When shopping for fruit and vegetables, rule number 1 is always to choose organic, and it really is no different when it comes to dried and pre-packaged foods. Beyond that, there’s a lot about food that we don’t have a clue about until we start investigating.
What I’ve discovered along the way is this:
Nuts: The best way to buy nuts is in their shells, but when that isn’t possible, then you need to buy shelled nuts that are as whole, unchipped and unmarked as possible. When you’ve bought them they should ideally be kept in the fridge as their oils can go rancid, especially when out of their shells. Yes, it’s true that some “raw” nuts are heat treated (Brazils and cashews being the most likely suspects), but personally I don’t let this be too much of an issue. Having seen some people become what others might regard as a little too neurotic about whether their “raw” nuts are truly raw, I personally think it’s far better to eat these foods lightly heat-treated than not to eat them at all.
Seeds: These tend to be much hardier and less prone to rancidity than nuts, so just going for organic, generally speaking, should be enough to ensure a good choice.
Olives: Perhaps surprisingly, most olives are not raw. They are often pasteurised during the bottling process and they’re usually highly treated to make them palatable as natural olives are very bitter. They’re also bottled in brine, often with a preservative mixed in. If you’ve tasted truly raw olives you’ll know that there really is no comparison, and if you haven’t, then you’re in for a treat!
Dried herbs and spices: These are subjected to heat in order to dry them out; however, you will use so little of them in your “un-cooking” that in my opinion it’s really not worth getting your panties in a bunch about that fact!
Sea vegetables: Sometimes these are heated and sometimes they’re not. I know… that’s not very helpful, so you may have to read the packet carefully or contact the vendor or manufacturer directly. In the case of nori sheets, which are one of my personal favourites, you need to go for the purple/black sheets rather than the green – the opposite of what you might think! The green ones are actually the toasted sheets and actually don’t taste as good.
Oils: Most oils are heated to some degree, even those that say “cold pressed” on the label. It’s all to do with the amount of heat generated during the processing. The temperatures can get quite high and the oil ends up as quite a different product than it would have been with a gentler extraction method. There are oils on the market that are produced with minimal heat, and yes, you will most definitely taste the difference, but these are a lot more expensive and harder to get hold of. To start with, I recommend that you just go for virgin, cold-pressed organic oils. This will be a huge step in the right direction.
“Sun-dried” foods: Here I’m talking things like sun-dried tomatoes, dried fruits and basically anything that says “sun-dried” on the label. In some cases the label of sun-dried is literal and those products are truly raw, but in other cases man-made contraptions are used to capture and intensify the sun’s rays and this process effectively cooks the food. As previously, if this matters to you then you’ll want to contact the company you want to buy from directly to enquire about their drying methods.
So there are some hints on how to buy the best pre-packaged foods. Anything not mentioned here is relatively problem-free to find, and if you use the ”raw and organic” rules as your main criteria for selection, you really can’t go far wrong!
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