Amaretto is a liqueur produced from a neutral spirit flavored with bitter almond or apricot seeds, which have a similar flavor. The liqueur has a bitter-cherry almond-like flavor, but different brands may contain various herbs and spices, which are not named. The name comes from the Italian word for bitter, which is “amaro.” The suffix “-etto” is a diminutive form, so that the word amaretto loosely translates to “a little bitter” or “a small amount of bitterness.”
Some sources seem to be confused by the bitter almond name, which is often given to the apricot kernel. Apricot kernels may be sweet or bitter. Since they resemble small bitter almonds in taste or appearance, they are often called bitter almonds or confused with almonds. Some almonds are also bitter, and the same compounds are responsible for the bitter cherry-like taste in both bitter apricot and bitter almond kernels. Amaretto may be made with actual bitter almonds or with bitter apricot kernels, but the name “bitter almonds” does not guarantee that almond is used. The most famous brand, Disoronno, claims to have always used bitter apricot, which is the traditional flavoring ingredient in Italy.
The bitterness of bitter almond and apricot kernels comes from the high amount of amygdalin, which is found in much lesser amounts in sweet varieties. The breakdown products of this chemical produce benzaldehyde, which gives the cherry-like almond flavor. It also produces cyanide, which is why bitter almonds are regulated in the U.S. The flavor is much more intense, however, and you do not have to worry about cyanide in amaretto, since, similar to the effect of cooking, the alcohol infusion eliminates any traces of cyanide, and, in fact, in traces of nuts at all.
The root word of amaretto is often conflated with amore, so as to take on connotations of romance (bitter love); encouraged by a few of the major brands, especially Disaronno and Lazarroni, which spin tells of a romantic beginning for their liqueurs.
Amaretto has a sweet almond/cherry flavor with only a little agreeable bitterness, only serving to increase its depth of flavor. Amaretto was first produced in Italy. Amaretto di Saranno, now called Disaronno Originale, claims to be the original Amaretto, said to have first been produced in the year 1525 by a young widow, who made it for the fresco painter Bernadino Luini. Luini painted the frescoes in Santa Maria delle Grazie in Saronno, Italy and the young widow was the keeper of the inn he lodged in, and is said to be the model for his Madonna. Whether this tale is true or not, Disaronno Originale is the most popular brand of amaretto liqueur. 1
The company claims its amaretto is still made with the original recipe and describes the product as absolute alcohol infused with “apricot kernel oil, burnt sugar, and the pure essence of 17 selected herbs and fruits.”
Amaretto can be enjoyed by itself, with ice, or mixed with other drinks, alcoholic or not. Coffee is by far the most popular pairing an amaretto is excellent added to a plain cup of coffee. The flavor of amaretto is used in many coffee flavoring or creamer products, which are non-alcoholic.
It is used in mixed drinks such as the Amaretto Sour and the Cafe Zurich, which uses coffee. It is also often paired with Kahlua. Amaretto is also blended with ice cream or cream. Amaretto is also very good with Coca-Cola or any cola drink, where it gives a cherry cola flavor.
Lazzaroni also claims that its amaretto is the first. Theirs does not use apricot kernels or bitter almond but instead uses an infusion of Ameretti, which is a biscuit (cookie) made with bitter almonds or apricot kernels.
Besides Disaronno and Lazarroni, other brands of amaretto liqueur are
- Luxardo Amaretto di Saschira
- Bols Amaretto
- DeKuyper Amaretto
- Hiram Walker Amaretto
- Phillips Amaretto
- Amaretto di Amore by Barton/Sazerac.
Amaretto is an ingredient in the following cocktails. The general components are given, but not the specific amounts, since these vary with individual mixologists and preferences. Most recipes are easily found on the web. As always, some of these cocktails have alternative recipes, which usually means that one mixer is substituted for another, similar mixer or an additional ingredient is added.
- Alabama Slammer: amaretto, Southern Comfort, sloe gin, with citrus (lemon/orange juice) or sweet and sour mix (sometimes adds vodka)
- Almond Joy: amaretto, cream, crème de cacao, and coconut milk
- Amaretto Flirt: amaretto, sparkling wine, and orange juice
- Amaretto Rose: amaretto and Rose’s Lime Juice cordial topped with soda water.
- Amaretto Stinger: amaretto and crème de menthe
- Amaretto Sour: amaretto and sour mix over ice
- Amaretto Stone Sour: amaretto, tequila, sour mix, and a splash of orange juice
- Cafe Amaretto: amaretto and coffee liqueur, such as Kahlua.
- Cafe Zurich: amaretto, anisette, cognac, coffee, honey, and whipped cream
- Godfather: amaretto and scotch whiskey
- Lounge Lizard: amaretto and dark rum topped with cola
- Rocky Mountain: amaretto, southern comfort, and lime juice
- Pink Planter: amaretto, white rum, coconut liqueur, cranberry juice, and pineapple juice
Amaretto is also used in desserts, such as a Zabaglione Sauce for bread pudding, below.
6 large egg yolks
1/2 cup amaretto
3 tbs sugar
1/4 cup heavy whipping cream
Whisk the egg yolks, amaretto, and sugar together in a medium metal bowl until well blended. The bowl must be metal so that you can set it over hot water to act as a double boiler. Set the egg yolk mixture over a saucepan of simmering water and whisk vigorously and continuously until thickened. You want the sauce to reach a temperature of 140°F. This should take 5 or 6 minutes of stirring. When done, remove the sauce from the heat and whisk in the heavy whipping cream until it is well blended.
Zabaglione can be served warm or chilled. If chilling, it can be made up to one day in advance. Cover with plastic wrap before serving and whisk the sauce again before serving it.
- The company first called its product Amaretto di Saronno Originale, then changed it to Amaretto Disaronno, and finally to the current Disaronno Originale.