For bulk nuts, the terms raw and natural are often thrown around interchangeably in the nut industry, but we’re frequently asked if there’s a difference between these two nut labels.
Raw and natural are most often used when describing almonds, the delicious and highly nutritious nut that is a popular choice for snacking or in recipes. Almonds come in many styles and varieties, including roasted, smoked, slivered, blanched, and numerous flavors.
The truth is the terms raw and natural are used to describe the state, or phase, of a nut, and their difference is distinct.
Nuts are raw when they haven’t been cooked or prepared in any way. Many nuts will undergo a cooking process, such as oil roasting or dry roasting. This adds flavor as salt or flavoring can be added. Most consumers prefer eating cooked nuts as opposed to raw, despite the diminished health benefits.
When talking about almonds, “raw” may not mean what you think. In 2007, the USDA passed a mandatory program for almond pasteurization. This stemmed from two identified cases of salmonellosis that were linked to the nut and as a precaution for all further almond consumption. Raw almonds are heat pasteurized, which raises the temperature enough to kill any harmful micros, but not enough to be considered roasted.
Cashews are the only nut typically not sold in their shell, and for a good reason. The shell is toxic, much like poison ivy. Raw cashews, like almonds, have been put through a heating process for safe removal from their shell.
Both almonds and cashews go through a quick heating process but are still labeled and sold in the U.S. as raw to consumers.
The term “natural” is applied to a nut that still has its skin on, regardless of whether it has been cooked or not. Some nuts, like almonds, can undergo a blanching process that removes their brown outer skin. Blanching entails quickly being submerged in boiling water, a cold bath, and a trip in a roller for skin removal.
To summarize, raw nuts are uncooked while natural nuts still have the skin on, and blanching removes the skin of the nut.