Posted on 65 Comments

What is the difference between Sweet Almond and Bitter Almond?

Sweet almond oil and bitter almond oil

We have heard enough customer comments over the years to realize that a number of people don’t really understand the difference between sweet almond oil and bitter almond oil.  I tackled this subject today and while doing the research learned a lot myself.  Sweet almond oil is a fixed oil while bitter almond oil is considered an essential oil.   Fixed oils are the carrier oils we use as a base oil whereas essential oils are extracts from plant material. Fixed oils don’t evaporate and are typically what you think of when you hear the word oil.  Essential oils can evaporate and are not really so much oil as they are the “essence” of the plant material from which they come.  They are generally used for scent, flavor and their aromatherapy properties.

Note: The image above shows a vial of sweet almond oil (a fixed oil) on the left and natural benzaldehyde (which can be derived from bitter almond). They are surrounded by edible almonds.

They come from different trees

Sweet almond oil and bitter almond essential oil actually come from two different trees.  The sweet almond tree (Prunus Dulcis, var. Amygdalus) gives us the almonds which many of us love to eat.  Sweet almond oil and an emulsion are extracted from these almonds.    The bitter almond tree (Prunus dulcis, var. Amara) also produces an almond, but broader and shorter in shape.  A lesser quantity of the fixed oil is produced from these along with an emulsion which yields glucose, cyanide, and the essential oil of bitter almonds, which is nearly pure benzaldehyde.  While researching I found it interesting that the sweet almond tree usually has white flowers while the bitter almond tree has pink flowers.  The almond tree is a small deciduous tree growing between 4 – 10 meters in height and was originally native to an area stretching from Pakistan west to Syria, Israel, and Turkey.

Internal use

Sweet almond has many culinary uses.  Besides being eaten on its own it has been used in dishes such as French macaroons, marzipan, nougat, and almond butter.  Pakistan and India find them used in curries and in China they are a favorite dessert, mixed with milk and served hot.  They can be made into a milk product similar to soy for those who are lactose intolerant or vegan.  Almond flour is gluten-free and contains almost no carbohydrates so products can be made from this for people with special dietary requirements.  The popular Keto diet of today makes extensive use of almond flour. 

Bitter almond has been used historically in small amounts for flavoring in certain dishes such as almond syrup and the Italian amaretti.  However, due to its potential for toxicity, it’s use has been discontinued in the present day.

Skincare Use

The two oils are very different from a skincare perspective as well.  Sweet almond oil is an excellent lubricant and is beneficial for dry, sensitive skin.  It is considered to be a medium-light oil that is easily absorbed which makes it very useful both for massage and facial care applications.  Sweet almond oil is primarily composed of olein and also contains linoleic acid and glucosides.  It is rich in protein, vitamins, and minerals and therefore is considered nourishing and revitalizing.  We use it as the carrier oil in our Susan’s Own Face Serum and Anti-aging Face Serum.  Sweet almond oil is one of the most versatile, multipurpose skin care oils available.

Bitter almond oil as mentioned before is an essential oil.  It is not used as an emollient or indeed in any direct way for skin care at all.  Its usefulness is simply for its wonderful almond scent or flavor.  Bitter Almond also doesn’t have any aromatherapy benefits like most of the essential oils we use.  Lavender, for example, is known for relaxing qualities as well as it’s wonderful scent and great skincare benefits.  Bitter Almond we use simply because our customers love the way it smells.  We use Bitter Almond in our Almond Oatmeal Soap, Almond Salt Glow, Almond Lotion Bar.  The Bitter Almond we use is a food grade product that is 100% benzaldehyde and contains absolutely no cyanide.  It is natural and completely safe.

Summary of the differences between sweet almonds and bitter almonds

So to wrap all this up:

  • Sweet Almond oil is a fixed oil that is moisturizing and good for dry and sensitive skin.  Great for massage and face care.
  • Bitter Almond oil is an essential oil that provides wonderful scent and/or flavor.
  • Read the ingredient labels of the products you are purchasing to know what it is made of and make your purchase decision based on your own needs.  For example, our Almond Oatmeal Soap smells wonderful but its the oatmeal and rice bran oil in it that makes your skin feel so great, not the Bitter Almond Essential oil.  Our Face Serums, on the other hand, feel fabulous on your skin and do a superb job of moisturizing due to their being made with Sweet Almond Oil.
  • Now you should be set to understand the differences between sweet and bitter almond and be able to buy what you want and understand what you are getting.

Sources:

Wikipedia on Almond

The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Essential Oils by Julia Lawless

Aromatherapy for the Beauty Therapist by Valerie Ann Worwood

65 thoughts on “What is the difference between Sweet Almond and Bitter Almond?

  1. i need bitter almond oil for Italian amaretto cookies. How could I make it myself? thank you

    1. I don’t think that bitter almond oil is something you can make yourself. It must be extracted and I believe is a pretty involved process. We buy ours from a supplier in bulk. Will almond flavoring that you find at the grocery store not work? That is what I have used for flavoring when baking. You can also find marzipan paste in stores as well which is an almond flavoring.

  2. What is the difference between almond flavoring and almond emulsion?

    1. Melanie,

      I have never used Almond Emulsion but after looking it up on the internet see that it is indeed used extensively by bakers. I saw that King Arthur’s Flour Company carries it. I also found a description of it at this link. link

      From what I can tell it is simply a different way of getting almond flavoring into your baking. Almond Extract is very liquid and contains alcohol. Almond Emulsion is described as a gum based almond flavoring that is thick and won’t dilute your baking ingredients.

      I am not really an expert here as this more of a baker’s arena – but hope that helps.

  3. I love using Almond oil in my soaps, I found a great deal online at http://www.soapgoods.com/Almond-Oil-Sweet-p-218.html

  4. Where can I buy food-grade bitter almond oil? I’ve searched online but haven’t been able to find anything.

    Thanks so much!

  5. Where do you get your bitter almond essential oil? I have been looking for one with no cyanide. Your help would be greatly appreciated !!

  6. Hi there,
    I live in Canada and just recently went to a local grocery store and bought almond oil, thinking I could use this to moisturize my skin. I did some research (your page and others) about almond oils. I am now afraid to use the almond oil that I purchased because it has a smell to it (definitely not sweet, but bitter) and could possibly be bitter almond oil. Is there anyway you can help me confirm if it is bitter almond oil. All it says on the package is 100% almond oil. The brand is “Suraj” and it was in the cooking oil section.

    1. Thanks for your question. Bitter Almond oil actually smells sweet. It is the sweet scent we typically associate with almonds . Think of amaretto, marzipan or even the old Jergens lotion. Sweet almond oil usually doesn’t have much scent at all but is very susceptible to rancidity as it has a pretty short shelf life. My guess is that you have sweet almond oil that may have turned rancid. I definitely do not think you have Bitter Almond oil.

  7. Thank you for the input!
    So it wouldn’t be safe to use the oil on my skin if it has gone rancid?

  8. Indeed, Bitter Almond Oil is the essential oil and it has amazing anti-aging properties!
    All essential oils can have a potential for toxicity if used improperly. Bitter Almond oil is still available in Bio Health stores and specific websites as well as ebay.
    The ancient Greek women usd the Bitter Almond Oil diluted with olive oil or sweet almond oil as a superb anti-aging elixir! I think they knew a lot more that we do now..

  9. Hi,
    I have a Swedish recepie that asks for both sweet and bitter almonds.. I have a hard time locating the bitter almonds any ideas?

    1. I don’t know how old your recipe is but I would be VERY hesitant to use bitter almonds for cooking. In fact I indicated in my post that their use in cooking as been discontinued due to their toxicity. This is probably why you can’t find them. Personally I think I would change recipes. Good luck.

  10. Hi:
    Can you use almond emulsion for melt and pour soap?
    Thanks

    1. I don’t make Melt and Pour so can’t answer that.

  11. Effective post. I learn about new challenges from different blogs every day. It’s always stimulating to share content from other writers and learn a little different from them. I would like to apply certain concepts from this content on my blog if you don’t mind. Naturally I’ll give you a link to share to your online site. Many thanks for sharing.

  12. Hi, I just thought I might add in here, benzaldehyde(the IUPAC name for bitter almond oil) can be made in several ways:

    Refluxing cinnamaldehyde(the essential oil from cinnamon bark) in an alkaline solution for about 8 hours, followed by distillation. Sodium carbonate works quite well here. 30g Sodium carbonate dissolved in 1L water and boiled, then addition of 100g cimmamaldehyde and further boiling for 8 hours with a condenser will give pretty decent amounts of benzaldehyde.

    Also, electrolysis of benzyl alcohol using ruthenium oxide cathodes will do the job.

    Probably not a method the everyday mum would attempt, but anyone with an interest in home chemistry and a taste for almond flavoured cake could be motivated enough to learn the techniques!

  13. Hi, I bought a bottle that’s simply labelled “Almond oil”. The description says that I can use it in salad dressings or as a ‘carrier oil’ for cosmetic purposes. It has next to no scent. Can I safely assume that this is sweet almond oil and not bitter almond oil? Thanks

  14. Without seeing the label I really cannot comment on it. If you have any doubts about how to use it I would contact the manufacturer.

    Good luck.

  15. I have two questions:

    Should one purchase organic sweet almond oil for use as a carrier?

    Should it have a fragrance? I have seen some reviews online that complain because the oil they bought had no fragrance.

    Thanks for educating us!

    1. You don’t indicate what you want it to be a carrier for. If you are meaning to add some sweet almond oil to your soap formulation then it is entirely up to you if you want to use organic or not depending on how you are formulating and marketing your products.

      No sweet almond oil does not really have a scent, certainly not almond.

  16. I was thinking of it as a carrier oil for essential oils, such as sweet almond or grapefruit. Mostly for skin/cosmetic purposes. I assume one should use organic oils on skin…or not necessarily?

    1. Okay. Now I am confused. You say: I was thinking of it as a carrier oil for essential oils, such as sweet almond or grapefruit.

      Sweet Almond is NOT an essential oil. It is a carrier oil and I thought that was the carrier oil that you were asking me about. So to continue on with that thought regarding whether or not you need to use organic carrier oils – it is basically the same decision as whether or not you need to purchase organic food to eat. Organic should definitely be healthier or at least more certain of being healthier for you in terms of pesticide free so it is up to you how much you value that. And to expand on the essential oil thing – Bitter Almond (Benzaldehyde) has no aromatherapy value per se. It just smells great. So if you are trying to maximize your benefits I would use a different essential oil or at least if I was using Bitter Almond I probably wouldn’t bother with an organic carrier oil for it.

      Hope that helps and clarifies!

  17. Hi! I am looking for an oil to use in a diffuser that smells like almond extract or ameretto. I have so many allergies and asthma, and it is a smell that doesn’t cause wheezing. If I were to buy bitter almond oil, is that the smell for which I am looking and would it work for my use? Thank you for your help!!! Your post is the first that explained the difference and gave the best descriptions!

    1. Hello Andrea,

      Thanks for your question, but unfortunately, I am not familiar with diffuser oils so I am not at knowledgeable about what would and would not work. However, I do not think you would want to use bitter almond in any way in which you would be absorbing it into your body which of course you would be inhaling it from a diffuser. Therefore I would NOT use bitter almond for that purpose. I would stay with oils that specifically designed for use in your diffuser!

  18. Exceptional post however I was wondering if you could
    write a litte more on this subject? I’d be very grateful if you could
    elaborate a little bit further. Bless you!

  19. […] Sweet almond oil vs bitter almond oil by Susan’s natural soap blog […]

  20. My sweet almond oil bottle reads… Pure sweet almond oil NF. What does the N F mean?

    1. NF stands for National Formulary

  21. Can you provide the link to the bitter almond you use in your products? Thank you

    1. I am sorry but we do not divulge our suppliers.

  22. Does sweet almond oil have a sent? Unrefined ?

    1. No sweet almond oil doesn’t really have a scent. We do use a refined sweet almond oil.

  23. Hello,
    It feels great to read your article. I have a bottle of almond oil. It’s white coloured oil and it smells bad. What kind of almond oil is it?

  24. Dear Susan,

    Can we have photos of bitter vs. sweet almonds?
    Also will you ship bitter almonds to Australia?

    Thankful,

  25. When buying almond oil, does the bitter almond oil usually come in a plastic bottle as sweet almond oil and other carrier oils do? Or does it come in a dark glass bottle like other essential oils? I wouldn’t want to buy the wrong product.

  26. take 2 tbs of multaanimitti powder and add milk to it to make it in to a paste(add gram flour if your skin is oily). Mix it well and apply it for 15-20 mins to make it dry. Do not use fan to dry it. Wash it off with warm water. For better results you can use neem powder also along with it to clear dark spots.

  27. does almond oil need to be organic?

    1. No it does not need to be organic.

  28. I used to get regular massages in the Dominicn Republic with a beautiful almond scent to it..It was clear until the sun hits it and then it turns yellowish…It is inexpensive and you can buy it by the gallon…how does it get it’s sweet smell of almonds?? Can you buy it anywhere here in the
    States that has that beautiful light smell of almond oil…That is what is so calming..

    1. Sounds like some kind of inexpensive carrier oil scented with synthetic almond.

  29. What if there is no ingredients given on the bottle and we want to recognize if we have sweet almond oil or bitter almond oil?

    1. Bitter Almond should smell like Almonds or Jergens Lotion whereas Sweet Almond Oil doesn’t really have a scent.

  30. What if there is no ingredients given on the bottle and we want to recognize the difference?

  31. Thanks for enlightening us on the differences between the two oils. i actually believe that bitter almond oil has other benefits aside from just being an aromatic oil. There are many health benefits bitter almond oil provides for the body, but one has to be careful when using it because it could also be toxic to the body

  32. I love using almond oil for all different crafts. I enjoyed reading your post on the differences.

  33. So sweet almond oil is not suppose to have any scent?

    1. Not really. Nothing distinctive.

  34. bitter almond oil has been suggested as a honey bee repellant(won’t allow my hummers to feed) but is it toxic to tne bees or hummers?

    1. I am sorry but I have no idea it is toxic to bees or hummers.

  35. Hello
    Can I use bitter almond oil for pimple?

  36. For those who are wondering, bitter almond oil can be used as skincare. Just came back from Egypt and over there they use bitter almond oil. My friend purchased a bottle for her very dry skin and rosacea (pure bitter almond oil, with nothing else added). It did wonders for her skin in just 1 night – I saw the next morning that her dry flakes were finally gone. She has been using it since then and I regret not buying a bottle for myself!

    1. I am not sure I agree with this. I would not use bitter almond oil straight for any kind of skin care.

  37. Hi
    Which is best for face?

    1. Sweet Almond oil. You would not want to use Bitter Almond oil straight for anything.

  38. Thanks for the clarification

  39. Almond Oil have a lot benefits for face and Body

  40. Where do you get your bitter almond essential oil from?

    1. We use natural benzaldehyde and I am sorry but we do not reveal our supply sources.

  41. The text to background contrast of this comments section is awful and I’m certain it doesn’t meet accessibility requirements. Please consider making this more useable for your vision impaired visitors.

    1. Hi Kris,

      You are absolutely right. I just migrated the site over to a different ecommerce platform and am still trying to get everything working correctly. Please accept my apologies. I will try to get things fixed very soon.

      Regards,

      Susan

    2. We just changed the font color on the comments. You should be able to actually see them now! Thanks so much for the heads up! I really appreciate it!

      Hope you have a great day.

      Susan

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