extracts from fruit pits were used to make the flavoring.

There's little or no information about whether extracts derived from peach and apricot pits are safe for a nut-free diet. So you should proceed with caution, and most likely should avoid foods that contain "natural almond flavor."

Artificial almond extract owes its almond-like flavor to a chemical called benzaldehyde, which is made from chemicals in an industrial setting. It's not made from almonds, peach pits, or apricot pits.

It's considered a safe choice for almond flavoring, and it has the bonus of almost always being less expensive than "natural" sources of almond flavor. Look for the words "imitation almond extract" on the label, and "artificial flavor" in the ingredients.

Why Peach Pits Taste Like Almonds

Most food allergies fall into one of eight categories, and tree nuts are one of those categories. Although almonds are included in the "tree nut" group for the sake of allergic labeling, they are not tree nuts at all. Instead, they're what are called drupes.

Drupes actually are a type of fruit with an outer fleshy covering over a hard-shelled nut. Nutmeg is a drupe, as are walnuts and pecans.

Drupes that we think of as "fruit" include peaches, plums, nectarines, cherries, and apricots, and are referred to as "stone fruit" (literally, fruit with stones in the middle). Almonds are in the same family (the Prunus family) as peaches, apricots, plums, and nectarines.

That's why the compounds released from peach and apricot pits taste the same as those released from bitter almond oil, and why it's possible to use fruit pits to make an almond-flavored extract. Those compounds from fruit pits are bioidentical to those in almonds.

The chemical benzaldehyde is the primary component of bitter almond oil. It was first extracted from almond oil. However, it's less expensive to make it from other chemicals than it is to extract it from almonds or fruit pits.

An almond allergy may predispose a person to other tree nut allergies. These tree nuts include hazelnuts, Brazil nuts, pistachios, cashews, walnuts, macadamia nuts, pine nuts, and pecans.

A Word From Verywell

Artificial almond extract doesn't have the flavor profile purists prefer, since it's difficult or impossible to obtain that flavor from anything other than pure almond extract that's made from almonds.

However, the artificial version has its upsides. It's safe for people who are allergic to tree nuts, and it's almost always less expensive than the nut-based variety. So look for "artificial flavor" or "benzaldehyde" in the ingredients to be sure you're getting almond flavoring that's safe for those with almond allergy.

3 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services. Food allergen graph: Avoiding peanut, tree nuts, egg, corn, and wheat ingredients.

  2. Verma RS, Padalia RC, Singh VR, Goswami P, Chauhan A, Bhukya B. Natural benzaldehyde from Prunus persica (L.) BatschInt J Food Prop. 2017:1-5. doi:10.1080/10942912.2017.1338728

  3. Weinberger T, Sicherer S. Current perspectives on tree nut allergy: a reviewJ Asthma Allergy. 2018;11:41-51. doi:10.2147/JAA.S141636

Additional Reading
  • Roux KH, Teuber SS, Sathe SK. Tree nut allergens. Int Arch Allergy Immunol. 2003;131:234-244. doi:10.1159/000072135

By Victoria Groce
Victoria Groce is a medical writer living with celiac disease who specializes in writing about dietary management of food allergies.