A few months ago, my neighbor invited me to pick a huge amount of apricots from her tree, after which I made homemade fruit leather. When my father in law heard about all the apricots that I scored, he told me "Don't throw away the pits. You can eat them. They're really good for you."
This was the first I'd heard about eating apricot pits, or rather, apricot kernels, so asked him to tell me more.
My father in law waxed nostalgic about his grandmother, a wonderful Greek woman, after whom my daughter Anneliese is named (no, her name wasn't Anneliese, Anneliese is just a pseudonym), and how she used to make all sorts of amazing culinary creations. One of the foods my father in law remembers her making was made with apricot seeds. According to him, she'd collect apricot pits, dry them in the sun, then crack them open to remove the kernel, which she would then use to make a sweet treat. Eager to learn more, I pressed on, but my father in law was a young boy when she died, and doesn't remember specifics about what this treat was.
I turned to the internet to try to find out what this confection that my great grandmother in law made was, and discovered that apricot kernels are used in so many different recipes, but most notably, in marzipan and in amaretto.
Apricot kernels, it turns out, look like tiny little almonds, and taste like almonds, only bitter.
At first, that might seem a little surprising, as what connection is there between apricots and almonds that would make them taste similarly?
But if you look at a picture of green almonds, what "unripe" almonds look like, you may get a clue.
Yes, green almonds have fuzzy peach/apricot like skin, and they actually taste like an unripe peach.
And you know why?
Because they're closely related.
Almonds are prunus dulcis, apricots are prunus armeniaca, and peaches are prunus persica, all part of the happy prunus family, along with cherries, nectarines, and plums.
And all of them have something in common.
Edible outsides, edible kernels inside the seed.
"Now wait", you're probably stopping me. "I thought peach pits and cherry pits and plum pits and nectarine pits and apricot pits were poisonous? Don't they contain cyanide or something?"
In short, yes.
No, wait- don't run away yet. I'm not totally delusional if I'm telling you that you can eat them. I'm not advocating suicide or infanticide or mariticide (can you believe I just googled to find out how to say all these words?), don't worry. I'll talk about the safety aspect. But first I wanted to tell you what you can do with these.
My mom once heard that I picked a whole bunch of loquats. (See here if you don't know what they are.) She told me that I should keep the seeds, cover them with alcohol such as vodka or brandy, and in 6 weeks or so I'd have an almond flavored extract. I didn't believe her at first, but decided to try it anyhow.
Well, I have to admit, mom was right after all. (Don't they say that maturity means realizing that maybe your mom did know what she was talking about after all? Maybe that means I'm finally mature? Haha, or maybe not.) Those loquat seeds made a very lovely almond flavored and scented extract, which I used to make my cheapo cheapo peach crumble today, made with peaches one step away from the trash, which I got today for free...
Well, why am I talking about loquats?
What is the connection? Weren't we talking about apricot kernels here and why I'm suggesting you eat cyanide?
Well, the reason is because you can take peach pits, apricot pits, plum pits, cherry pits, and nectarine pits and do the same exact thing- chuck them, uncracked, into a jar, cover them with vodka or brandy, let sit for six weeks, and you have an all natural almond extract to use for a variety of recipes, such as almond flavored biscotti, etc... Tastes delicious. Its called noyau and used a lot in French cooking.
And now, onto the cyanide.
When I ask you what food contains cyanide, your first answer probably would be bitter almonds, but did you know that cyanide is found in so many foods we eat all the time, without second thought?
Cyanide can be found in cashews, brown rice, buckwheat and millet, wild blackberries, wild cranberries, elderberries, apply seeds, cherry seeds, nectarine seeds, peach seeds, pear seeds, plum seeds, prune seeds, fava, bamboo, alfalfa, flax seeds, eucalyptus, cassava, boysenberries, huckleberries, raspberries, strawberries, squash seeds, black beans, black eyed peas, lentils, lima beans, kidney beans, garbanzo beans, macadamia nuts, spinach, watercress, sweet potatoes and yams.
Wow. Long list there.
Did you know that beans, for example, have much, much, much more cyanide in them than apricot kernels or any of the pits of the fruit that you can use for extract?
And no, my goal isn't to tell you not to eat beans or rice or berries, etc...
Because cyanide isn't actually that dangerous for you. In fact, it really depends what type of cyanide you're talking about. Cyanide is actually a whole group of chemical compounds, of which the cyanide found in the aforementioned foods are just a small part.
And not only will these not kill you, or even make you sick, they actually are used as a cancer preventative, not to mention cancer cure.
And now back to my father in law.
When my father in law was telling me about apricot kernels, he mentioned that a certain family friend was discovered to have late stage cancer. He went to the head of the oncology ward at the local hospital and asked the professor what he suggested he do. The doctor told him that radiation and chemo were a bad idea in his case, so our friend persisted and asked "So what should I do?" The oncology department head told him to eat a certain amount of apricot kernels every day (I forget the exact amount), and that should take care of his cancer.
He did, and within a month of taking these apricot kernels, his cancer was all but gone.
How does that work?
Well, the theory is that humanity actually needs a bit of cyanide, of the variety called amygladin or laetril, to stay strong and prevent cancer. People coined this "Vitamin B17", saying that it as essential for humans to have regular consumption of amygladin and laetril as it is for them to eat the other vitamins.
Why is this?
Well, amygdalin, vitamin B17, breaks down during digestion to become hydrogen cyanide and benzaldahyde.
"The body has the proper compounds to either neutralize or unlock the B17 molecules at the point of cancer. The enzyme rhodanese is found in normal healthy cells and will neutralize the Benzaldahyde and Hydrogen Cyanide and convert them into harmless compounds. Rhodanese is found everywhere in the body except for in or around cancer cells/tumors.So basically, your body's cells can break down and neutralize the dangerous compounds in amygdalin, and only the dangerous cancerous cells get destroyed. Sounds like a win, win situation to me.
In contrast, Beta-Glucosidase is found only at the site of cancer and is referred to as the “unlocking enzyme” since it will unlock the cyanide and benzaldahyde only where there are cancer cells or tumors.
When glucose delivers B-17 to the cancer cells, the cancer cannot neutralize the cyanide since it lacks the rhodanese enzyme. Instead, the cyanide and benzaldahyde are released allowing them to target the cancer cells directly.
But yes, I get it, you're skeptical. I mean, the medical establishment has come out strongly against this, despite it working for many, and in spite of the fact that many, many people die from the conventional cancer treatments and not from the cancer itself.
You don't actually want to be chancing it.
So cook it.
Because when you cook it, the amygdalin gets broken down completely, which is why you can eat all those beans that you want and not get sick and/or die from cyanide poisoning.
Just boil your almond extract before using, or use in cooked foods, like when making delicious cakes and cookies, and you don't have to worry at all.
And even if you don't boil it, keep in mind that the amount of cyanide in a teaspoon or a tablespoon of extract, or even more, is really, really negligible, less even than in your average meal of rice and beans.
So, next time you're eating a peach or plum or cherries or nectarines or apricots, save the seeds. You can flavor your foods with them in all sorts of delicious ways. (This blog post talks about the ways to use them, including many recipes that don't involve alcohol.)
And if you want to get a kick out of it, next time you're serving a dish made with these to your friends or family, tell them that you love them so much that you're serving them a meal laced with cyanide. They'll be sure to love you to pieces for that. ;)
P.S. I just have to make this very clear that I am NOT a doctor, nor am I a medical authority of any kind, I'm just sharing information I heard and read about. I take no responsibility for any decisions you make based on this post or any others- please discuss these things with a health practitioner that you trust before making any changes.
So, have you ever heard of vitamin B17 before? What's your opinion on it? Does this post make you think twice about eating beans, certain berries, nuts, rice, etc... or does it make you rethink not eating certain foods you thought were dangerous, but now you realize are not?
Ever eaten almond kernels or made extracts/liquers with cherry, apricot, nectarine, peach, or plum pits? Do you think this is something you'd try out, or do you think it's something you'd stay away from, despite the reassurances in this article?