Amaretto Liqueur History

Understanding the Italian Treasure

Amaretto in a glass
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It may seem hard to believe, but the importation of amaretto liqueur to the United States did not occur until the 1960's. The almond-flavored cordial quickly became a hit in cocktails and food preparation. By the 1980's, it was second in sales only to Kahlua. It's popular on its own, especially as a dessert drink but it also works as a great mixer. Many people have been known to add it to their coffee. While it's known that the drink was made in Italy pinning down its exact origin story can be tricky. Two different families claim responsibility for the cordial with both having equally interesting stories to back up their claim. Before trying one of the many ways to drink it, including in amaretto cocktails, learn a little bit more about it.

illustration detailing the origins of amaretto
Illustration: Theresa Chiechi. © The Spruce, 2019

What is Amaretto?

Amaretto is a liqueur with an almond flavor, but surprisingly, it may or may not contain almonds. The standard base of the liqueur is primarily made from either apricot pits or almonds or both. The drink like many other alcohols may contain any number of added spices and flavorings. The original version was made in Saronno, Italy. Amaretto is Italian for "a little bitter."

Amaretto History

The Lazzaroni family of Saronno, Italy, claims the title as the inventors of amaretto. They invented the Lazzaroni amaretto cookies around 1786 for the King of the region. Then in 1851, they created the Amaretto Liqueur, which consisted of an infusion of their cookies with a little caramel for color.
Another legend from the Reina family (who formerly worked for the Lazzaroni family) tells of amaretto being created by a widow who posed for Renaissance painter Bernardino Luini in 1525. The widow fell in love with the painter and made her amaretto potion for him. Her original recipe has purportedly been handed down from generation to generation without change and is currently marketed as Disaronno® Originale Liqueur.

Uncommon Cooking Uses for Amaretto

While amaretto cookies are probably the most famous dish made with this cordial it's actually got many uses in the kitchen. If you enjoy it's bitter slightly nutty flavor amaretto can actually make a great addition to many dishes that you wouldn't necessarily expect. You can add it to pancake batter to make the flavors richer. While many people like to pair amaretto with dessert you can also use it in many desserts as well! It makes a wonderful addition to ice cream and is a common ingredient found in tiramisu cakes. Pouring just a little in your whip cream will give any side a nice rich nutty flavor. Some chefs will use it to add a touch of an almond kick to savory meats like poultry and fish. For those who love the flavor but can't have the alcohol, amaretto aroma makes for a wonderful booze free substitution.