I routinely consume a handful of almonds a day – the raw kind (roasted&salted I would consume two handfuls plus the whole bag). I never thought there was much to learn about almonds, certainly not anything that I could learn from reading the almond bag (Ingredients: Almonds), until the day I did read the almond bag and saw this, “steam pasteurized”. Which means: the raw almonds we are eating are not raw!
Until recently they were, which is why we still think they are. But in the early 2000’s a minor salmonella outbreak occurred due to lapsed health practices at one large Californian plant. So acting under pressure from a panicked USDA, the California Almond Board agreed that starting in 2007 it would require all California-grown almonds to be pasteurized (90% of US and Canadian sold almonds are grown in CA.)
The problem with pasteurization (usually done by steaming at 160 degrees though some producers use chemicals) is that it affects the flavor, texture and nutritional value. (The latter part of this has not been proven conclusively but it is well known that heating food above 118 degrees, degrades enzymes and some vitamins.) The flavor though is definitely more “cooked” and less intensely flavorful.
The other reason why we think our not-raw almonds are raw is that they are still allowed to be labeled raw! And even if the package is more accurate and just says “Almonds” it is not a requirement that it say “pasteurized”. This is because the industry knows that “raw” is an important selling feature and so have decided to not require this disclosure. Some retailers are still selling almonds that even they think are truly raw, because the distributor is not required to disclose this.
So is there any way to get truly raw almonds? Yes! Though you’ll be buying the nut equivalent of an exotic mail-order bride. They’re called Sicilian almonds (grown in Italy). Flavor-wise they are other-worldly and worth every coin. Raw Sicilian almonds have a deep, sweet, almondy taste; they are darker, have a fine almond dust coating and are slightly softer. Eating them gives you the sensation of marzipan in your mouth. (Once you try them, you’ll find that pasteurized Californian almonds give you the sensation of a semi-hard object with a hint of almond flavor.)
Whole Foods has them in their specialty nut section or go to a health food store and ask specifically for them (my favorite place in NYC to get them is Integral Foods, W.13th street, where they sell them in bulk). When buying, look not only for the word “raw”, but also a slightly larger, flatter nut and a steeper price. But seriously do it, once you go Italian, you’ll never go back …
Your thoughts on raw nuts?
Almond Milk (How To Make Your Own)
Photo: Not-raw almonds. Copyright © Michelle Madden.
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