Apricot kernels are the seeds found inside the pits of fresh apricots. In Chinese culture, apricot kernels (xìng rén) are, confusingly, referred to as almonds. Admittedly, the flavour of apricot kernels is remarkably similar to that of true Californian almonds but with a richer and nuttier taste. You can find two types of apricot kernels in Chinese herbal apothecaries – sweet and bitter. Sweet ‘southern’ apricot kernels (nán xìng) are larger and flatter, while bitter ‘northern’ apricot kernels (beĭ xìng) are smaller and rounder, and as its name indicates, more bitter in flavour.
One cannot address apricot kernels without mentioning the amygdalin controversy. Bitter apricot kernels contain amygdalin, a chemical (vitamin B17) that has cyanide as one of its metabolic products. Cyanide a highly toxic substance that is lethal on overconsumption. Previous estimates suggest that just three raw apricot kernels constitute a lethal dose for an adult, and one with toddlers. As heat neutralises the enzyme amygdalase that liberates amygdalin, it is recommended to cook bitter apricot kernels. Sweet apricot kernels do not pose an adverse risk of cyanide poisoning because they contain lower levels of amygdalin.
Bitter and sweet apricot kernels are typically used in a ratio of four-to-one in Chinese herbal recipes. They are also used in Italian amaretto and marzipan.
Asian medicine regard apricot kernels as an expectorant, anti-tussive cough suppressant and a lubricating tonic for dry lungs, chronic cough and asthma. There are some who also lobby apricot kernels as a potential as a anti-cancer treatment, the campaign of which has it roots in the ‘Laetrile’ movement.« Back to Glossary Index