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NUT PROCESSING: NOTES Issue 3 / January 1998


by Thomas E. Billings

Issue 1 Copyright (c) 1994 by Thomas E. Billings.
Issue 2 Copyright (c) 1997 by Thomas E. Billings, all rights reserved.
Issue 3 Copyright (c) 1998 by Thomas E. Billings, all rights reserved.

1.0 Introduction The purpose of this paper is to present information on how nuts are processed, so raw-fooders can make informed decisions regarding the purchase and consumption of nuts. Each major nut has a section, and a section may have up to 3 parts. The first part describes standard commercial processing practices for that nut. Much of that information comes from Rosengarten (see reference list at end), with additional material from other sources. The next part, labelled "Remarks:", gives information from this writer's experience. The last part, labelled "Recommendations:", provides the opinions of this writer concerning the nut.

Given the above structure, some disclaimers must be made, as follows. 1. Most, but not all, of the published information that this paper is based on, is dated 1984 or earlier. Changes in practices since then are not necessarily reflected here. 2. Organic nuts, in some cases, may be processed differently. Contact your supplier (distributor or farmer) for details.

2.0 Viability versus Sproutability The ultimate test of whether a seed is alive or not, is its viability, i.e. whether it will sprout and grow into a new plant. However, nuts sprout according to nature's timetable, which means that some perfectly viable nuts are not sproutable (in practical terms) from the raw-fooder perspective. For example, macadamia nuts require 30-60+ days to sprout. Even if you could succeed in sprouting in-shell macadamias, the nut might be rancid/rotten by the time the root sprout appeared.

A fresh, whole, truly raw nut will be viable after harvest for a certain period of time. The nut can lose viability due to old age (rancid), excessive heating/cooking, or physical damage. It is not clear just how much heat a nut can withstand before being devitalized - this is a point of controversy among raw fooders. It is clear that boiling, roasting, or frying a nut will devitalize it. What is controversial is the use of temperatures above 118 degrees F, but well below the boiling point of water. These temperatures degrade and/or destroy enzymes, yet some nuts exposed to such temperatures can and do sprout and grow. (Whether such nuts are "damaged" in some sense is the controversy).

3.0 How important is it that the nuts I eat are raw? This is an important question to consider, as quite frankly, some raw fooders are excessively concerned with being "100% raw", i.e., with dietary purity and the quality of the food they eat. Note that nuts are a concentrated food, and the standard recommendation is to eat nuts in small or modest quantities.

If you follow the preceding recommendation, and nuts are a very small part of your diet, then it is probably not critically important that some of the nuts you eat are heated or devitalized. However, it may be important when: * you are on a (nearly) 100% raw diet for healing, and/or * you are eating large amounts of nuts for a health condition, e.g. trying to regain weight lost on a raw diet. The point here is that most of us do not need to obsess on the temperature the nuts we eat were dried at, or other details. Most of us can eat "raw" nuts (even if they are not truly raw) in small quantities with little or no apparent harm.

4.0 Almonds Most raw-fooders are aware that raw, whole almonds will sprout. Indeed, sprouted almonds are very delicious, and have much better flavor than dry, unsprouted almonds. Blanched almonds may be treated with heat and/or chemicals, and probably won't sprout: use only whole, unblanched almonds.

Remarks: Don't sprout almonds longer than 2 days (1 day suggested), else the sprouts may turn rancid. As for eating the sprouts, there are 2 approaches: 1) almond sprout is a "whole food"; eat the whole thing, including skin 2) almond skins are high in tannins, hard to digest, and very astringent: peel the sprouts (discarding skins) before eating. Peeling almond sprouts requires some effort, which can be reduced by blanching almonds by running hot water from the faucet (around 140 degrees F) over them for 30 seconds or so, before peeling. Use of boiling water is not necessary. Peeled almond sprouts really taste wonderful: try them and decide for yourself!

Recommendations: buy raw, unblanched, shelled nuts, -or- raw, in-shell nuts. Eat in sprouted form, preferably peeled.

4.1 Brazil Nuts Brazil nuts are harvested from wild trees growing in the Amazon River basin. Due to plant culture difficulties, there are very few brazil nut plantations.

The brazil nuts sold for export to the U.S. and other countries are brought to packing houses in Brazil. There the in-shell nuts are dried in automatic dryers to produce a moisture content of 11% (in-shell) or 6% (shelled), for shipment.

Nuts are shelled by soaking in water (salt water, probably) for 24 hours, then the nuts are boiled for 5 minutes. The boiling softens the shell, and makes cracking (by hand or machine) much easier. Nuts that are to be sold as blanched or sliced nuts, may be boiled again, before blanching and/or slicing.

Remarks: The heat from boiling will kill the nut and remove its viability. Shelled nuts are not sproutable.

Recommendations: shelled nuts are devitalized. Buy only in-shell, and shell manually (a tedious and difficult process) as needed.

4.2 Cashews The cashew nut tree is a tropical tree in the plant family Anacardiacae. Other plants in the same family include the mango, the pistachio, and some less pleasant plants: poison ivy, poison oak, and poison sumac.

The raw cashew nut is enclosed in a tough, leathery shell that contains caustic, toxic substances including cardol and anacardic acid (similar to the active ingredients of poison ivy). Despite their caustic nature, these compounds have economic value and are used in industry. Together they are extracted in processing, as cashew nut shell liquid, referred to as CNSL.

Thus the challenge in cashew processing is to separate the edible nut from the toxic CNSL. Because of this, cashews require more extensive processing than other nuts. From the raw-fooder perspective, the important points in processing are as follows. 1) Pre-conditioning: the in-shell nuts are piled in heaps and kept wet with water for 1-2 days, -or- the in-shell nuts are steamed for 8-10 minutes. 2) Pre-treatment: the in-shell nuts are then immersed in a hot oil bath, kept at 170-200 deg C, for about 90 seconds. The oil bath removes some of the CNSL, and conditions the nut for shelling. Following the oil bath, the nuts may be placed in a heated centrifuge for further CNSL extraction. 3) Shelling: mechanical or manual (Indian factories use mostly manual labor) 4) Drying: the kernels are dried to a moisture content of 3%, in special chambers, at 70 degrees C, for about 6 hours. 5) Peeling - manual (as needed), or other process. One process calls for freezing the kernels, then peeling them automatically in a revolving drum.

Note that Orkos, the well-known supplier for instinctive eaters in France, sells shelled cashews that are apparently truly raw. Also, if you live in or visit certain tropical countries, you may be able to obtain raw, in-shell cashews (but then you face the difficult, potentially dangerous, problem of how to shell them, yourself).

Remarks: not sproutable; cashews ferment quickly if you try to sprout them.

Recommendations: the "raw" cashew may be steamed, deep-fried, and partially baked. They are devitalized.

4.3 Chestnuts Most of the chestnuts sold in the U.S. are imported from Europe (the European chestnut), however there are commercial Chinese chestnut orchards in the U.S. The American chestnut is no longer of commercial importance. The chestnut has the lowest fat content of all major nuts (4-6%), and contains substantial amounts of carbohydrates (starch and sugar). They may spoil quickly after harvest, so should be refrigerated or frozen for storage. Chestnuts are usually sold in-shell.

Processing varies somewhat by variety. Chinese chestnuts are cured by spreading them on a floor, stirring frequently, and waiting 5-10 days. European chestnuts receive similar treatment, but they are cured or allowed to "sweat" for only 2 days. American chestnuts are prone to weevil infestation, for which they are dipped in hot water (49 degrees C) for 30-45 minutes. They are then cured for 1-2 days in a manner similar to Chinese chestnuts.

Remarks: soaking chestnuts in water prior to eating is not a good idea. If the nut shell is watertight, the water will not be absorbed. Slitting the nut shell allows water to get in, but the most noticeable effect is to sharpen the astringent flavor of the skin of the nut, making peeling absolutely mandatory. Note that unsoaked, raw peeled nuts have a very sweet, agreeable flavor.

Recommendations: buy in-shell, refrigerate for storage. Remove skin for best flavor.

4.4 Coconuts Coconuts require 4 or more months to sprout, and supermarket coconuts probably won't sprout. If you really want to sprout a coconut, you will need a fresh, mature raw nut with its husk intact. Sprouting coconuts are edible, and are considered a delicacy in some tropical countries.

The best way to eat coconuts is when they are immature/green. As they grow, the coconut flesh changes from liquid to a soft jelly, then to a chewy consistency, and finally to hard flesh. Green coconuts are available in some tropical countries, in parts of Florida, and in some U.S. produce markets (where they are imported from Mexico). Get them at the chewy stage - a wonderful food!

4.5 Filberts (Hazelnuts) Harvested nuts are washed, then dried to a final 8-10% moisture content for shipping. Rosengarten suggests (but does not explicitly state) that drying temperatures do not exceed 100 degrees F. The shells of non-organic filberts may be bleached using sulfur dioxide - buying organic is recommended.

Remark: not sproutable. Soaking in water has little effect on raw, shelled nuts.

Recommendations: viable but not sproutable. Buy in-shell or raw, shelled.

4.6 Macadamias Macadamia nuts, at time of harvest, have a very high moisture content (up to 30% in outer husk, 25% in rest of nut). The nuts are mechanically husked, and the in-shell nuts are dried in ovens to yield a moisture content of 1.5%.

The nuts are shelled mechanically, then graded. One grading method that is used involves immersing the shelled nuts in brine, which requires additional rinses and further oven drying afterwards.

Note that Macadamias grow in Australia, Hawaii, Costa Rica, Florida, and even parts of Southern California. You might be able to obtain unprocessed, raw macadamias from small growers in those areas.

Remarks: not sproutable. Viable, in-shell macadamias require 30-60+ days to sprout.

Recommendations: suggest in-shell, cracking manually in small quantities to insure freshness. An easy way to crack macadamias: place a layer of in-shell nuts between two layers of an old towel, on the floor. Use hammer - tap lightly. The towel will hold the nuts in place, while you crack them.

4.7 Peanuts Peanuts are technically a legume, but are included here as many consider them to be a nut. Most raw-fooders are aware that raw, unblanched peanuts are sproutable. The situation is analogous to almonds: sprouted nuts taste better than dry, unsprouted; blanched nuts are treated with heat and/or chemicals, and don't sprout reliably.

Remarks: as with almonds, some raw fooders prefer to peel (remove skins) from the peanut sprouts before eating. Some peels can be removed when the nuts are dry. The rest come off relatively easily after the peanuts have been soaking in water for 1-2 hours. Again, the reader is encouraged to try them peeled, and compare flavor. Note also that peanuts can harbor toxic molds (aflatoxin). If your peanuts mold, throw them out! Don't take chances with mold toxins. Unfortunately, my experience is that yellow mold is common on (sprouting) peanuts - whether organic or commercial.

Recommendations: buy raw, shelled, unblanched peanuts -or- raw, in-shell. Eat sprouted, peeled for best taste.

4.8 Pecans Mechanically harvested pecans have a relatively high moisture content, and are dried, using warm air (below 100 degrees F) to a moisture content of 4.5%. Rosengarten recommends storing the shelled nuts at 32 degrees F, 65% relative humidity. (The "meat tray" of some refrigerators approximates these storage conditions.)

The surprise in pecan processing comes in the shelling stage. The nut shells are pre-conditioned by soaking in hot (near boiling) water or steaming. U.S. FDA (Food and Drug Administration) regulations require that heat be applied in the pre-conditioning stage to kill E. coli bacteria. The nuts are then shelled, the kernels separated out, and dried again in warm air.

Remark: not sproutable.

Recommendations: buy in-shell only; shelled nuts are devitalized.

4.9 Pistachios Pistachios are hulled and dried within 24 hours of harvest. Rosengarten reports that the nuts are dried using heated air, at 150-160 degrees F.

Remarks: my own limited experiments with pistachios indicates that they are not sproutable (at least the U.S. grown nuts I tried were not sproutable). The nuts I tried to sprout turned mushy/slimy. The pistachio has a thick skin, which absorbs much water. If you can somehow obtain sun-dried pistachios, and you peel the nuts to remove the thick skin, they might sprout for you.

Recommendations: drying temps of 150-160 deg F might be high enough to devitalize the nut: viability is questionable.

4.10 Pine Nuts (Pignolia/Pinon) Pine nuts are dried and milled to remove their outer (brown) skin. The milling process removes the germ from some nuts, reducing viability. Unmilled pine nuts - in their brown skin, are available in some areas.

Remarks: attempts at sprouting milled pine nuts yielded a bland, slimy result. Milled nuts are not sproutable. Unmilled nuts will sprout, similar to almonds. However, the skin prevents you from detecting spoiled nuts. Try and see if you like them.

Recommendation: if available, try the unmilled nuts. Sprout only 1 day.

4.11 Walnuts Walnuts are dried to a maximum moisture content of 8% to prevent mold and allow the shell to be bleached (improves appearance). Walnuts selected for in-shell sale are fumigated or heat treated to kill insects in storage. The in-shell nuts are then bleached using a dilute solution of sodium hypochlorite (ordinary household bleach).

Shelled walnuts are not bleached. However they may be treated with an anti- oxidant to preserve them in storage.

Remarks: not sproutable. Walnuts can be soaked instead of sprouted; however the flavor can change in a negative way - try both ways (soaked and unsoaked), and decide which you prefer.

Recommendations: buy organic, in-shell (hoping that organic nuts are not bleached), or organic, shelled.


5.0  Summary: Evaluation of (Standard Commercial) Raw Nuts
In the evaluation column below, the following code is used:
   A =  viable and sproutable       (alive and active)
   B =  viable but not sproutable,
        in practical terms          (alive but dormant/passive)
   C =  low or uncertain viability
   D =  not viable, not sproutable  (devitalized)
Nut         Format               Evaluation    Comments
Almonds,    shelled, unblanched     A
Almonds,    in-shell                A
Brazil Nut, shelled, unblanched     D
Brazil Nut, in-shell                B/C
Cashews,    shelled                 D          standard commercial nuts
Chestnuts,  in-shell                B/C
Coconut,    unhusked                A/B        fresh, mature nut only
Coconut,    partially husked        B/C        immature (green) nut
Coconut,    husked                  B/C        green/mature nuts
Filberts    shelled, unblanched     B
Filberts,   in-shell                B          organic recommended
Macadamias, shelled                 B/C        depends on drying temperatures
Macadamias, in-shell                B/C        depends on drying temperatures
Peanuts,    shelled, unblanched     A
Peanuts,    in-shell                A
Pecans,     shelled                 D
Pecans,     in-shell                B
Pine Nuts,  unmilled                A          brown skin intact
Pine Nuts,  milled                  C          no skin
Pistachios, shelled, unblanched     C
Pistachios, in-shell                C
Walnuts,    shelled                 B/C        buy organic only
Walnuts,    in-shell                B          buy organic only

6.0 References

Duke, James A. CRC Handbook of Nuts Boca Raton (Florida): CRC Press, Inc., 1989.

Ohler, J. G. Cashew Amsterdam : Koninklijk Instituut voor de Tropen, 1979.

Rosengarten, Frederic. The book of edible nuts New York : Walker, 1984.

Woodruff, Jasper Guy (editor) Peanuts : production, processing, products Westport, Conn. : AVI Pub. Co., 1983.

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