Tuesday, May 20, 2008

California "Raw" Almonds

I bought about a pound of almonds yesterday for a backpacking trip I'll be doing this weekend. I like to soak raw almonds, then lightly toast them. It sweetens them and breaks down some of their anti-nutrients.

When I arrived at the grocery store, the only raw almonds they had were from California. I prefer to buy domestic products when I can, but in case you haven't heard, "raw" almonds from California are no longer raw. They are required to be sterilized using steam or antiseptic gases, despite their relative safety as a raw food.

The worst part is that they are not required to label them as pasteurized; they can still be labeled as raw. The Almond Board's argument is that there's no difference in quality and pasteurized almonds are safer. I find this highly offensive and deceptive. It flies in the face of common sense. If you walked up to someone in the street and asked them what the phrase "raw milk" means, would they say "oh yeah, that means pasteurized"? A raw seed can sprout. A pasteurized seed can't. Remember all those enzymes that break down anti-nutrients when you soak beans, grains and nuts? Denatured by heat.

I tried soaking them like I would regular raw almonds. I covered them in water overnight. In the morning, I noticed that the soaking water was milky and had an unpleasant smell. The outer layer of the almonds (the most cooked part) was falling apart into the water. They also didn't have the crisp texture of soaked raw almonds.

Tonight, I toasted them lightly. They definitely taste "off", and the texture isn't as good. There's no doubt about it, pasteurized California almonds are inferior. Despite my preference for domestic products, I'll be buying Spanish almonds the next time around. If enough of us do the same, we'll hit the Almond Board in the only place that counts: its wallet.

One of the most irritating things is that the new rule is designed to edge out small producers. I can't see any other reason for it. Raw almonds are a safe food. Far safer than lettuce. Should we pasteurize lettuce? Pasteurization requires specialized, expensive equipment that will be prohibitive for the little guys. I'm sure the bigger producers will generously offer to fill the production gap.


Anna said...

As a "nutty" family who likes soaked, then dried nuts, I've been annoyed by this "raw, but not raw" issue, too. One of the things on my "to do" list is source out alternative nut growers, especially non-commercial sources.

A couple years ago I was given a couple pounds of the best and most beautiful walnuts I had ever had, from a friend who lived in the Carmel, CA area. Turns out these walnuts were hand-shelled by an 80 yo woman who had walnut tree(s) in her backyard(explains the low breakage rate, high count of perfectly formed walnut halves, and little to no nut "dust" at the bottom of the bag wear and tear). She met the woman at the local fiber arts guild (spinning, weaving, & knitting). I managed to buy 10 pounds more through my friend, gave a few pounds away for Christmas that year, and a few pounds remain, tucked away in my freezer. Needless to say, I don't waste these nuts on just anyone :-). They cost a bit more than Trader Joe's walnuts, but not much more, and in my view, were worth far more.

My friend has since moved from Carmel, but I need to check with her to see if she still has a way to contact that woman so I can get more walnuts.

I've since learned on my county's farm bureau website that there are many "backyard" macadamia and other nut growers in my county and I'm going to seek them out. First I'll do is find out when it is "nut" season around here, then I'll call around to the managers of the local farmers markets. I'll also try to find out if there is a "nut club" or if any of the local gardening groups has a "nut branch" (the local botanical garden has an edible garden section that is primarily trees so they may have some info). One thing I have learned from alternative sourcing of local eggs, meat, and dairy is that it pays to ask a lot, even in the most unlikely of places, and talk about local food a lot, and do some homework online.

For instance, I learned about my local "hobby" farm source from a masseuse, during a Mother's Day gift massage. The massage was great, but the information about the local food I got that day is longer-lasting! Additionally, I have a friend who owns a horse and rides the trail network in the "rural" side of our city. She rides past a small spread with a "fresh eggs" sign on the fence. She just got to know the owner of that property because of a local charter school issue, but my friend now plans to contact her to ask some questions for me about local "hobby" food producers in the area. Contacting the local 4-H group might also be a way to learn about folks who sell off their surplus homegrown stuff. Also connections at the county fair shouldn't be overlooked. Forget the Fair's Midway and hang out in the barns and aggi sections!

With this almond pasteurization issue a problem now, I'll be more mindful about sharing the info I can on alternative nut sources if I come up with something.

Stephan Guyenet said...

Hi Anna,

It's a shame that people have to be so clandestine about getting real food these days. Feel free to post any sources you want to share in the comments section.

Debs said...

Apparently, you can buy raw almonds in California directly from the grower, but not through the mail or a store. It's so strange. I think they're not even allowed to tell you that the almonds are raw.

The point about this edging out small producers isn't just irritating, it's insidious. I wonder who was behind the regulations.

The almonds I tasted at the Santa Monica market in California were delicious; maybe I'll work out some sort of almond smuggling deal with my grandmother down there. Just don't tell anyone, okay?

Unknown said...

I was wondering if you've noticed an increase in the price of almonds? I read that farmers in California were worried about losses because of Colony Collapse Disorder. They need bees to pollinate the almond flowers and the price of renting hives have increased. Of course the price of most foods have increased lately because of many other factors.

Stephan Guyenet said...


The Almond Board of CA is behind the regulations. That organization primarily represents the large growers and processors.


I haven't noticed a price increase but I'm watching for it.

Michael DiBenedetto said...

Thanks to all for the insights, especially about TJs.

I searched and searched and FOUND the best online store for REALLY RAW and not pasteurized nuts. BUT they don't use the word pasteurized because the Almond Association goes after any business that says they are selling unpasteurized almonds. SO, they use other words to describe that they are Totally Raw.


Pay with paypal and you'll get 3% off your total price.

Their prices are unbeatable as they are all raw foodist and source their nuts directly from ORGANIC farmers.
AND their shipping costs are very low.

This is from their site:

"All of the nuts and seeds we sell are Certified Organic except the Macadamias (wildcrafted and organically grown). None have been heated in any way, irradiated, or fumigated."

Mention Michael DiBenedetto when you place your order and I'll get 5% off my next purchase and then each time you refer someone and they mention your name, you'll get the 5%.


Anonymous said...

Most nuts are not really raw, if they're out of the shell. Period. If you want to be safe, buy raw nuts in the shells, and shell them by hand. Raw foodists who are dedicated have known this for years. The only way to get natural food is to avoid processed food entirely. If it's not the same food found in nature, it's probably processed one way or another. I waste no time with nuts and seeds, as they're all high in PUFAs and unless you buy them in the shell they're probably rancid/toxic.

Unknown said...

My wife and I farm almonds, and after becoming totally frustrated with the new regulations, decided to break away from the pack. We've been selling our almonds, unpasteurized, on our website. www.homegrownalmonds.com Think of our website as our "online roadside stand" ;) We aren't certified organic yet, but were working towards it.


Stephan Guyenet said...

Hi Tom,

Thanks for stopping by.

Dr. Curmudgeon Gee said...

hi, Stephen,

I just found a Chinese herb shop that
carries raw almonds of 2 types (sweet & bitter) & some other nuts used in oriental medicine.

the owner assured me that the only treatment was they were skinned. there is no residual pestisides.

the price of sweet almonds is comparable to ordering on-line. bitter almonds are cheaper.

(i hope they work!)

i also tried soaking +(low temp. roasting) raw cacao (cocoa) beans.
since i could not find any recipe, took me 2 trials to figure out.
the 1st time it was a little harsh & acidic.

i thought it might benefit from an alkaline solution. so the 2nd time, i added some baking soda. wow. i eat them straight.

(FYI: soaking raw peanuts in alkaline solution before making a soup or paste is also a traditional Chinese method.)

although i have not figured out what food needs an acidic envirnment & what needs more alkaline. acid seems to work for beans & grains better tho.



Kaitlyn said...

Is this sneaky pasteurization a problem with only almonds or with other nuts as well?

Christian said...

How is it with sundried almonds?
I guess they won't be able to sprout or release their enzyme-inhibitors either?

Unknown said...

This is interesting...I've always made my raw nut butters by grinding the nuts, then mixing in small amounts of distilled water, by hand, until I get the texture I want. This way, the temperature's kept down.Almond Exporter

cycletrail said...

I bought raw bulk chick peas to sprout. We like to make raw hummas. We found that the chick peas will no longer sprout, even though Whole Foods has them labeled as "raw". They gave me a complimentary packaged one pound bag which retailed for about 7 dollars, vs. $2.99 for bulk. They told me that they should sprout. Well, guess what? They didn't sprout either. I do not think this is about food safety. It's about preventing people from eating healthier and making you buy 12-15 beans in a little envelope for $3. in order for you to grow them in your garden. What if you wanted to grow a field full? Before you could just go to your bulk section and buy 10 pounds to plant. Not any more. Now you have to pay the seed packers enormous prices to grow food.