Almonds and Pasteurization: the debate heats up

Everyone in the almond business has an opinion about pasteurization.

Ever since 2007, when the USDA began requiring pasteurization, growers, suppliers, and consumers have argued over everything from techniques to taste in evaluating its impact on their favorite snack.

The new USDA rule also touched off a bitter trade war since imported almonds, from Spain or Italy, do not have to be pasteurized.

California produces 80% of the world’s almonds and 99% of the domestic supply. The USDA pasteurization requirement was imposed after salmonella outbreaks in 2001 and 2004 were traced to raw almonds.

Despite differences in taste and quality importers are appealing to the public’s perceived notion that raw almonds are healthier.

At American Export House we believe that US grown organic almonds are the safest and most nutritious almonds available anywhere in the world.

Almost immediately after the new USDA requirement was announced, The Almond Board of California (ABC) began a lengthy series of tests, conducted by the University of California at Berkeley, to gauge the impact of pasteurization.

California farmers can hold out, and not pasteurize, up to 100 pounds of their crop to be sold directly to consumers. For all practical purposes, it is not cost effective for most farmers to separate out a small amount that they can advertise as raw or unpasteurized. Perhaps more importantly, the move is probably unnecessary since the Natural Grocers Association, considers anything that will sprout to be considered raw and even organic pasteurized almonds passed their tests.

Almonds and Pasteurization

Many raw food groups eliminate anything that has been heated to temperatures above 118 degrees, but the Natural Grocers note that many bulk almonds from organic growers are heated to an outside temperature of 160 degrees but the interior temperature is much lower.

The major concern centered on whether the almonds were pasteurized with chemicals, steam or even irradiation. Opponents of the chemical method, using propylene oxide (PPO), have been concerned about possible chemical residue and have favored the steam heating process – the only process that can be used on organic almonds.

The FDA does not require almond suppliers to list the pasteurization method they use, so buying organic almonds is the only guarantee that you are not buying a product that has been irradiated or treated with PPO.

PPO is a known carcinogen, and most countries, including the EU, have banned imported nuts treated with PPO. The chemical is so nasty that it’s even been banned by both the National Hot Rod and American Motorcycle Racing Associations, where it had been used as a fuel additive.

The ABC study on pasteurization concluded that, regardless of the method used, the process had “no meaningful effect on almond quality or stability.”

The ABC study showed there was some loss of free fatty acid but in our view this is a small price to pay for a guarantee that what you are eating does not contain dust, mold, or even insects.

Supporters of Spanish or Italian almonds note a significant difference in taste and texture both in the almonds and in products such as almond paste or almond butter.

Almonds have long been considered one of the healthiest foods available. The combination of protein and free fatty acids contained in each nut is unsurpassed in a weight-based comparison.

The real debate is essentially the sacrifice of a small amount of FFA to make sure the almonds you consume are the healthiest possible. At American Export House we think California grown organic almonds are the best choice.

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