What Is Amaretto?
A versatile Italian liqueur, Amaretto is derived from the word “amaro”, which means “bitter”. It adopts its diminutive to mean “a little bitter” in English.
“Amaretto” is also a type of Italian biscuit and you’ll learn how the two are related later in this guide.
Amaretto is known for its distinctive almond flavour. As a result, it’s sometimes presumed that its name stems from the Italian word for “almonds”, which is actually “mandorla”.
The liqueur mustn’t be confused with amaro, though. Amaro is a family of Italian bitters that uses herbs and spices to flavour spirits or fortified wine. For instance, vermouth is a variety of amaro.
Legend has it that amaretto was invented when Leonardo da Vinci’s pupil, Bernardino Luini, was commissioned to paint frescoes for the Santuario della Beata Vergine dei Miracoli (Sanctuary of the Virgin Mary of Miracles).
In this story, he sought a woman to model his depiction of Madonna and was inspired by a local widowed innkeeper. It is often claimed that they also became lovers and as she was poor, she was only able to give him apricot kernels steeped in brandy as a gift.
The DiSaronno amaretto brand has often claimed that her original recipe was handed down over several generations until it was used by the Reina family.
However, the Lazzaroni family is often more factually credited to the invention of amaretto. In 1786, the Lazzaroni presented the king of Saronno with their newly-created apricot kernel amaretto biscuits.
In the mid-19th century, the same family then began to commercialise an alcoholic infusion with caramel colouring that reproduced the biscuit’s flavour. It wasn’t until the 1960s that amaretto made its way to the USA.
By the 1980s, however, it was incredibly popular and rivalled other best-selling liqueurs like Kahlua.
How Is Amaretto Made?
In a similar way to limoncello, amaretto isn’t produced by distillation but through maceration where the flavourings are infused into an existing spirit.
Traditionally, amaretto is flavoured with kernels from drupe fruit such as apricots or peaches. However, almonds are a popular ingredient, too. Each of these raw materials produces benzaldehyde, a chemical that results in the distinctive flavour.
Both almonds and fruit kernels contain trace amounts of cyanide, which is processed out of the resulting flavourings before infusion. Unlike amaro, amaretto is only supposed to be slightly bitter. Therefore, it is often sweetened either with caramel or sweet almonds, too.
The ingredients are usually infused for several months before being filtered, hydrated to between 20% and 30% ABV and then bottled.
What Does Amaretto Taste Like?
As mentioned earlier, amaretto’s name derives from its mild bitterness. However, it’s often balanced by a somewhat sweet quality, too. Overall, it has a nutty flavour, which is reminiscent of almonds.
While kernels and almonds will result in the same aldehyde flavouring, its presence can vary from deep and heavy to subtle and sweet.
Meanwhile, amaretto may have other slightly spicy gourmand properties, but these are quite rare. Amaretto will generally have a thick and syrupy texture thanks to the use of sugar and caramel.
How To Drink Amaretto
Amaretto is often consumed neat as a digestif. Yet, compared to many alcoholic spirits and liqueurs, there are few traditions to dictate the way you’re supposed to enjoy it.
Like limoncello, it is often used as a dessert substitute. Furthermore, it’s a very popular ingredient for desserts such as tiramisu and even the eponymous biscuits. Amaretto is known to complement chocolate and is sometimes drizzled over ice cream.
Nevertheless, it can also be used for cooking savoury dishes as well! Otherwise, amaretto is traditionally added to coffee in a similar way to sambuca or grappa. Since its arrival in the 1960s, amaretto became a popular cocktail ingredient.
If you want to discover some suggestions, check out our guide to the best amaretto cocktail recipes. We’ve even thrown in our favourite amaretto biscuit recipe for good measure!
Similar Drinks & Amaretto Substitutes
Admittedly, there are few substitutes for amaretto as it’s pretty much one-of-a-kind. That said, you can find other almond liqueurs around the world, but since amaretto doesn’t have an appellation, they have every right to use the same name.
If you’re cooking, you can easily use bitter almond extract as an alternative. However, don’t be worried about using a liqueur for cooking as the alcohol usually evaporates. Similarly, bitter almond oil has different properties.
For instance, you may find that it causes the egg white meringue in an amaretto biscuit mix to break down.
Otherwise, if you’re looking for similar liqueurs that don’t have an almond flavour, there are many options available to you. Anything from coffee to chocolate liqueurs tend to have similar gourmand properties. Yet, they may greatly change the resulting flavour of whatever you’re making.
Gluten, Carbs, & Calories In Amaretto
Typically, amaretto should be gluten-free as it’s made with distilled alcohol. However, although grain alcohol should generally be gluten-free thanks to the distillation process, some people with sensitivity to the protein have reported reactions in the past.
Additionally, amaretto rarely states what base was used to make the alcohol. Sometimes it’s grain as mentioned earlier but it may also be from brandy, beetroot, or even molasses of which none contain gluten to start with.
Therefore, it’s hard to say whether those with celiac’s disease or have issues with gluten will have any issues. Similarly, some brands of amaretto will use additives, which aren’t detailed in the ingredients.
Since amaretto contains a fair bit of sugar, it’s quite rich. Expect around 9 grams of carbs per 1 Oz (15 ml) shot as well as an impressive 58 calories.
Now that you have read our full amaretto guide, discover more of our related resources!