Amaretto (Italian for "a little bitter") is a sweet Italian liqueur that originated in Saronno. Depending on the brand, it may be made from apricot kernels, bitter almonds, peach stones, or almonds, all of which are natural sources of the benzaldehyde that provides the almond-like flavour of the liqueur. It generally contains 21 to 28 percent alcohol by volume.
When served as a beverage, amaretto can be drunk by itself, used as an ingredient to create several popular mixed drinks, or added to coffee. Amaretto is also commonly used in culinary applications.
The name amaretto originated as a diminutive of the Italian word amaro, meaning "bitter", which references the distinctive flavour lent by the mandorla amara or by the drupe kernel. However, the bitterness of amaretto tends to be mild, and sweeteners (and sometimes sweet almonds) enhance the flavour in the final products. Thus, one can interpret the liqueur's name as a description of the taste as "a little bitter". Cyanide is processed out of the almond preparation before its use.
One should not confuse amaretto with amaro, a different family of Italian liqueurs that, while also sweetened, have a stronger bitter flavour derived from herbs.
Despite the history of introducing and accepting almonds into Italian cuisine, newer takes on the meanings and origins have been popularized by two major brands. Though of sometimes questionable provenance, these tales hold a sentimental place in Saronno culture:
In 1525, a Saronno church commissioned artist Bernardino Luini, one of Leonardo da Vinci's pupils, to paint its sanctuary with frescoes. As the church was dedicated to the Virgin Mary, Luini needed to depict the Madonna but needed a model. He found his inspiration in a young widowed innkeeper, who became his model and (in most versions) lover. The woman wished to give him a gift out of gratitude and affection. Her simple means did not permit much, so she steeped apricot kernels in brandy and presented the resulting concoction to a touched Luini.
Amaretto serves a variety of culinary uses.
Cocktails with Amaretto liqueur as a primary ingredient:
Amaretto is sometimes used as a substitute for Orgeat syrup in places where the syrup cannot be found or to impart a less sweet flavour.