After seeing numerous people exploring the raw vegan diet making errors about what vegan foods are truly raw, I thought I would post some helpful tips about common pitfalls for new raw vegans, since not all of these will be immediately obvious to someone who has not studied the diet extensively.
In general, any food heated above about 117 degrees F would not be considered raw, so that includes all baked and canned goods, as well as most packaged and bottled foods. What many inexperienced raw vegans do not know is that various foods may appear to be raw, like un-roasted nuts for example, but are in fact typically heated in processing before they appear in your typical grocery store’s packages and bulk bins.
Here are some of the most common pitfalls raw vegans face:
(1) If you live in the U.S., you may have trouble finding raw almonds. Note that "natural" is generally not raw due to questionable sterilization laws affecting almonds produced in California, where almost all U.S.-grown almonds come from. Fortunately, you can order truly raw almonds online, you can sometimes find imported raw almonds from Europe in stores, or you can buy them raw directly from growers. You can also often use raw walnuts or sunflower seeds as a substitute in recipes.
(2) Store-bought cashews are generally not raw, even if they look pale in color, since they are steamed to remove their coating, but you can order raw hand-shelled cashews online, or you can substitute raw macadamia nuts.
(3) Certain brands of what appear to be raw macadamia nuts are actually heated in processing, including the popular Mauna Loa brand that heats its nuts during the drying phase. You can also order truly raw macadamia nuts online or get them shelled or unshelled directly from a grower.
(4) Most refined oils are not raw, although some stores do now offer raw unrefined coconut butter instead, which you can also order online. Some cold-pressed oils are raw, with the highest quality ones being olive oil, flaxseed oil, coconut oil and hemp oil, but you will need to contact the manufacturer to make sure their brands of oil are not heated in processing.
(5) Nut butters can be found raw in stores, so check the label closely. If you cannot find nut or seed butter marked "raw" locally, you can also make your own nut and seed butters from processing raw nuts and seeds in a food processor, or you can order online.
(6) Virtually all canned and almost all bottled goods are cooked unless they say "raw" on the label. Some fermented foods like kim chi and sauerkraut may be raw to preserve the cultures or may have had cultures started on pre-cooked food, so you need to check. Some other foods can be sold with active cultures in them like nama shoyu, miso, and some brands of kombucha tea, although the original food was generally heat-sterilized prior to the introduction of cultures.
(7) Chocolate, cacao nibs and cocoa powder are typically not raw unless marked so, but you can order raw versions online. Raw carob powder is a good substitute that stores often carry in bulk bins.
(8) For the most part, frozen produce is inferior to fresh produce from a raw perspective since most of the enzymes become denatured at low temperature. Also, frozen vegetables are generally blanched (briefly cooked) prior to being frozen and so are not raw. Freezing also destroys some nutrients in fruit, although frozen fruit may be riper than the fresh fruit you get from the store.
(9) Sugar, molasses, and agave and maple syrup are generally not raw. Even Sucanaut has been heated in processing, although it retains the nutrients in molasses. Honey is not vegan as it comes from bees who are members of the animal kingdom, but can be bought raw. Maple syrup may also have animal fat used in its processing as a de-foaming agent, and white cane sugar is generally processed with bone char filters made from animal bones, so neither is considered a strictly vegan product. Raw vegans typically instead use date syrup made from blending dates with water or stevia herb as a low calorie sweetener.
(10) Oats are generally steamed when sold in stores in rolled or steel cut forms, but you can obtain oat groats and sprout them to make raw granola and other oat dishes. You can also use sprouted raw buckwheat and sprouted wheat berries as a cereal.
(11) Some dried fruits may be heated in processing and can come coated with sugar, low quality oils and undesirable sulfites used as preservatives. You can contact the manufacturer to find out whether they heat their dried fruits prior to sale. If possible, the best thing to do is obtain the fruits fresh and then dehydrate them yourself at temperatures below 117 degrees F.
(12) Canned beans are always cooked, and only certain legumes are good to sprout from dried. The best for sprouting are chickpeas, lentils and mung beans. Peas can usually be eaten raw from the pod if grown yourself or sold in stores.
(13) Plan on soaking raw nuts and seeds, and sprouting sunflower seeds to activate them and reduce anti-nutrients.
Basically, raw vegans want to do their best to choose foods from the produce section and from the bulk bins marked raw and then do all the processing themselves. If you can't find what you want at your local store, then do consider ordering online in bulk from grocers that specialize in providing raw products for those wishing to remain fully raw.