Little Bitter Things

Our groovy multicultural supermarket had stacks of amaretti in their Italian section last night when we were buying groceries. I bought two packages and am considering going back for more.

The word amaretti is Italian for “little, bitter things”. Problem is, most amaretti are made from sweet almonds which are not really bitter at all.

My first encounter with the meringue-based cookie came in the late 80s when my then-boyfriend lived next door to an Italian bakery. We would buy huge boxes of their amaretti, along with delicious marzipan. These amaretti were larger, crunchy on the outside, soft and almost pasty on the inside. Like most amaretti made in North America, they were made with almonds.

What I consider to be real amaretti, though, are made not from ground almonds or almond paste, but apricot kernal paste, which just happens to taste like almonds. Think about the liqueur, Amaretto diSaronno – no almonds in there, folks – it’s made from apricot kernal oil. Other than cocktails, some cosmetic products and supposedly curing cancer, apricot kernals don’t have much use. I bet all of you throw them in the garbage, just like I do.

Amaretti made with apricot kernal paste has the distinctive bitter taste (caused by the chemical amygdalin), however, and while they are still sweet, they have a lingering flavour that the almond versions just don’t have, which make them more of a delicacy, to me, anyway.

As you might have guessed, the packages of cookies I found are indeed the apricot kernal version, and I’ve been eating them all day, taking the tiny cookies (they’re each slightly larger than a quarter) and letting them melt slowly on my tongue.

I’m working on the alternative medicine theory that all that amygdalin really does fight cancer, so as far as I can tell, eating all of these amaretti is good for my health.