Almond adulteration: the major health risk associated with apricot kernels

Almonds are among the world’s most widely-consumed tree nuts, but their high price tag puts them at risk of food fraud. Almonds can be substituted with dried apricot kernels, which are significantly cheaper than almonds and are very similar in appearance and flavour. However, apricot kernels pose a major toxicity risk when consumed in high volumes, due to the presence of a toxic compound called amygdalin.

Amygdalin is a cyanogenic compound found in high concentrations in apricot kernels. When apricot kernels are consumed, amygdalin is converted into cyanide, posing a major risk to human health. Cyanide exposure may lead to long-term effects on the heart, brain and nervous system; and in extreme cases, it can be fatal.

Research suggests that 0.5 to 3.5mg cyanide per kilogram of body weight can be lethal, which equates to approximately 50 to 60 apricot kernels. Other studies by the European Food Safety Authority warn that three small apricot kernels may put adults over the suggested safe levels of cyanide exposure, while one small kernel could be toxic to an infant.

Processing techniques – such as crushing, grinding, soaking, fermenting and drying – have been reported to reduce cyanide toxicity in apricot kernels; however, there is limited data available. The European Union has implemented regulations that limit the level of hydrocyanic acid (a solution of cyanide in water) to 50mg/kg in almond-based products such as nougat and marzipan, as a precaution to protect public health.

How to detect fraudulent kernels and tell them apart from the real deal?

Species-specific Polymer Chain Reactions (PCR) can be used to screen for the presence of apricot kernels in place of almonds. In this technique, DNA is extracted from samples and amplified; then, small fragments of genomic DNA can be used to discriminate between almonds and apricot kernels. PCR provides a robust, reliable approach to detecting food fraud and mitigating the health risks associated with overconsumption of apricot kernels.

If you are interested in testing or would like more information regarding this topic, contact us today.