Amaretto is a light brown colored, moderately sweet liqueur that smells and tastes of almonds. While almonds can be used to impart their flavor, it is much more common to use apricot pits, which contain amygdalin, which is converted by the body into hydrogen cyanide. Bitter almonds also contain this deadly chemical, along with benzaldehyde, which is responsible for the almond aroma.
Amaretto is linked to the town of Saronno, in Lombardy. One brand, Amaretto di Saronno, claims to be the original amaretto, with a recipe that dates back to 1525.
The history of amaretto has passed into legend and story — which says that Bernardino Luini, a pupil of Leonardo da Vinci, used the widow of a local innkeeper as a model for the Madonna for a fresco. She was so happy with his choice that she gave him a present of apricot pits steeped in brandy.
Some popular brands of amaretto include di Saronno, Luxardo, Amaretto di Amore, and Lazarroni, which is made with amaretti cookies instead of apricot pits.