Q:

10/31/2011

If a person is allergic to almond nut, is almond EXTRACT generally safe or unsafe? Almond extract is often used as a flavoring for desserts such as cakes. It probably has some ethyl alcohol in it, too, but I am not sure.

A:

Thank you for your recent inquiry.

Unfortunately I could find very little information regarding the degree of almond allergen in almond oil and almond extract. I could find only one abstract in this regard, and it related only to oils. For your convenience, I have copied the abstract below which restates a concept that has been known - namely that the amount of allergen in any seed or nut oil is strongly dependent upon the level of purification of the oil.

I could find nothing on almond extract per se except information in the lay literature. As you can see from one site which I have copied below, most almond extract is not from almonds, but rather from peach or apricot kernels or pits. However, there is a caveat, as you can also see from this information in that evidently some of the ingredients extracted from peach and apricot pits are identical to those found in almonds. However, I could find no scientific confirmation of these statements contained on lay websites.

Nonetheless from what I could find, I would think that most "almond extracts" would be safe, but there might be a greater risk with the ingestion of almond oil. However, because I cannot give you a definitive answer based upon a search of the literature, I am going to ask Dr. Scott Sicherer, who, as you know, is a nationally known expert in food allergy, to share his thoughts with us in this regard. When I receive his response, I will forward it to you.

Thank you again for your inquiry.

Question: I heard almond extract is safe for a tree nut allergy. How could that be?

Answer: Counterintuitive, but true: Most almond extract doesn't come from almonds. Most commercial "pure almond extracts" are actually made from the kernels of peach or apricot pits. These kernels have the same flavor compounds as almond oil but they are less expensive to obtain and process. Similar compounds can be derived synthetically in labs or from cassia (a plant with a flavor similar to cinnamon).

Does that mean you can rest easy when you see almond extract on a list of ingredients? Not so fast. The compounds released from peach and apricot pits are bioidentical to those in almonds, and there is little or no information about whether extracts derived from stone fruit pits are safe for a nut-free diet. However, artificial nut extract is considered a safe choice. It has one further virtue: It is almost always less expensive.

Most almond extract doesn't come from almonds. Most commercial "pure almond extracts" are actually made from the kernels of peach or apricot pits. These kernels have the same flavor compounds as almond oil but they are less expensive to obtain and process. The compounds released from peach and apricot pits are bioidentical to those in almonds, and there is little or no information about whether extracts derived from stone fruit pits are safe for a nut-free diet. You could always use the widely available artificial nut extract, which IS considered a safe choice. Another, safe choice would substituting the almond extract with vanilla extract. Source: Cleveland Clinic. "Nut Allergy" Internet Resource. 10 February 2009

Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology, Volume 99, Issue 4, April 1997, Pages 502-506 Abstract

Background: No information is available on allergenicity of tree nut oils, and information on peanut oils has been conflicting. Many of the nut oils now on the market undergo minimal processing and may contain residual antigen.
Objective: This study was carried out to determine whether several of the new “gourmet” tree nut oils, as well as peanut oils, contain residual proteins that could bind IgE from sera of patients with allergy.
Methods: Several brands of walnut, almond, hazelnut, pistachio, and macadamia nut oils were examined. Peanut oils, both unrefined oils (which have been shown to contain allergenic proteins) and refined oils (without previously demonstrable allergens), were also examined to confirm reproducibility of immunoreactivity as reported by other investigators. Oils were extracted with 0.2 mol/L ammonium bicarbonate, and protein concentrations in the aqueous extracts were measured. IgE binding was assayed by slot-blot and Western immunoblotting. Pooled sera from patients with a history of systemic reactions to various tree nuts or peanuts were used as appropriate.
Results: The oil extracts known to be from oils that had undergone less processing at lower temperatures tended to demonstrate qualitatively greater IgE binding and higher protein concentrations.
Conclusion: Tree nut and peanut oils may pose a threat to patients with allergy, depending on the method of manufacture and processing. (J Allergy Clin Immunol 1997; 99:502-6).

Sincerely,
Phil Lieberman, M.D.

We have received a response from Dr. Scott Sicherer. Thank you again for your inquiry, and we hope this response is helpful to you.

Sincerely,
Phil Lieberman, M.D.

Response from Dr. Scott Sicherer:
It seems that you have unearthed most of the available information that I am aware of and were provided a good summary. I spoke with our Jaffe Food Allergy Institute's Director of Nutrition Services, Marion Groetch, MS, RD, CDN, and she gave some additional insights, but raised additional queries. She points out that McCormick (the most popular spice manufacturer) does use peach pits for their pure almond extract. However, she wonders if the almond and the peach pit are truly bioidentical or simply the aromatic compounds are bioidentical. We are not aware of studies analyzing the amount of almond allergen in such products (if any) or the potential for a person with almond allergy to react to an extract of peach pit used in these flavoring products. As a practical answer, we generally simply suggest using the artificial extract. We do not have a risk assessment otherwise.

I am not sure if Steve Taylor has analyzed such products.

Scott H. Sicherer, MD
Professor of Pediatrics
Jaffe Food Allergy Institute
Mount Sinai School of Medicine
New York, NY

AAAAI - American Academy of Allergy Asthma & Immunology