Almond oil is extracted from almonds, which are native to the Middle East. Almonds are believed to be among the first domesticated fruit trees — they were being cultivated in the early Bronze Age — and eventually spread from the Middle East to Southern Europe. They would also spread throughout Asia and reach California by the 19th century.
Almonds are rich in oil with almost half of a dried almond’s weight being oil. Almond oil is one of the most popular almond products and has been used for its cosmetic benefits as well as for culinary ones. Ayurveda, traditional Chinese medicine and Greco-Persian medicine have all used almond oil for medicinal benefits. It was used both topically and internally.
There are two kinds of almond oil: sweet almond oil and bitter almond oil.
Bitter almond oil comes from bitter almonds, which contain a compound called amygdalin that becomes cyanide when the almond is crushed or chewed. As a result, bitter almond oil can be used topically but can be toxic if consumed. Sweet almond oil comes from sweet almonds and is not toxic.
France is the best-known producer of almond oil, but it is produced in the US as well.
Almond oil flavor profile
Almond oil has a light nutty flavor that can enhance both savory and sweet dishes when used properly. Like most unrefined cooking oils, unrefined almond oil should be used at a low temperature to keep it from burning. Its flavor can be ruined by excessive heat.
Health benefits of almond oil
Widely used for its health benefits, unrefined almond oil still retains most of its nutrients. Some of those components may be stripped out by the refinement process. Almond oil contains important compounds like:
- Vitamins: Like most plant-based cooking oils, almond oil is a good source of both vitamins E and K. It is an exceptional source of vitamin E.
- Monounsaturated fatty acids: Almond oil is a good source of monounsaturated fatty acids since they make up most of the fatty acids found in it. Monounsaturated fatty acids are also responsible for benefits from famously healthy cooking oils like olive oil.
Almond oil is an important source of the compounds that can prevent or treat conditions like:
- Heart disease: Almond oil helps to protect from heart disease, according to researchers. It helps to lower bad cholesterol levels and blood pressure while raising levels of good cholesterol. Another important cardiovascular benefit comes from its low level of saturated fat.
- Cancer: The monounsaturated fats in almond oil may also help to reduce the risk of certain cancers including breast cancer. The antioxidant properties of vitamin E are also beneficial for fighting cancers.
- Obesity: Some research suggests that a diet high in monounsaturated fat may be beneficial for weight loss.
- Diabetes: Unsaturated fats like those found in almond oil have been shown to help with blood sugar control, which is beneficial for people with diabetes.
Unrefined almond oil is commonly used as a finishing oil that you drizzle on food before serving. Unrefined almond oil is also a flavorful and nutritious ingredient in vinaigrettes and other salad dressings.
Reserve refined almond oil for high-heat cooking and dishes where you want a mild almond flavor. It is not as flavorful as the unrefined oil but it is stable at high temperatures. Almond oil makes a great substitute for butter in baked goods, especially if they are supposed to be almond-flavored.