In the case of almonds, “raw” means something like not having gone through an additional cooking process to whiten and remove the skin from the flesh of the nuts. Therefore, raw almonds are cooked, but not as cooked as they could be or as cooked as blanched almonds. Almonds are a healthy, portable snack. Although natural, raw almonds may sound like two names for the same thing, they are different.
Natural almonds still have their skin, whether they're cooked or not. Almonds have a rich, slightly sweet flavor that is delicious on its own and also pairs well with other flavors. Almonds can be eaten whole or ground, or prepared as in marzipan, almond paste or almond butter. They are also frequently pressed to obtain their oil or even undergo a process that distills their flavor in the form of almond essence.
They are increasingly processed with water to make almond milk, a substitute for cow's milk. These raw whole almonds have the classic oval shape with a hard crunch and a rich, strong nutty flavor. This quest to find truly raw, unpasteurized almonds is the reason why Gatti's company, which is currently headquartered at Brooklyn Foodworks in Bushwick, Brooklyn, makes its almond butter with nuts from Marcona, Spain. The Department of Agriculture will implement a standard requiring the pasteurization of raw almonds grown in California's Central Valley.
Steam pasteurization, for example, is a process whereby almonds are heated with steam, as the name suggests, to kill any potentially harmful bacteria. However, a steamed pasteurized almond is basically cooked at 165°F and therefore can't really be raw, even if the nut is never roasted before it gets to you. And there are problems with the two most common pasteurization methods if a consumer is looking for a truly raw almond. To get raw almonds in the United States that haven't been pasteurized with steam or PPO, you must import them.
So, not only are raw almonds from the supermarket not really raw, but they may also have been sprayed with a possibly carcinogenic gas. If you've ever spent time reading about food on the Internet, there's a good chance you've found at least a couple of articles extolling the health benefits of raw almonds. Fortunately, Marcona almonds, with their rounder shape, smoother texture and sweeter flavor, more like that of marzipan than a conventional American almond, are becoming increasingly popular in the United States and, as Americans learn about the pasteurization of almonds, there is an increasing demand for these unpasteurized products and a desire to know what exactly happens to raw almonds on their way to the market.