Four Tips For Finding the Perfect Almond
The Inside Scoop on Raw, Organic Nuts
Almonds are one of the earliest domesticated tree nuts and this food has no shortage of admirers! Each and every October, the new harvest of almonds becomes available which means this is the time for all the almond lovers out there to get their hands on the freshest of the fresh when it comes to almonds! But when searching for the perfect almond – what should we as consumers be looking for? Many of the differences aren’t visible to the untrained human eye but the distinctions between all the options available in today’s ? are more than clear when you start to look at the way the almond is grown, harvested and how this affects the nutritional profile of each nut!
Raw vs. Pasteurized Almonds
As you stroll down the aisles of your local grocery store and approach the almond section, you will see many varieties of almonds but most commonly California almonds and more rarely European almonds. There are many varieties of California almonds, such as Non Pareil and Monterey which are round, sweet and crunchy. Those almonds are perfect to eat as is as a snack and for roasting. The one thing to remember is that all California almonds have undergone pasteurization, even if it is labeled raw on the package or the bulk bin. In these cases, the word “raw” on the label really means non-roasted”, since pasteurization is not accepted when it comes to the standards of raw foodism.
Since September 1st 2007, all almonds coming out of the state of California have had to be pasteurized before being sold. There are 5 different types of pasteurization for an almond; oil roasting, dry roasting, blanching, steam processing and propylene oxide (PPO) processing. Oil roasting, dry roasting and blanching immediately make it impossible for the almonds to be labelled raw according to FDA regulations however, by choosing to use steam or PPO processing, the producer is still able to call the product raw, despite the fact that its original state has been utterly transformed.
If you are strictly looking for raw almonds that have not been pasteurized, you need to make sure the origin of the almonds you are purchasing is Europe, usually Spain or Italy, and not the U.S.A. European almonds are not pasteurized and are a bit softer, flatter and only slightly more bitterthan the California product. Since they are abundant with the taste of almond oil and have a more intense almond flavour, they are your best option when preparing homemade almond milk or raw desserts. They are also excellent when roasted and flavoured, just like the California almonds. Raw European almonds are readily available in most health food stores in Canada.
Raw Or Not Raw?
This is simply a matter of choice! Some will argue that raw nuts are better for you since pasteurization can perhaps kill the micro-organisms and the enzymes contained in the nut. The world of raw foodism believes that enzymes are what make the almond seed viable and it is essential to its ability to sprout and for the nutrients to be absorbed by our body. By exposing almonds to heat, they are destroying some of the beneficial properties known to be in an almond’s nutritional profile. This heat can also transform the delicate polyunsaturated fatty acids.
With that being said, the Almond Board of California proposes the opposite view; that these treatments are merely surface treatments and that they do, in fact, protect the nutritional properties of the nut. They assert that no part of the almond is changed when it is pasteurized.
You have to decide according to your taste buds and the nutritional profile you want to consume. The important thing is to eat almonds, whether they are raw, pasteurized, dehydrated, roasted or flavoured since they are truly a “super food”. Almonds provide a lot of nutrients, antioxidants, good fats, proteins, vitamins and minerals; which is ultimately, the most important thing.
Organic vs. Conventional
The crucial component to look for on the packaging of your almonds is the organic label along with an organic certification emblem. For anyone that likes to choose food options that are good for the earth as well as for their bodies, selecting organic products is a no-brainer. Any almond farm that has been certified organic does not use any synthetic chemical product. This means that there are no traces of fumigants, insecticides, fungicides, herbicides or chemical fertilizers used in the growing and harvesting process.
When almonds or any product for that matter are produced with the use of chemicals, the natural balance of the food and ecosystem is disrupted. This can not only affect the taste and desired flavour of the food but it can also play an influence on the food’s nutritional benefits. The long list of herbicides, insecticides and chemical fertilizers can have various levels of toxicity and can even be potential carcinogens, neurotoxins, hormone disrupters or toxins (that can affect development or reproductive systems). While organic almonds may be slightly more expensive than their conventional counterparts, the extra cost is definitely worth it when it comes to your health and the health of the ecosystem.
Freshest of the Fresh
Now that you know how to get the type of almonds you want, it is important to also identify the seasonality of almonds so you can get your hands on the highest quality product. Almond trees usually bloom around February to March which means that the nuts grow through the summer and the harvest happens from late August to early October. For almonds, October is the best time to order large quantities of almonds for you and yours to enjoy. Note that almonds are loaded with antioxidants which make them the most stable nuts. If stored properly, almonds can keep for up to two years after their harvest. To preserve them longer, put them in an air tight container or a sealed bag and also keep them away from direct sunlight and humidity. Like almost any other food, nuts that are placed in the refrigerator or the freezer will even last the longest.
Marie-Josee Richer, the founder of Prana. For everything from nuts, dried fruits, cacao, coconut and super foods, think boutiqueprana.com