Advice on apricot kernels and bitter almond kernels

Last updated:
12 May 2016
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We advise that bitter apricot kernels including the powdered forms should not be eaten. This is because a naturally-occurring substance in the kernels changes – after people eat the products – to cyanide. Our updated advice follows a recent evaluation by the European Food Safety Authority.

We also advise that sweet apricot kernels, bitter almond kernels and powdered forms* are not eaten as the same toxic chemical can be present in these also.

The risk

Bitter apricot kernels, and bitter almond kernels, contain high amounts of the naturally-occurring substance called amygdalin that contributes to the bitter taste. This changes to the toxin cyanide after people eat the kernels. Variable amounts of amygdalin will also be present in the sweet apricot kernels.

Cyanide is a poisonous chemical that can cause nausea, fever, headaches, insomnia, thirst, lethargy, nervousness, joint and muscle aches and pains, falling blood pressure, and in extreme cases can be fatal.

Products that can be eaten

Our advice only applies to raw, unprocessed apricot kernels, bitter almond kernels and powdered forms of them.

Apricot kernels and bitter almond kernels can be used as flavouring in some foods, such as persipan paste. These flavoured products are safe to eat because* the kernels have undergone heat treatment or another type of relevant processing, and this means there are no harmful risks from cyanide.

The study

The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) study looked at the risks to human health from apricot kernels. Based on cyanide levels, typically present from raw apricot kernels, EFSA concluded that an adult who eats less than half of a large kernel could exceed the safe level. For toddlers the amount would be about half of one small kernel. EFSA also concluded that it was not possible to distinguish between the bitter and sweet varieties of apricot kernels. Scientific literature also shows that cyanide levels in raw bitter almond kernels are similar to apricot kernels and so the same advice would apply.

The EFSA news story and opinion can be found via the link on this page.


Further information

We had previously assessed health risks from bitter apricot kernels and published advice about eating them. This advice has now been updated following the EFSA scientific opinion. In addition, we will be considering what further precautionary measures may be necessary in future discussions with the European Commission and other member states.

*This story has been updated since it was originally published.