Are Spices Raw?


Are spices raw?

One question that seems to be on the minds of many people who are contemplating the raw food diet is: Are spices raw? The short answer to this question is “it depends”. It depends on the type of spice being used and how it was harvested.

Many raw foodists seem to accept the notion that many spices are not actually raw, and this is why it is very difficult to obtain a 100% raw diet. However, if you know what to look for and read labels carefully, you will find that some spices can be purchased raw.

Here is a list of common spices that are harvested in a manner that allows them to be classified as raw:

Allspice: Allspice is the fruit of an evergreen tree that is native to the Caribbean. After being harvested, the allspice berries are sun-dried. Make sure that your allspice comes from the Caribbean for the best quality and assurance that it was dried only by the sun.

Anise: The Anise plant is native to the Middle East and Mediterranean. Both its seeds and leaves are used. Once harvested, Anise is dried in partial shade.

Caraway: Caraway is the seed of a plant that is native to Asia and parts of Europe. Caraway stems are air dried naturally for 7-10 days. The seeds are them removed.

Cardamom: Cardamom is the fruit of a perennial bush that grows in southern India. After being harvested, the pods are dried. Cardamom can be sun-dried or dried in drying sheds. So, it is difficult to know whether it is raw or not. Avoid the white cardamom pods, as they have been bleached.

Cinnamon and Cassia: Cinnamon and Cassia are similar in flavor and are both the inner bark of their respective trees. Most of the “cinnamon” sold in the United States is actually cassia. However, consumers are becoming savvier and true cinnamon is becoming more available. Both cinnamon and cassia are harvested by hand and left to dry in the shade. During the drying process, the bark naturally rolls into sticks.

Cloves: Cloves are unopened buds of the clove tree. They are harvested by hand and dried in the sun and even turned by hand to facilitate the drying process.

Coriander: Coriander is the seed of the same plant that cilantro leaves come from. Traditionally, coriander seeds are dried in partial shade. However, the seeds are dried artificially in some places and may not be raw.

Cumin: Cumin is the seed of a plant that is native to Egypt. However, it is cultivated in many regions. Cumin seeds are dried in the sun.

Nutmeg: Nutmeg is the kernel of the seed of an evergreen tree that is native to Indonesia. The seeds are left to dry inside of their apricot like fruits (shells). They are allowed to dry naturally on trays for 6-8 weeks. Once dry, the nutmegs are removed from their shell.

Salt: Generally speaking, salt can come from one of two sources, the earth or the sea. The salt that comes from the earth is boiled down to achieve various degrees of fineness. “Table salt” comes from the earth is not raw. Sea salt can be harvested naturally by air and sun evaporation, or by artificial water evaporation pans. Sea salt that has been harvested naturally by sun and wind evaporation is raw.

Star Anise: Star Anise is the fruit of an evergreen tree that is native to Vietnam and southern China. After being harvested, the fruits are dried in the sun.

Pepper: Pepper is the berry of a plant called Piper nigrum. Most pepper is raw. Black peppercorns are simply the green fruits of the Piper nigrum that have been sun dried. White peppercorns are the same berries, but they have been left on the plant to ripen until they are red in color. They are then soaked and peeled, which reveals their white corns.

Commonly used spices that are not raw in their dried form as a result of their required processing techniques include paprika, saffron, sassafras, turmeric, and vanilla.

Some spices such as dill seeds and fennel seeds can be grown in your garden. You can then dry them yourself, which will guarantee that they are raw.

Many spices are irradiated in the United States and many other countries as well. When foods are irradiated, they are exposed to a radiant energy source such as gamma rays or electron beams within a shielded facility. According to the Food and Drug Administration, “The process [of irradiation] may cause a small loss of nutrients but no more so than with other processing methods such as cooking, canning, or heat pasteurization”.

While the FDA insists that irradiating food is completely safe, there are many individuals who are not comfortable with consuming irradiated food. Fortunately, the FDA requires labeling of all food in the United States that has been irradiated. Look at the labels of any spices closely before purchasing. There is a universal symbol called a “radura” that is used to signify that food has been irradiated. This is what the radura looks like:

When purchasing spices, buying organic is your best bet, because organic spices are less likely to have been irradiated.

Written by: Angela Coate-Hermes

Copyright 2009

 All rights reservedThese statements have not been evaluated by the food and drug administration.  The preceding information and/or products are for educational purposes only and are not meant to diagnose, prescribe, or treat illness. Please consult your doctor before making any changes or before starting ANY exercise or nutritional supplement program or before using this information or any product during pregnancy or if you have a serious medical condition.


FDA. "Food Irradiation: A Safe Measure." Food Irradiation. Jan. 2000. U.S. Food and Drug Administration. 27 Mar 2009 .  

Hill, Tony. The Contemporary Encyclopedia of Herbs and Spices. Hoboken: John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 2004. 

Norman, Jill. Herbs and Spices: the cook’s reference. New York: DK Publishing, 2002.

Ortiz, Elizabeth. The Encyclopedia of Herbs, Spices & Flavorings. New York: Dorling Kindersley, Inc., 1994.