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Are your “raw” almonds really raw?

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Green Almonds

When you buy almonds or other food products, do you know where they originate from? Do you ever think it matters? Do you know that most “raw” almonds from the USA are actually pasteurized?

Since making aliyah a little over two years ago, we have  been buying “raw” nuts from open bins at the local natural food stores and occasionally the shuk. I have been trying as much as possible not to buy almonds imported from the United States  since growers in the U.S. have been forced by the government to pasteurize almonds since  2007.  Pasteurization seems to be the knee-jerk reaction in the USA to contamination problems caused by lack of hygiene. Natural, raw almonds have a bevy of health benefits, but once pasteurized they often become a “dead” food, devoid of many of the life-giving nutrients and possibly containing new, toxic properties that result from the pasteurization methods used.  The most egregious part of all this seems to be that  California’s Almond Board (California is the largest producer of domestic almonds) apparently does not recognize the difference between raw and pasteurized foods since the Board maintains that they are still raw. In a letter to Natural News (click here) the Board stated:

raw almonds that have been pasteurized do not differ in any significant way from untreated raw almonds, and therefore are still sold as “raw” under Food & Drug Administration (FDA) labeling regulations.

Pasteurized almonds are either steam-treated (put through a steam chamber for 20 seconds and then cooled) or fumigated with propylene oxide (PPO)*.  What’s very interesting is that although propylene oxide is considered too toxic to use as a racing car fuel and is considered a carcinogen, the U.S. FDA (Food and Drug Administration) has deemed it safe for use on food.  From Wikipedia:

Historic and niche uses

Propylene oxide was once used as a racing fuel, but that usage is now prohibited under the US NHRA [US National Hot Rod Association-ed.]rules for safety reasons. It has also been used in glow fuel for model aircraft and surface vehicles, typically combined in small percentages of around 2% as an additive to the typical methanol, nitromethane, and oil mix. It is also used in thermobaric weapons, and microbial fumigation.

Fumigant

The United States Food and Drug Administration has approved the use of propylene oxide to pasteurize raw almonds beginning on September 1, 2007 in response to two incidents of contamination by Salmonella in commercial orchards, one incident occurring in Canada, and one incident in the United States. Pistachio nuts can also be subjected to propylene oxide to control Salmonella. It is a method approved by the FDA.[6][7]

Safety

Propylene oxide is a probable human carcinogen,[8] and listed as an IARC Group 2B carcinogen.

(See also the National Institute of Health Report on Carcinogens, Fourteenth Edition (2016).)

Apparently, despite its toxic and carcinogenic properties, and although banned in the European Union, Canada, Mexico, and many other countries, propylene oxide has been used in the United States for the past forty years for this purpose.  According to this special report put out by the USDA agricultural service (no longer available but similar/related information is  available here and here):

… With 40 years of food use history, we expect propylene oxide will satisfy all the tests of availability, effectiveness, safety and practicality. ABERCO, INC. has held the EPA Registration since 1984 and is now the sole registrant for the use of propylene oxide for fumigation purposes. The EPA label reads, “to aid in the control of microbiological spoilage and as an insecticidal fumigant for the control of stored product insects, to reduce bacterial and mold contamination in processed spices, cocoa and processed nutmeats (except peanuts).”

Now the USDA (United States Department of Agriculture) is touting a new pasteurization system (click here):

A combination of hot air roasting and infrared heat may provide a new, more efficient method of almond pasteurization to eliminate harmful pathogens such as Salmonella, according to researchers at the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Research Service. The method, which is ready for commercial-scale adoption, would help processors abide by rules that require all almonds sold in North America to be pasteurized.

[USDA engineer Zhongli Pan, Ph.D. ] said the USDA is now working with processors in California to implement this method in their facilities, which he said will end up costing them less money and saving them time. All of the almonds sold in North America — and 80 percent of almonds sold around the world — come from California.

I have not been able to find any definitive information about the effects of infrared cooking on food; however, it does cook foods from the inside out as does microwave cooking, so I think it’s safe to surmise that such pasteurization may actually roast the almond. Microwave cooking, besides not heating foods evenly (or adequately) destroy the nutritive value of many foods (see here and here).

U.S. almond growers can sell unpasteurized almonds outside of the States as long as they’re labeled “unpasteurized”  – but do we really know what we are actually buying? Do shopkeepers in Israel know the difference or are they relying on the packaging which may say raw and/or organic but may not really be raw anymore?

It is very easy to see if they are really raw by testing them yourself!

We can actually determine for ourselves if they are truly raw. The best way to do this is to try sprouting them. According to several websites there are steam-treated almonds that will sprout. If that’s the case then they should still have their full complement of enzymes and nutrients intact, otherwise sprouting would be impossible. Not every seed/nut is able  sprout after it’s taken out of its shell, but many are. Instructions for sprouting from the Nourishing Traditions cookbook, p.113:

The method for sprouting all grains and seeds is the same – only the length of time needed to accomplish full germination varies with the size and nature of the seed. Simply fill a mason jar one-third full with any grain or seed. Add filtered water to the top of the jar and screw on the top with its screen insert [ed. I use cheesecloth]. Allow the seeds to soak overnight and pour off the water. Rinse the seeds well – you can do this without removing the top. Invert the jar and let it sit at an angle so it can drain, and to allow air to circulate. The seeds should be rinsed every few hours, or at least twice a day. In one to four days the sprouts will be ready. Rinse well, shake out excess moisture, and replace the screen insert with the solid section of the lid. Store the sprouts in the refrigerator.**

I have been following this formula for sprouting beans since sprouting increases the nutritional benefits of seeds, nuts, and legumes. I am sprouting my Israeli almonds and will let you know what happens.

Following is a video which demonstrates how to sprout almonds, albeit a bit differently than Nourishing Traditions – but she shows you what a sprouted almond looks like which I think is important for you to see:

If you’re curious about which Unite States grown almonds are “okay” to eat, Food Identity Theft contacted  various U.S. companies to find out how their packaged almonds are treated: Trying to avoid almonds that are ‘gassed’? Here’s a little guide

To Your Health!

* (Other nuts and foods may be treated with PPO and it’s used with other food additives as well.)

Organic nuts may not be treated with PPO but are subject to steaming at very high heat.

**Someone pointed out to me that if you want to use sprouts on Shabbat (the Jewish sabbath) then you must remove them before Shabbat from the container in which they sprouted, otherwise you are harvesting -which is forbidden on Shabbat. I have been following this recommendation, but have not checked this out yet with my LOR (local orthodox rabbi) yet.

Additional Sources and Resources:

Living Nutz
Renegade Health
15 Health Benefits of Almonds According to Science – and 8 Delicious Almond Recipes

Related Articles:

Almond sprouting update
Easy ways to boost your salad’s nutritional value
Thick and hearty oatmeal: the Real Deal
Homemade peanut butter without anti-nutrients

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2 comments on “Are your “raw” almonds really raw?
  1. Jodi Sugar says:

    I eat tons of almonds. They are almost a staple for me. If I buy them in the health food store but they re not organic do they contain PPO? If I buy the organic ones are they safe to eat? Also I’ve been told that our bodies cannot digest the brown skin on almonds but it takes time to peel them.

    • Caryn Lipson says:

      It’s hard to know. My health test would be to see if you can sprout them. If you are buying organic Israeli almonds then my understanding is that they are untreated. Almonds coming from the U.S. even if organic and “raw” are pasteurized in some manner unless purchased directly from the farm in California. You might soak the almonds for 6 or more hours in warm water with lemon juice to increase digestibility in general, to remove the phytic-acid and enzyme inhibitors common to all grains, legumes, nuts, and seeds.

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