Technically, a raw foodist is someone who doesn't eat cooked food. Seems straight forward enough? But it actually gets a little complicated when you try to draw a clear line between what is raw and what is cooked.
'Raw food' in the shops
When I first saw a label marked raw food (in about 2000), I actually shed a tear of joy. Having been raw since the early 90's, I had spent a long time calling up companies, trying to ascertain which products were raw and which weren't. Foods like olives, tahini, dried fruits; companies like Sunita, Biona, and Infinity; I would pester them with questions they didn't understand, let alone know the answer to. When it started being a label that companies thought was worth mentioning, it was a huge relief to me. Gradually, since then, more and more raw products have appeared on the market. Where there was nothing, health food stores now have entire sections: chocolate, crackers, crisps, granolas, superfoods, even the smallest and most out of the way health food store now has some concession to the raw foods market.
But how many 'raw' foods are actually 'raw'?
This is clearly a positive thing: good that customers are demanding healthier choices, and wonderful that companies are providing them. But more and more, I wonder, what exactly is raw? And how many of the products currently being sold as raw, actually technically are? I would estimate less than half. If a food is labelled as organic, it has to go through a rigorous (and expensive!) inspection process to carry that label. But anyone can stick "raw" on their product and most people won't be any the wiser as to how raw it actually is.
All about temperature
In our company, we seek to get guarantees from our suppliers of the temperature that the foods have been heated to. Sometimes, we have to ask many times to get that information - people can be strangely reluctant to give it! Even once we have it, we are just taking their word for it, we do not have a way of actually checking up on anyone.
And then the situation is further complicated by the fact that there is not one single agreed temperature at which a food stops being raw. The consensus is around 42 deg C. I personally believe there is a spectrum, and some foods will be more sensitive to heat than others. I would put it somewhere between 41-49 deg. Some producers heat foods to 46 deg and still claim they are raw, whereas other people would say at that temperature they are not considered raw anymore.
Furthermore, the whole point of raw is to eat foods which are alive, and in which the enzymes are still intact. So I wonder, if flax crackers have been dehydrated for days, packaged in plastic, and have been sitting on a shop shelf for 6 months, really how much enzymes are left? And what about fermented foods, which may not be raw, but still contain enzymes, would you include those in the raw category? (I would.)
When you start looking into it, you start raising more questions than you answer. I hope in the not too distant future, someone will start a certification board, akin to organic, that will become the recognised standard. For now, it's important to bear in mind that even if these raw products are incorrectly named as such, they are still great food choices, and whether they are technically raw or not only really matters to someone who is trying to be strictly, 100% raw. What I want to do here is identify some of the common grey areas so that you can do your research and decide for yourself if you are happy to consume foods that contain these ingredients.
'Grey' raw ingredients
Dates - most dried-fruit is heat-treated to stop it going mouldy, and keep it longer on the shelf. If you have a fresh date, like a Medjool date, it's soft and juicy. The harder and drier the date, the more likely it's been heated at high temperatures. At home in recipes, I always use fresh dates. I have been told sun-dried fruits aren't heat-treated, so look out for those.
In the UK, almonds and hazelnuts are usually raw. Cashew nuts never are, unless you can afford to buy the hand-cracked ones. Pine nuts, macadamias, pecans - unlikely.
Seeds – Seeds tend to be raw though, with the exception of pumpkin seeds. Apparently, all Chinese pumpkin seeds are heat-treated, and it's the Austrian ones you need to look out for. We would love to sell more raw nuts, but though we have tried repeatedly, we can't find anyone who can guarantee a regular supply.
If I was creating an accreditation system, I would want to see certificates of inspection for every ingredient used, and I would allow around 10% non-raw ingredients (eg superfoods, seasonings), otherwise they wouldn't be allowed to put the word raw on the label. Until that's in place, you have to be your own certification board! If you have a favourite product that you've started having doubts about, contact them, establish that information, and then share it with everyone. But for now, if you want to be on the safe side, I would assume that that chocolate Brownie made with dates, cashews, oats and agave, isn't as raw as it might appear....
Read more about Kate and Raw Living on her site here.
For some of her decious recipes, see FreeFrom Recipes Matter here.
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