Can you buy raw almonds?

So not only are raw almonds from the grocery store not raw, but they could also have been sprayed with a possibly carcinogenic gas. And yet, according to USDA regulations, these nuts can still be labeled as “raw” and “organic,” even if they have undergone this chemical treatment. If you're worried about consuming PPO, check the label to see if the manufacturer makes any mention of your preferred pasteurization process, but Gatti points out: Only recently have I started to see, on the packaging, “Hey, these are steamed pasteurized almonds. In the world of almond growers and manufacturers of almond products, the word “raw” means something subtly different from what it usually does elsewhere.

By choosing a bag of raw almonds for your snack, you'll make a smart dietary decision that will bring you multiple health-related benefits. Raw almonds are high in potassium and low in sodium that help maintain acceptable blood pressure. The term “raw” in the almond industry is used to refer to almonds that are not “roasted”, but have yet been pasteurized. And there are problems with the two most common methods of pasteurization if a consumer is looking for a truly raw almond.

This search to find raw and unpasteurized almonds is why Gatti's company, currently based at Brooklyn Foodworks in Bushwick, Brooklyn, makes its almond butter with nuts from Marcona, Spain. Almonds are the only nut or seed that needs to be pasteurized, and all of this can be traced back to a couple of incidents in the early 2000s, involving salmonella outbreaks triggered by the mishandling of truly “raw” almonds. SE PT30 was detected in raw whole natural almonds collected from domestic, retail, distribution and warehouse sources and from environmental swabs from processing equipment and partner farmers' orchards. The case-control study identified raw whole almonds as the source of infection (odds ratio, 21.1; 95% confidence interval, 3.6 to infinity).

Steam pasteurization, for example, is a process by which almonds are jetted with heat, as the name suggests, from steam to kill any potentially harmful bacteria, but a steamed pasteurized almond has basically been cooked at 165°F and therefore cannot be really raw, even if the nut has never it gets roasted before it gets to you. To get your hands on raw almonds in the United States that have not been pasteurized by either steam or PPO, you must import them. One thing I've talked about in the juice industry is that consumers should be able to choose between raw or processed juice, and the same goes for almonds. In fact, you can find many brands of “raw almonds” in the grocery store, but they just aren't raw.

If you've ever spent any time reading about food on the Internet, chances are you've found at least a couple of articles that extol the health benefits of raw almonds. Fortunately, Marcona almonds, with their rounder shape, smoother texture, and sweeter flavor, closer to marzipan than a conventional American almond, are becoming increasingly popular in the United States, and as Americans learn about pasteurizing almonds, demand increases of these unpasteurized products, and the desire to know what exactly is happening with raw almonds on their way to the market.

Estelle Shawcroft
Estelle Shawcroft

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