Speaking to FoodNavigator-USA as the San Jose-based brand prepares to launch a new line of protein bars which get their protein from sprouted watermelon-seeds, Freeland said: “It used to be that people said that under 113°F is ‘raw’.
“But basing the definition on a temperature threshold is kind of arbitrary, as what really matters is have you killed the enzymes or not, and some things can be heated to higher temperatures than others before that happens. The food also has to be safe.
“The most important thing about raw food is that it’s easier to digest, and sprouted foods are easiest to digest because they are packed full of active enzymes and enzymes help you to digest foods. But you can’t create a standard test that all manufacturers can use [to detect enzymatic activity] on their finished products, because the enzymes will be different in every product. The proof to me is whether you can put it in the ground and grow it.”
If you plant our products in the ground they will actually grow
If ‘raw’ is a little nebulous as a term (and one that has also been the subject of some lawsuits), agreeing on a definition of ‘sprouted’ might be more valuable, however, he said.
“A lot of products that are marketed as ‘sprouted’ might be using sprouted grains [grains that have been soaked in water so that they start to germinate], but then they are cooking the product afterwards (eg. baked goods and fried snacks), so while they might be a bit better for you [than comparable products not made with sprouted grains], many of the benefits are lost.
“If you plant our flax crackers in the ground they will actually grow, so that’s how I know we are not killing off the good stuff in them. They wouldn’t grow if they had been cooked,” added Freeland, who makes all of his products in-house at a 65,000sq ft facility in Mountain View.
“We have a very low temperature proprietary de-humidification process [which takes the moisture out of a seed that has started sprouting/germinating].”
Most people don’t really identify with raw foodism
As for Go Raw, Freeland’s thinking on what the brand is all about has evolved over the years, he says.
“When I started I was making raw foods, whereas now I am making snack foods that everyone can eat that happen to be raw. Most people don’t really identify with raw foodism or see themselves as raw food consumers and there’s a discussion now as to whether the raw food category is something we should try and save or whether we should walk away from it.”
The Go Raw brand - which was launched in 2002 after Freeland started selling his flaxseed crackers to farmer’s markets and health food stores in San Diego – now extends to bites, bars, chocolate, and granola, and is now in 5-10,000 stores across the US from natural food chains to Costco, Kroger and Safeway.
Given the unique challenges around creating high-quality raw foods that are safe, he also worries about whether some players without the experience and technical capabilities of Go Raw are putting products on the market that don’t meet Go Raw’s exacting standards and risk tarnishing the overall ‘raw food’ category.
“For 15 years I was the guy selling raw foods and telling retailers they needed to have a raw foods set in every store,” he observes.
“But my opinion now is that raw is actually a very small section of the healthy foods category; you could say that it’s too exclusive, that we’re actually turning people away, so how do we make it more approachable? Is there an entirely new category that we could create?”
The Go Raw brand, he says, is “about being honest, real and truthful rather than just being not cooked.”