Bottomless Pits

Driven by an embarrassment of stone fruits to dispatch before their perfectly ripe flesh turned the corner into rotten town, the idea of using up every last scrap of their beings appealed immensely. Thrifty by nature, it always seemed such a waste to throw away the nucleus of these incredible candies of the tree. Surely, equally potent flavor was locked inside those mysterious hard cores, protected from the layperson by their impenetrable hard exteriors. Convinced that there were treasures locked away inside each and every pit, years of curiosity finally peaked when the term “noyaux” was added to my vocabulary. Rolling luxuriously off the tongue in the way that only French words can, at last, this was the answer to the typical waste of discarded stone fruit pits. Indeed, they were rumored to have just as much culinary potential as imagined!

Compared favorably to bitter almonds, noyaux is most commonly prepared with apricot kernels, and often found in the form of a crème liqueur similar to amaretto. What really sets critics buzzing is not the taste, however, but its supposed toxic composition. No two ways about it, noyaux does in fact contain minute amounts of cyanide, a well known poison. Unlike the pure, deadly substance, the dangers about stone fruit-derived cyanide are vastly overstated, and easily sidestepped at that. Roasting significantly denatures the toxic substance, leaving only the toasty, nutty aroma behind.

Mix that slightly edgy fact in with something potentially delicious, and you’ve got yourself the next big food craze around. So why hasn’t this curious, economical, and tasty treat caught on? Collecting a combination of cherry, apricot, nectarine, and peach pits to make up a sizable yield, I was determined to find out.  After dutifully cutting out, washing, smashing (with a hammer!), roasting, and infusing a veritable mountain of the rock-hard stones into ice cream base, I can say with the utmost confidence that it’s because… It wasn’t worth it. After all the hype, the first, and second, and still third bite was a huge letdown. Call the flavor “delicate” if you like, but I’d venture to call it “non-existent.” Perhaps, if you closed your eyes tight, plugged your ears, and focused all of your being on the food in your mouth, there might be a bare hint of detectable nuttiness. For all that work, I’d rather just add a tiny drop of almond extract to a standard ice cream base, and end up with something even more flavorful anyway.

Not all recipes work, not all foods live up to their big reputation, but every experience is one to learn from. Noyaux? No thanks!

29 thoughts on “Bottomless Pits

  1. One of my least favorite things about experimenting with new recipes is when this happens. IT IS SO DISAPPOINTING. It doesn’t stimulate me to keep trying, it just makes me want to give up & stick to what I know.

  2. Funny, I just had a conversation with some almond farmer friends of mine about how rare (and most likely not-worth-it) it is to use the green outer part of almonds– which are related to apricots– they said it’s like “eating bark,” though they sell almonds to one French chef who uses that part to season a stew… I didn’t know that some people thought it was possible to also use stone fruit pits in cooking! Thank you for trying out this recipe so that the rest of us know it’s not worth it! We appreciate your efforts : )

    1. I was just thinking that, too! I remember seeing green almonds all over the place when I visited Paris, and regretted not buying any because I had no clue how to prepare (or even eat) them at the time. Now I guess it’s not such a terrible loss… Although, like the unknown intrigue of noyaux, I’m still curious…

      1. Haha, yes don’t worry; it’s not such a terrible loss. (But I’m curious too! I can report back with more details on that soup/stew that my friends’ almonds are being used in– it’s at some French restaurant in LA…)

  3. Hahaha. I smiled throughout much of this blog post, especially the part that evoked the image of your smashing the crap out of these pits with a hammer. You are wonderful! Well, now you know and your curiosity can be quenched. Thanks for sharing the, er, fruits of your labour!

  4. What a fascinating post! I had no idea there was actually a proper terminology for the pits of stone fruit. Though it’s a shame that noyaux didn’t quite live up to the aesthetics of its name… With a name like “noyaux,” one would hope to discover an enigmatic and exotic flavour. Regardless, the ice cream looks beautiful!

  5. I’ve heard of using cherry pits to infuse an almond-esque flavor into things but never any of the other stone fruits. Crazy! I’m sorry to hear it didn’t quite live up to its potential.

  6. it is very dissapointing when food recipes don’t turn out the way we expect them but we all learn from our mistakes…right? :)

    your pictures are STUNNING! i love coming to your blog and seeing your food photography…hehe

  7. Thanks for the bit of food trivia. I know that is very frustrating when you spend so much time in the kitchen experimenting and it does not turn out like you expected but I guess we all learn something from these adventures. However your photo looks stunning even though it is “subtle” flavors. Take care, BAM

  8. What a fun experiment! I wish we lived closer, I love to do stuff like this too…we would have so much fun together! In Middle Eastern cooking there is a spice (called mahlab) that’s actually a certain type of ground cherry pit. It has a lovely aroma and its flavor is like a mix of cherry and almond, with a bit of a bitter edge. It’s used mostly in sweet cooking, like cakes. It’s my secret ingredient in the best cherry sauce I’ve ever made. :)

    1. You’re right! I totally didn’t even put the pieces together, but that does sound really similar now that you mention it. It’s such a shame- I once had mahlab but didn’t know what to do with it, and am pretty sure it got tossed in a mad cleaning spree. Oh, if only I had done a bit more research!

  9. Aww, such a pity all your hard work didn’t really come through in the final dessert! It’s good to know about the noyaux, though – thanks for sharing your experience. At least you got a gorgeous photo out of it!

  10. In some cuisines in Central and Eastern Europe, they use the pits of stone fruit as they would use almonds to make a nut paste, but instead of marzipan, it’s called parsipan and is used in making a wide range of desserts. It’s actually used as an (sometimes cheaper more accessible) alternative to marzipan to fill chocolates and pastries or decorate cakes.

    1. Parsipan! That’s a completely new ingredient (and word) to me. Thank you for sharing this fascinating nugget of inspiration- I’ll be in Germany again within the next 6 months, so I’ll have to search for it then.

  11. The photo of the ice cream looks beautiful, it’s a pity that the flavours didn’t turn out as good as you expected… but I learned a new thing today, thanks! :)

  12. wow..I didnt know you can use the pits this way…thanks for sharing this information even though the results were disappointing. but if we don’t try, we will never know right? your photo is really beautiful though!

  13. Perhaps a bad combination of pits? I used only apricot (royal blenheim) and the resulting ice cream was amazing.

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