Raw almonds deliver a wide array of nutrients and health benefits; but are the almonds you’re buying truly “raw”?
Raw almonds contain a bevy of important micronutrients that support health. They support heart health, gut health, fight inflammation, reduce insulin resistance, and help with weight control. It’s relatively well-known that roasting almonds reduces their nutrient content, which is why many health-conscious consumers opt for raw almonds. The problem is, if you’re buying your almonds from a store, it’s almost guaranteed that they are not truly “raw,” even if it says so on the package. To get real raw almonds, the only way to do so is directly from a grower.
By law, almonds have to be pasteurized. This arose in response to outbreaks of Salmonella in 2001 and 2004 traced to raw almonds grown in California that sickened 33 people; no one died. As a result, the Almond Board of California and the USDA created a mandatory program in 2007 requiring all almonds to be sterilized through one of several treatment processes, including chemical treatment with propylene oxide (PPO), oil or dry roasting, blanching, or steam. Note that organic regulations prohibit the use of PPO. Irradiation was used for a number of years, but the Almond Board now says that almond pasteurization does not include irradiation.
Oil roasting, dry roasting, and blanching cook the nuts, so it is absurd that they are still able to be labeled as raw. Steam also heats the almonds to 200 degrees Fahrenheit, negatively affecting its nutrition profile. Truly raw almonds retain the live enzymes that help your body digest, sparing the pancreas the work of making those digestive enzymes. Heating the almonds also oxidizes the omega-3 fatty acids in the almonds, potentially turning them rancid and producing free radicals, which contribute to inflammation and all kinds of health problems. According to the USDA’s own data, raw almonds have significantly more calcium, iron, potassium, fiber, manganese, and vitamin E than blanched almonds (which are only minimally cooked).
Then there’s chemical treatment with PPO. The substance is classified as “possibly carcinogenic to humans” by the International Agency for Research on Cancer. The chemical is classified as “possibly” carcinogenic only because no epidemiological studies have been conducted to assess the long-term health effects of this chemical treatment. The European Union and other countries have banned PPO-treated foods. PPI is so volatile that it is used in fuel–air bombs.
Again, there is no labeling requirement to show that almonds have been steamed or treated with PPO, so consumers are misled into thinking they are eating truly natural raw almonds when, in fact, they are not. Labeling is an absolute necessity for consumers to make an informed choice.
When the rule was instituted, raw and organic almond farmers were outraged and pushed back. They fought the USDA, and in 2010 a federal appeals court ruled they could challenge USDA’s almond regulation. ANH-USA submitted an Amicus Curiae brief in support of the plaintiffs (an amicus curiae, Latin for “friend of the court,” is an outsider who provides information to assist the court in making its decision). The lawsuit was unsuccessful, so the problems remain.
Truly raw almonds can still be sold, but only direct-to-consumer in small batches.
We have a problem in this country with truth in labeling. Almonds sold as “raw” are allowed to be cooked or chemically treated. Consumers need transparency, yet lawmakers and federal agencies, time and again, work on behalf of industry to obfuscate the truth.