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.