Raw food, by definition, is never cooked, but it may be fermented, pickled, dehydrated, blanched or juiced. Those who prefer their food as nature grew it have a variety of techniques for blending and accenting the flavors and textures of fruits and vegetables.
Where raw foodists draw the line, in preparing a meal, is at 118 degrees. Exposing food to that temperature or higher will, they believe, destroy enzymes that make digestion efficient and healthy.
That doesn't mean raw foodists are limited to eating bean sprouts. At Rawbert's Organic CafÃ© on Cabot Street in Beverly, where a majority of the items served are raw, diners might be surprised to see tacos, pizza and a "Cheez 'Burger' Plate" on the menu. The burger is made with portobello mushroom, the taco shells are made from dehydrated flaxseeds, and the mozzarella on the pizza is actually cashews.
"When we opened nine years ago," said Robert Reid, the cafÃ©'s founder and owner, "We just knew we wanted to create a transitional menu that helps people. My goal was to create the same flavors, the same textures that you're used to on the standard American diet."
Reid describes raw foodism as an "elimination diet," from which as many unhealthy components as possible have been deleted. In a continuum that starts with the standard American diet and progresses through organic to vegetarian, then vegan and macrobiotic, Reid places raw foods somewhere with the latter two in degree of healthiness.
In addition to running a restaurant, Reid teaches classes in preparing raw foods and counts Mitch Jacobson, a doctor at Renin Associates in Peabody, and his wife, Leah, as members of the raw foods community.
The Jacobsons, who live in Swampscott, became interested in nutrition when their son, Daniel, now 9, had a heart condition at 8 months that left him underweight.
"He was so thin," Leah Jacobson said. When the specialists she consulted "pushed prepared food on me," Leah Jacobsen started a search for alternatives that eventually led to raw foods. She has taken classes from Reid and from Alissa Cohen, one of the chefs at Grezzo's, a raw food restaurant in Boston.
Green smoothies, which can be made with a variety of vegetables and sweetened with raw agave, apple or coconut water, are a staple in the raw foods diet.
"It's full of fiber, minerals, alkalizing agents, the things people take vitamins for," Leah Jacobsen said.
Mitch Jacobson loves the way raw foods taste. He also put some of their health claims to the test.
"I went four weeks straight on a 100 percent raw diet," Mitch Jacobson said. "I lowered my cholesterol between 40 and 50 points. I took my own blood pressure. Without even trying, I lost several pounds and my blood pressure dropped."
Mitch Jacobson admitted that sustaining that level of commitment is extremely difficult.
"If you can go 25 percent raw, what you're doing is eating 25 percent healthy," he said.
Dana Mann, a family physician at Willowdale Medical Center in Topsfield, said in an e-mail that while "cooking leads to heat and oxidation, which can destroy some nutrient content in foods," cooking has health benefits of its own.
"Cooking foods at certain temperatures allows internal temperatures in foods to kill microbes, which can cause a variety of health issues if ingested at high levels," Mann wrote.
Mann recommended "that individuals speak with their primary care physician prior to starting any new diet."
Reid suggested incorporating raw foods into a diet in three simple steps.
"Have a raw fruit breakfast. Throw a smoothie in there, in the middle of the day — preferably a green smoothie. Start getting used to it. Do a big salad every night. You'll really take those refined junk foods out (and) get the pure water in; you're well on your way."
Rawbert's Arame Sea Vegetable Salad with Sesame Ginger Sauce
1âÑ2 to 1 cup of arame (comes in 2 oz. package) and/or 1âÑ2 to 1 cup of hijiki
2 tbsp. to 1âÑ4 cup of dry dulse flakes (optional)
Soak (rehydrate) arame (and/or hijiki) sea veggies for 20 minutes in purified water. Drain, rinse and drain for 10 to 20 minutes in strainer or colander. (Any arame not used may be stored in refrigerator where it will keep for a couple of weeks. Give a fresh rinse before use after a week passes. Add optional dulse flakes at time of using.) Top or mix with sesame/ginger sauce just before serving. Garnish with sesame seed sprinkles and diced red and green pepper or scallion.
Rawbert's Sesame/Ginger Sauce
Makes 1 Quart
1 cup olive oil
1 cup water
1âÑ2 cup apple cider vinegar (or lemon juice)
1âÑ4 cup tamari, wheat-free tamari or shoyu (healthier forms of soy sauce)
1 tsp. toasted sesame oil (optional ingredient adds a nice flavor)
1 cup hulled sesame seed
1âÑ3 cup diced ginger (diced to measure)
Blend sauce creamy in a blender. The sauce also makes a dip for apples or other veggies.
Rawbert's Green Smoothie
5 oz. water
1âÑ4 to 1âÑ2 lemon (peeled)
1 tbsp. fresh ginger
1 tbsp. freshly ground flaxseeds (use a coffee grinder)
1 apple (more if small apple)
Generous handful of spinach (it blends up well) or kale
Handful of fresh parsley
For variation try with a banana and no lemon
Mix in a regular blender.
Arame: Sea vegetable that looks like slender black threads.
Dulse: A reddish-colored seaweed, usually dried. Also sold in flake form.
Tamari: Raw fermented soy.
Shoyu, or Nama Soyu: A brand of raw soy sauce that contains wheat.
Source: The Complete Book of Raw Food, ed. Julie Rodwell (Hatherleigh Press, $30)
where to go
For raw ingredients:
Ipswich Natural Food Store
3 Short St., Ipswich
267 Rantoul St., Beverly