It’s time for my annual visit in the holy land, and luckily for me, there are still some almond trees in bloom. Their delicate appearance is very nostalgic and precious. They are not unlike cherry blossoms, but are far more delicate, fragrant and sweet. They have less petals too than most ornamental cherry varieties.
The scent of almond blossoms is wonderful and comparable to sweet pea and honey, with surprising hints . It is not as powdery and heavy as plum blossoms yet not as subtle and floral as sakura (cherry blossoms).
The kernels of almond, cherry, apricot, plum and peach and also apple seeds contain significant amounts of amygdalin, a glycoside that breaks up under enzyme catalysis into two glucose molecules, and one of benzaldehyde and the toxic hydrogen cyanide. Benzaldehyde is the main contributor to the “almond” or “cherry” type of scent, as can be found in so-called bitter almond oil (the oil is not typically produced from bitter almonds, but rather from a combination of the other kernels mentioned earlier). Of course, much care is taken as to remove the prussic acid (hydrogen cyanide) from bitter almond oils.
Curiously, benzaldehyde also naturally occurs in oyster mushrooms (Pleurotus ostreatus). But as an aroma, it is more familiar to us from pastry ingredients such as almond paste, marzipan and bitter almond oil, which was first extracted in 1803 by the French pharmacists Martrès, and synthesized less than 30 years later by German chemists Friedrich Wöhler and Justus von Liebig. Most “bitter almond oils” on the market are synthetically produced and only few are true almond oils. This is a very popular flavour and aroma ingredient, which the world consumes about 18 million kilos of, and it is much easier to . Therefore, one must make thorough inquiries before purchasing if wishing to avoid synthetics.
But I digress. I’ve written plenty on the subject of bitter almond oils for Tu BiShvat. Before they fade completely and become green almonds - I’d like to focus on the almond blossoms in all their delicate glory. Smelling them fresh or the first time in a long while - it’s interesting to smell the connections between bitter almond notes and orange blossoms, for instance. As well as between almond flowers and benzaldehyde. Pressing my nose to the fresh flowers, I’m noticing that sweetness that one finds in orange flowers (also in season now), and the sweet-peas that are also in bloom.