Our thoughts on Glutamates (MSG)

What are Glutamates (MSG)?

Monosodium glutamates (MSG) is the sodium salt of the common amino acid glutamic acid. Glutamic acid is naturally present in our bodies, and in many foods and food additives.

How is it made?

MSG occurs naturally in many foods, such as tomatoes and cheeses. People around the world have eaten glutamate-rich foods throughout history. For example, a historical dish in the Asian community is a glutamate-rich seaweed broth. In 1908, a Japanese professor named Kikunae Ikeda was able to extract glutamate from this broth and determined that glutamate provided the savory taste to the soup. Professor Ikeda then filed a patent to produce MSG and commercial production started the following year.

Today, instead of extracting and crystallizing MSG from seaweed broth, MSG is produced by the fermentation of starch, sugar beets, sugar cane or molasses. This fermentation process is similar to that  used to make yogurt, vinegar and wine.

Is MSG safe to eat?

MSG added to food is safe. The FDA considers the addition of MSG to foods to be “generally recognized as safe” (GRAS). Although many people identify themselves as sensitive to MSG, in studies with such individuals given MSG or a placebo, scientists have not been able to consistently trigger reactions.

How can I know if there is MSG in my food?

The FDA and the European Food Safety board require that foods containing added MSG list it in the ingredient panel on the packaging as monosodium glutamate.

Al Rifai’s Position on MSG

We believe in unadulterated natural snacking. We dry roast our products without adding any oil or fats in the process. In 2017 we decided to remove all glutamates from our products and we did it.

Now all our prepacked products and the one you buy from our stores are MSG FREE.

AL RIFAI MSG FREE

Cheers to healthy snacking and a longer life.

Macadamias – Find out why they are good

When you think of macadamia nuts, Hawaii might come to mind. This nut is actually native to the continent Down Under. This explains why the fruit is also known as the Australian  Nut.

These are some of the most sought-after nuts in the world, so they can be expensive. This has driven up commercial production in other balmy areas like South Africa and Central America. The trees thrive if there’s sufficient water. Introduced in Hawaii in 1881 and soon afterward in California, Hawaii is now the world’s largest exporter. A 10-year-old macadamia tree might produce up to 22 kg and increase indefinitely.

Besides being a food source, the husks are composted for fertilizer.  In Japan, the oil is used in the cosmetic industry to make soaps, shampoos, and sunscreens. The remainder can be used in animal feed. Macadamias are a tough nut to crack, as the saying goes. Containing at least 72 percent oil, they’re encased in a leathery, green husk that splits open as the nut matures.

Al Rifai macadamia roasted in shell

Health benefits of macadamias

As a natural, whole food, macadamia nuts, specifically, contain antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals with significant health-boosting potential. They contain high amounts of vitamin B1 and magnesium. Just one serving nets 58 percent of what you need in manganese and 23 percent of the recommended daily value of thiamin.

Raw nuts contain a number of nutrients along with a healthy amount of monounsaturated fat. Macadamias are relatively low in carbs and protein (containing two percent per one-ounce serving). They are high in oleic acid and omega-9 monounsaturated fatty acid, the same fatty acid found in olive oil. In fact, of the 21 grams of fat found in macadamia nuts, only three grams are saturated fat.

Studies done on Macadamias

Clinical trials and studies demonstrated that the fatty acid profile of macadamia nuts beneficially affect serum lipids/lipoproteins. This results in a lowered risk of cardiovascular disease.

Additionally, a Journal of the American College of Nutrition study found that people who ate nuts benefitted in other ways, including:

  • Lower systolic blood pressure
  • Less likelihood of having two of the risk factors for metabolic syndrome: high blood pressure and low HDL (good) cholesterol (for nut consumers)
  • Less likelihood of having four risk factors for metabolic syndrome: abdominal obesity, high blood pressure, high fasting glucose, and a lower prevalence of metabolic syndrom

Another reason why nuts are beneficial is that many of them, such as walnuts, hazelnuts, pecans, Brazil nuts, almonds, cashews and peanuts, contain the amino acid l-arginine, which offers multiple vascular benefits to people with coronary heart disease. Nut consumption is also associated with a reduced incidence of diabetes in women, gallstones in both men and women, and beneficial effects on oxidative stress, inflammation, and vascular reactivity.

It’s also important to note that macadamia nuts are toxic for dogs and can cause weakness, vomiting, loss of coordination, tremors, and hyperthermia.

Al Rifai offers a selection of dry roasted macadamias and raw as well.

Does roasting nuts affect their nutrition profile?

Since 2005, researchers from Harvard University have shown that men reduced their cardiovascular risk by eating nuts regularly. These men have either suffered a heart related disease or healthy. By replacing less healthy snacks with nuts rich in mono- and polyunsaturated fats and fiber lowers cholesterol. Omega-3 fats in nuts may prevent irregular heart rhythms. Those rich in arginine may improve the function of your blood vessels. Vitamin E, a powerful antioxidant, is found in nuts to fight off free radicals. The question is, do the same benefits apply if you buy roasted nuts compared to those not roasted?

Roasting and Heat Treating of Certain Nuts

Roasted nuts may be more appetising than the raw ones. You may want to consider buying some specific types. You should consider their raw forms instead on your next trip to our store. Chemical analysis of raw and processed pistachios are published in the “Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry” in 2008. The Results from the study reveals an increase of lipid oxidation. This indicates the roasted nuts compared to the raw ones has higher oxidation. Also, the results from the heat treated nuts show an increase of trans fats. Your diet should limit this type of fat.

Roasting Cashews Increases Their Antioxidant Activity

Some nuts, such as cashews, you want to buy roasted. The “Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry” published a study by the Memorial University of Newfoundland, Canada, on the antioxidant activity of roasting cashews in May of 2011. The results shows an increase in the absorbency and scavenging capabilities of the antioxidants in cashews, leading to an increase in the power of reducing oxygen radicals in these nuts. There is also a higher yield in the phenolic compounds and flavonoids. The cashews roasted at 130 degrees Celsius for 33 minutes contains these powerful antioxidants.

Heat Treated Peanuts Are Better Than Raw

We know that thermal processing alters the antioxidants composition in peanuts. The roasting of peanuts may still be a better choice for you as their antioxidant activities are preserved or enhanced after processing. In September 2010 “Plant Foods For Human Nutrition” displays results from a study where scientists from the University of Georgia finds that the antioxidant activity increases the most by oil roasting peanuts compared to dry roasting them and that raw peanuts had the lowest amount of antioxidants. From another study in 2007 from the “Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry” shows that boiling peanuts compared to dry or oil roasting them, had significantly the highest total flavonoid and polyphenol content, suggesting that heat-treated peanuts are better than the raw variety.

Almonds Are Better Raw

On the other hand, you may want to choose raw almonds. In March 2011, the “Journal of Food Science” reveals that almonds roasted over 140 degrees Celsius can damage their cellular structures and degrade their quality, making them more susceptible of releasing oil during storage. Roasting almonds above 130 degrees Celsius encourages acrylamide formation, a product with links to causing cancer. In another study from the “Journal of Food Science” in 2007, the amount of acrylamide formed increases as the color of the almonds gets darker as they roast. We know that Almonds originating from Europe have less acrylamide than those from the US because the asparagine levels are much lower.

What are activated nuts? Are they good for you?

Nuts are super nutritious, and packed full of vitamins and minerals. They are also very appealing in taste. Nuts are surprisingly versatile in the Lebanese cuisine. They work equally well in sweet and savoury dishes.  You can even use them to make non-dairy milk, butter, and cheese. Plus they are used to make the most amazing raw desserts.

Nuts are available to buy in two forms, raw or roasted. You must have been hearing a lot about the term “activated” nuts, and recipes advised using activated nuts. What is activated nut? And more precisely, why would you bother when (most) nuts are perfectly tasty in their raw state?

The scientist in us wanted to know more. We looked into the data and searched some sources and here are the facts.

Nuts in their natural state

Nuts grow on trees, and have a hard shell that takes a good set of nut crackers plus some considerable hand strength to prise open. Commercial farmers can use machinery to crack them open. The resulting nut once the case is removed is the raw nut.

It’s worth clarifying that raw in this instance means uncooked. Raw in the raw food sense means not heated above 46ºC. This can be a little confusing, for example with cashew nuts, which are often steamed open. These nuts are still referred to as “raw”, since they are uncooked, but they are not strictly speaking raw in the raw food sense as the steaming would have involved heating them above 46ºC.

Nuts and phytic acid

As well as all their nutritional goodness, raw nuts also contain phytic acid, or phytate. Phytate is the molecule that plants use to store phosphorus, and it is particularly high in bran, seeds and nuts.  Once digested, the phytate in raw nuts, which cannot be digested by humans as we do not have the phytase enzyme, binds to minerals, particularly calcium, iron, and zinc, but also magnesium and manganese, preventing us from absorbing them in the gastrointestinal tract. Phytate has been described as an anti-nutrient for this reason.

As well as binding to minerals, phytate is also thought to inhibit digestive enzymes such as pepsin (here), trypsin (here) and amylase (here). This is why large quantities of raw nuts can be hard to digest.

Whether you should worry about phytic acid depends on how much you intake. If you just eat a small handful of raw nuts a day, it’s probably no big deal. But if you’re vegan and eating huge quantities of almond butter, cashew cheese, you eat a vegetarian diet packed with lentils and whole grains, or you’re anaemic or suffering from calcium or iron deficiency, then you may want to consider reducing your phytate intake. That doesn’t mean cutting back, it just means preparing your nuts (and also pulses and other wholegrains) a little differently.

All of the ways described below are ways of preparing nuts so as to reduce the phytate levels and make the nuts easier to digest, and allow us to absorb more nutrients.

Roasting Nuts

Roasted nuts are probably the most readily available nuts after raw nuts. Roasting reduces the phytate content of nuts, although there’s not much research available regarding specifics of how the nutritional content of nuts changes when you roast them. It is also thought to improve their digest-ability.

Because nuts contain polyunsaturated fats it’s thought that roasting at lower temperatures are better. Also, nuts which contain asparagine, such as almonds, need to be kept below 130°C to avoid producing acrylamide, which is a neurotoxin and carcinogen. Most of the Al Rifai products are roasted at this temperature.

AL RIFAI Activated Almonds in Water

Soaking nuts (or “activating” them)

Another option for reducing the phytate content of raw nuts is to soak them. Soaking is a precursor for germination, and the seed uses enzymes to break down the phytate. Soaking time can vary depending on which nut you’re soaking, but overnight is a general guideline.

If you soak the nuts for long enough, they should begin to sprout (germinate). I have never tried this but expect it would take several days. The water should be changed every 12 hours or so (more if it is a very hot day) to help prevent them rotting.

You can eat nuts that have been soaked. They are still crunchy but have a more “crisp” bite than a crunch. Nuts are great for adding to salads or snacking on, but will only keep for a couple of days. They won’t work in recipes that call for raw or roasted nuts though because they are too wet. To enable them to be suitable for baking, they need to be dried out.

Dehydrating nuts

Dehydrating is a method of drying soaked nuts out without cooking them, and uses low temperatures for long periods of time to achieve this. There is a specialist piece of equipment called a dehydrator that can be used, or a fan oven at a low temperature (lower than 50ºC) with the door ajar to allow the moisture to escape, or even leaving them in the sun. Dehydrating nuts takes upwards of 12 hours. Once dried out the nuts resemble raw nuts in flavour and appearance but have more crunch and are slightly drier.

If nuts aren’t dehydrated for long enough then they can go mouldy inside because of the moisture that remains.

Activated nuts

In some health food shops you can buy activated raw nuts. These are nuts that have been soaked (activated) then dehydrated and packaged for sale. They are considerably more expensive than ordinary raw nuts because of the extra time and effort that has gone into preparing them.

The Conclusion?

All this preparation is taking place to make nuts easier to digest, and that can’t be a bad thing. That said, it does require a bit of effort, and if you don’t notice any problems eating raw nuts you’ll probably think it’s not worth the trouble. However, consider this. Whilst you may think it sounds like a modern fad, most traditional cultures soak, sprout and ferment nuts and grains and have done for centuries. It’s not that it’s been invented, more re-discovered. Also, nuts don’t come ready shelled in convenient packs at the supermarket.

We recommend that you soak  nuts if you are adding them to a salad and planned far enough in advance!

Raw or Roasted Nuts: How to choose?

Nuts are extremely healthy and make a perfect snack when you’re on the go.

They are packed with healthy fats, fiber and protein. They’re a great source of many important nutrients and antioxidants.

What’s more, studies have shown that eating nuts has several health benefits. It includes lowering cholesterol, blood pressure and blood sugar.

However, some people wonder whether roasting nuts affects their nutritional content.

Why Are Nuts Roasted?

Nuts are generally roasted to improve their taste, aroma and crunchy texture.

Roasting is defined as cooking using dry heat, which cooks the food evenly on all sides. Most nuts are roasted without their shell, except for pistachios, which are often roasted in-shell.

Meanwhile, raw nuts have not been roasted.

Roasting methods are sometimes used to separate the shells of nuts from their kernels. This is a common method of shelling cashews and the reason why they’re almost never sold raw.

There are two main kinds of roasting:

  • Dry roasting: Roasting without any oil. Nuts can be dry roasted in the oven or on a frying pan.
  • Oil roasting: Roasting using oil. Nuts can also be oil roasted in the oven or on a frying pan.

In addition to these two methods, nuts can be roasted in the microwave.

You can buy nuts roasted, or you can roast them yourself. We sell both on our online store

Both Have a Similar Nutrient Content

Roasting nuts changes their structure and chemical composition.

Specifically, it changes their color and decreases their moisture content, giving rise to their crunchy texture.

Raw and dry-roasted nuts have very similar amounts of fat, carbs and protein. Although, roasted nuts have slightly more fat and calories per gram, but the difference is minimal.

28 grams of raw almonds contains 161 calories and 14 grams of fat, whereas the same amount of dry-roasted almonds contains 167 calories and 15 grams of fat.

During roasting, nuts lose some moisture. Therefore, a roasted nut weighs less than a raw nut. That explains why the fat content per ounce is slightly higher in roasted nuts.

Some studies have shown that roasting nuts does not change the overall fat content. However, the polyunsaturated fats in roasted nuts become more susceptible to oxidation, as the structure of the nut changes.

Meanwhile, the protein and carb contents of raw and roasted nuts are very similar. Nevertheless, roasted nuts can be slightly higher or lower in these macronutrients, depending on the type of nut.

Contrary to what you might expect, oil-roasted nuts are only slightly higher in fat and calories than dry-roasted nuts. That’s because nuts are naturally high in fat and cannot absorb much more of it from added fat.

Some Nutrients Are Lost During Roasting

Nuts are a great source of nutrients, including vitamin E, magnesium and phosphorus. They’re also loaded with antioxidants.

Some of these nutrients are sensitive to heat and might be lost during the roasting process. For example, some types of antioxidants are degraded during roasting. Antioxidants are important for your health because they help protect your cells against damage from free radicals.

Nevertheless, increased temperature and roasting time have been shown to decrease antioxidant activity, but only up to a certain point.

In one study, the levels of antioxidants in various nuts decreased constantly from the start of roasting at 150°C until 30 minutes later.

Interestingly, the antioxidant activity increased after 60 minutes. This is because compounds that have antioxidant activity are formed in a chemical reaction when nuts are roasted.

Furthermore, dry roasting doesn’t damage all antioxidants. One study reported that roasting does not affect the amounts of the antioxidants lutein and zeaxanthin in pistachios and hazelnuts.

Overall, every type of nut and each nutrient responds differently to roasting, depending on the nut type and the roasting conditions.

Although some vitamins are lost during roasting, keep in mind that nuts are not the main sources of these vitamins. The exception to this is almonds, which are high in vitamin E.

Raw Nuts Might Contain Harmful Bacteria and Fungi

Potentially harmful bacteria, such as Salmonella and E. coli, might be present in raw nuts.

That’s because nuts  sometimes fall to the ground during harvesting. If the soil is contaminated with bacteria, the nuts will easily come into contact with the bacteria.

Contaminated water might also introduce harmful bacteria, either during harvest or post-harvesting.

In fact, Salmonella has been detected in raw nuts, including almonds, macadamia nuts, walnuts and pistachios.

One study reported that nearly 1% of samples of various nuts contained Salmonella, with the highest contamination rate in macadamia nuts and lowest in hazelnuts. It was not detected in pecans.

However, the amount of Salmonella detected was low, so it might not cause illness in healthy individuals.

Though outbreaks due to contaminated nuts are uncommon, they’re very serious.

In the US, consuming raw almonds has been linked to a Salmonella outbreak, while consuming in-shell hazelnuts has been associated with an outbreak of E. coli .

In order to reduce Salmonella, all almonds in the US today are required to be pasteurized.

While roasting nuts reduces the number of bacteria on them, Salmonella was detected in one sample of roasted pistachios in one study. Another study found no Salmonella or E. coli in roasted nuts.

Furthermore, certain fungi sometime can contaminate nuts and grains with a toxic carcinogen called aflatoxin.

It has been detected in both raw and roasted nuts, including pistachios and walnuts. Aflatoxin is very heat resistant and might survive the roasting process.The best way to avoid aflatoxin contamination is through control of humidity and temperature during drying and storage, rather than roasting.

Which Type Should You Eat

The short answer is both.

Raw nuts are very healthy, but they might contain harmful bacteria. However, even if they do, it is unlikely to cause an illness.

Roasted nuts, on the other hand, may contain fewer antioxidants and vitamins. Some of their healthy fats may also become damaged and acrylamide might form, though not in harmful amounts.

In the end, roasting temperature and duration can have a big impact.

If nuts are roasted at a low-to-medium temperature of about 140°C for approximately 15 minutes, vitamin loss is kept to a minimum. Healthy fats are unharmed and acrylamide is less likely to form.

Instead of buying nuts roasted, buy them raw and roast them yourself, preferably in the oven. That way you can better control the temperature and roast larger quantities of nuts at a time.

What’s more, roasting at low temperatures between 120–140°C  creates the most likable taste and texture.

If you want to enhance the flavor using an oil roasting method. Keep in mind that some oils are not suitable. Choose a heat-stable oil, such as coconut oil.

The Bottom Line

Both raw and roasted nuts are good for you and provide health benefits.

Both varieties contain similar amounts of calories, protein, carbs and fiber.

However, roasting nuts may damage their healthy fat, reduce their nutrient content and lead to the formation of a harmful substance called acrylamide.

On the other side, raw nuts are more likely than roasted nuts to contain harmful bacteria like Salmonella.

That said, these risks are low.

Importantly, how nuts are roasted can have a big impact on their nutrient content. If you roast them yourself, keep the temperature relatively low, at about 140°C for 15 minutes. The nuts should come out with a lightly roasted color.

Also, make sure not to store them for too long. They have a limited shelf life. Only roast nuts that you are planning to eat over the next few days.

The final recommendation is simple — include raw or roasted nuts in your diet for better health.