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!