Tuesday, 24 November 2009

Nuts - Eat Fresh, Eat Raw

In the last post ('Are You A Nutter?') I explained that nuts are an excellent food for us, as long as they're:

FRESH

RAW and

NOT EATEN IN UNNATURAL QUANTITIES (ie in amounts greater than we'd eat if we had to shell them all ourselves - in-shell nuts obviously the ideal here.)


So, for example, our new raw fooder will make the 'mock turkey roast', the 'raw carrot cake', or whatever, with a cup of almonds here, a cup of brazils there, perhaps washed down with a glass of cashew milk, and very likely suffer from bowel-freeze, football tummy and considerable discomfort the next day.

Why?

Perhaps because... the almonds were stale, and some were rancid. If she'd tried a handful before eating, and chewed them well, she might have found that they didn't taste good. If she'd eaten them singly, she might have found the odd rancid one and been able to spit it out. But how could she tell either of these things by just pouring them out of the bag and chucking them into the food processor?.

And/or perhaps because...the brazils and cashews weren't raw at all - they were cooked. She'd used a raw food teacher's recipe and not realised that, outside the months around Christmas, raw brazils can't be purchased in the UK, and, contrary to what the nice man in Julian Graves had told her (and the packet did say 'raw cashews'), raw cashews can only be purchased online.

And because she'd eaten WAY too many nuts! As our ideal is to eat nuts fresh, raw, and in natural quantities, her recipe failed on all counts.

Our raw fooder is then convinced she 'can't digest' nuts, and shares her experiences with other anti-nutters on raw food forums, who of course all agree with her. But her problems with nuts aren't the fault of the nuts!

In this article I'm mainly going to tackle 'fresh and raw', as the last post pretty much covered quantities and digestion.

I do believe the ideal is to eat lots of nuts in the Autumn, fresh off the tree, and fewer (if any) nuts during the rest of the year. However, we are fortunate in the UK that people in warmer climes in Europe (and farther away) will share their nuts with us so that we can enjoy them at other times of the year if we choose to. As these nuts will not be as fresh as they could be, it's up to each one of us to make a decision as to whether we will consume them, and, if so, in what quantity.

And, as knowledge is power, I hope to impart a little information here that could assist readers in making that decision.


So let's start with a nut-eating 'league table':

1st place:
Nuts from the tree. So, in the UK and many similar climates, this means hazels/cobnuts and walnuts in the Autumn. (Almonds are not generally hardy here.)

2nd place:
Nuts grown locally, picked recently.

3rd place:
Nuts in shell that haven't been in storage for too long. The shell helps keep the nut fresh and protects it from contaminants.

4th place:
Shelled, dried nuts. Unfortunately it's not always possible to know how long they've been stored, so try to buy from somewhere with a frequent turnover. Store in airtight containers in the fridge, but bear in mind that, even storing them this way, Vitamin E can reduce by around 30%.

The $64K question...are shelled dried nuts raw? All shelled nuts on sale will have been dried to minimise chances of mould. Some will have been dried at temperatures to 150-160 F or higher, which is above the consensual 'raw' cut-off point (around 115 F). But, for raw fooders without nut trees or easy access to one, they may be all that can be obtained. Drying at a relatively high temperature may well have adversely affected enzymes and vitamins, which means the nuts will not contain these in precisely the quantities they were designed to give. Mineral content (the big plus for nuts) is unlikely to have changed.

One test of the 'rawness' (or 'aliveness') of a nut is if it sprouts. Sadly, most attempts to truly sprout dried nuts I have heard of have come to naught (an almond 'splitting' at one tip is not sprouting.) However, Helen Armfield of the Raw Food UK forum found a 'tiny tree growing in the corner of the compost bin' from organic Italian-grown almonds bought at Holland & Barrett. Consequently, I don't feel we can 'write off' shelled nuts altogether!

No place:
Shelled, cooked nuts.

In the UK, shelled nuts on sale in supermarkets, health food/wholefood shops/markets, that might even say 'raw' on the label, but are actually cooked are: brazils, cashews, macadamias and pecans. They have all been cooked (boiled, steamed, roasted etc) to facilitate shell removal. When you eat cooked nuts, not only are you eating fat heated to high temperatures, vitamins will have been significantly damaged or destroyed, and minerals will be less bioavailable.

(One thing I found strange in my early days as a raw fooder is how so many raw food teachers would fill their recipes with brazils and macadamias, which are very difficult to find raw in the UK, and, when this was queried, would chide others for being pedantic. One (no names - but s/he is no longer active in the raw food world...) went so far as to suggest that those who cared whether their nuts were raw or not had some sort of mental health problem, when she was quite happy to tell people why they shouldn't boil, steam, etc...


NUT BY NUT

Almonds

In the UK, our almonds have (so far) escaped pasteurisation. US almonds are generally pasteurised, although I understand it is possible to obtain them unpasteurised from some sources (US readers - if you know of any, please post a Comment to help your fellow nutters.)

Almonds can easily be bought in shell in the UK, but...I must confess I haven't cracked (sorry) the method of shelling them efficiently, so I normally buy mine shelled. Keep a note of which suppliers like to include rancid ones (these taste vile - you'll know.) and give them a wide berth in future. I had been buying from a local wholefoods market (Infinity brand), but quality hadn't been 100% consistent. Recently I've been buying from haverawcakeandeatit, have delved into the pack several times and haven't found a bad one yet. Very good almonds - far less dry and dusty than other brands.

To test the freshness of your almonds, chew them for a very long time. If they continue to taste milky, becoming sweeter, trust your tastebuds - that means they're good!

Brazils

Shelled brazils on sale in shops will have been boiled (or sometimes roasted) for several minutes for shell removal, which will certainly kill the nut and affect nutrients. Brazils are a good source of selenium, and although I'm not a biochemist, my understanding from my reading on this is that, whether or not the selenium is actually damaged, it will be changed by cooking and therefore rendered less bioavailable to us.

So brazils should be purchased in-shell. They're generally available October-January in the UK, ie around Christmas. However...I'm rather suspicious of the in-shell nuts currently being sold in supermarkets. They seem too 'yellow' in colour to be raw, don't taste as I remember brazil nuts tasting years ago and, after eating them at various points over the last few weeks, I've made an association with some rather yukky 'symptoms' following my eating of them, eg mild headaches, feeling 'sinusy' (mild deafness - build-up of pus in middle ear?), and not-nice poo (sorry!). They weren't organic (I currently have no local source of organic brazils), and I'm wondering if these in-shell brazils have in fact been cooked and/or 'treated' in some way. (Edit - I've 'tested' these yet again, and same symptoms - please avoid! Note to body - I'm sorry to have inflicted this on you, but I did it for my readers!) Perhaps someone can throw some light on this.

It is also possible that over a period of several days I overdid it on the selenium that brazil nuts are so high in; selenium is toxic in large quantities, and the quantities talked of in the articles I've found would certainly correspond to a 'handful' a day (esp. if you have large hands :-)). And the shells themselves contain toxins; most of the time when I crack brazils they don't emerge from their shells whole, and therefore it's quite possible to accidentally consume tiny pieces of shell with our broken nuts. So, if you are going to have brazils, best to stick to one or two a day, and, if, like me, you don't have the will-power to keep consumption that low, probably safest not to buy them at all.

Organic raw brazils can be purchased from http://www.keimling.eu/, although have to say that even these didn't taste like brazils-as-I-remember-them!

So jury's out on in-shell brazils...

(BTW if you are fortunate enough to be able to obtain some good, organic, truly raw, not-mucked-about-with brazils, try chewing them for a long time, and see if they taste of mushroom to you. My theory is that that's the selenium!)

Cashew

Technically not a nut, but the seed of the cashew apple, the raw cashew is encased in a tough shell that contains caustic, toxic substances. So that these are not consumed, the cashews are steamed and/or immersed in a hot oil bath so that the shells and toxins can be removed.

Truly raw cashews (hand-cracked by workers wearing gloves) can be purchased from online stores such as http://www.fresh-network.com/

Coconut

Try green coconuts (on sale at Tesco and ethnic shops/stalls in the summer) for their delicious water and soft flesh. IF you can get into them. I stick to enjoying them when someone else has gone to the hard work of opening them! Don't write off the less fashionable, brown-hairy, hard-fleshed, mature coconuts - they can be very good as well, although level of freshness is highly variable.

Hazelnuts/cobnuts/filberts

These grow easily in the UK and similar climates - we have a large cob-nut (filberts - a sort of hazelnut) tree in the garden. In-shell is of course best. If you don't have your own tree, find someone who does, and start your own for the future. Some supermarkets sell in-shell filberts in the Autumn and hazelnus around Christmastime.

Shelled...my research has suggested that these are likely to be raw (they are after all very easy to crack, so shouldn't need to be cooked for shell removal) and also that they may be dried at lower temperatures than other nuts. However, I've found (perhaps because they are dried at a lower temperature) that they do go off quickly. (I remember a US friend not knowing the phrase 'go off' - I'm talking 'go stale/rancid'.) So I don't tend to buy shelled hazelnuts very often, having my fill of in-shell ones in the Autumn.

Macadamias

Shelled macs in the UK are very much cooked, and often rancid. I say 'often', because I remember what shelled macs tasted like when I first went raw (and didn't realise they weren't raw) and compared that with the taste of some in-shell macs that I obtained from a tropical birdfeed shop and cracked with a heavy stone. Macs just cracked from the shell are creamy and quite different from the 'smoky' (heated fat?) taste of shelled macs. Even 'truly raw' macs (as available from keimling.eu) don't taste anything like as good as the freshly-cracked - the flavour of macs deteriorates very quickly once out of the shell. I see that funkyraw.com are now stocking raw macs, and could be worth trying but the price - £17 for 500g - would rule them out for me.

As far as macadamias go, I just accept the fact that, living here, I...just can't have 'em! I've heard raw fooders stamp their foots and say things like 'well, if I can't get raw x/y I'll still have the non-raw - I'm not going to deprive myself.' Which I've always found strange, as there are thousands of other delicious raw things we can eat!

Pecans

Pecans are soaked in hot, or nearly-boiling, water for shell removal. I have heard of people here selling products claimed to be made with raw pecans, but I'd love to know how they're shelling them in large quantities without heat treatment, as I've tried, and even getting the nut out in little pieces is an ordeal. US nutters - I know pecans are popular over there - do you have truly raw pecans?

Pistachios

As available in the UK, they come within my 'fourth place' category - dried - and my attempts to sprout them have been unsuccessful. Pity, as, being a Grecophile, I have many happy memories of pistachios...I have had the privilege of eating pistachios guaranteed as truly raw, via a friend who had imported from Nora Lenz in the US, and they were certainly very good.

Walnuts

Walnuts for in-shell sale are fumigated or heat-treated to kill insects in storage. So, as organic producers will not have fumigated, they may well have heat-treated...and I haven't managed to sprout any organic walnuts I've purchased.

Ideally, save your walnut-eating till the Autumn, and find a walnut tree. If you don't have one, put a card up at a Post Office/newsagent; someone in your vicinity may well have a walnut tree and appreciate you clearing their lawn. And, of course, plant a baby tree for harvest in a few years' time, as I have. My source of fresh, moist, delicious walnuts this Autumn - so fresh they've still had their black skins, and without a hint of the bitterness sometimes found in dried walnuts - has been a lady with a walnut tree selling them at a local 'car boot' sale!


To summarise, for UK nutters, and those in similar climates, it's best to go for:

Fresh in-shell hazelnuts September - December, from local trees, or shops.
Fresh in-shell walnuts October, from local trees.
In-shell brazils, possibly...if organic, and consumption limited to one or two a day.
Almonds from Europe (in-shell or shelled) from a reliable source.
Truly raw cashews from online stores.

If you're outside the UK, make us green by letting us know what truly raw nuts you are fortunate enough to be able to obtain. (And, if you know of a source of organic, in-shell brazils, where the nuts taste good, please let me know!)

5 comments:

David Cohen said...

The nuttiest nutter in nut-city?... or, just perhaps how come this one amazing women has more that the 'force', and is able to steer you into new ways of thinking, doing... and just plain being! The last of the shelled non-raw stuff has gone, I've bought a bag of in-shell organic (yes, organic, from a UK supermarket) nuts from Waitrose, and now I'm on a mission to buy a nut-cracker (me thinks I've done things just a tad the wrong way round). Carry on,and that's an order.
David

Debbie Took said...

Thanks, David:-)

(I'm still searching for the ultimate brazil nut-cracker!)

Jonathan said...

Really informative article Debbie. Thank you very much :)

Jonathan

MIchael J King said...

I was very pleased to find small coconuts from the ivory coast in Sainsbury's for 58 pence full of tasty milk/juice as well as nice flesh, I have only had fairground coconuts before that had been fermented in the sun I expect!!

Debbie Took said...

That sounds good! I must admit although 'green'/young coconuts are 'de rigeur' in the raw food world I rather like the 'mature', brown hairy kind!