Can we really trust the word raw on food labels?

Dark chocolate bar and some powder around it on a wooden surface

“Raw” sugar is produced by pressing the juice out of sugar cane or beets, then heating it to boiling point and adding chemicals to remove impurities.

Next, it is pumped into evaporation tanks to concentrate it into a thick syrup, which is further heated to remove more water until it crystallises.

And that, dear reader, is what the food industry calls “raw” sugar.

It’s crazy, of course – and so much so that you probably figured that the use of the word raw in this context was less than honest.

However, you might think it’s a different story for companies in the raw food arena, marketing their wares directly at raw fooders – especially those headed up by well-known raw food promoters.

You might still think that when a company like this puts raw on the label – and charges you anything from two to five times as much for the product because of it – you can 100% trust that means the food in question is raw.

I used to think this, too, but since starting to investigate it last year, I have been shocked over and over at what I’ve found out.

I am not talking about rumours here – I am talking about:

  • the fact that at least one leading raw food company and one well-known raw food promoter have even admitted that for years they sold raw-labelled (and priced) cacao products that weren’t raw, yet this has somehow stayed under the radar
  • frank conversations with industry insiders
  • documentary evidence I have seen from a leading supplier to the raw chocolate market which clearly shows that its cacao powder and butter are, in fact, not raw.

I’ve been discussing this issue with all of the people I most respect in the raw food and holistic health world and it’s restored my faith in this community to discover they all agree that there is never any excuse for food labels to be less than honest. No ifs, no buts – it is that simple.

And I imagine you’re with us all on that, too.

If a food says raw on the label, it should not have been heated at any time and for any duration to any temperature higher than 48C – 49C max (118F-120F) – end of story.

Yet foods heated to 85C (185F) and more are being labelled raw by supposedly ethical companies who are operating right here in the raw food arena and marketing their wares directly at raw fooders.

These foods could ethically be called “low temperature processed” or “low temperature cooked” but they are not raw by any definition of the word – none, at least, that is accepted by those of us who recognise that foods are fundamentally and irreversibly different once heated above 49C (and some put the threshold even lower).

It is not entirely clear to us at this point which companies know about the deception, and which genuinely have no idea and are being duped just like the end consumer.

But what is clear is that we all have an absolute right to know what we are buying.

Many companies in the raw and alternative health market are 100% honest and would never dream of being anything other than that. In fact, despite all I’ve found out I would still like to think that most of them are.

But as one of my sources commented, “One person’s dishonesty can send a ripple through and affect people’s perception of a whole market. It could bring a lack of credibility to this whole lifestyle when it’s just starting to get its legs and attract a more mainstream audience.”

Shockingly, some companies are happy to assure you their products are raw, but ask them to tell you the maximum processing temperature used, let alone provide any evidence of same, and they are less than forthcoming.

The first person to alert me to this issue was Vanessa Johansson, CEO of Rainshadow Labs, and I greatly admire her courage and integrity.

When she discovered that a leading US promoter of raw chocolate had in fact been selling cooked chocolate for years, including to her, she did not stay silent; she stood up and spoke out.

“People just want to know,” she says. “They want to be able to make their own decisions. That’s at the core of why people choose this lifestyle. We’re fighting for our right to be sovereign entities – to live our own lives with as much information as possible. We each need to think for ourselves, but if you can’t trust leading authorities in this market it makes it so much harder.”


  • I was very disappointed to learn that some brands of raw chocolate aren’t actually raw and that some promoters knew this to be true but did nothing about it. Maybe their main concern was wealth over health. As a health coach I try to do the best in my power to promote optimal health with honesty and integrity. Something like this only serves to discredit the good that we try to do.

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  • Raw is a journey that brings us to our very core and makes us face ourselves and our beliefs, our emotions, addictions, health issues and mental attitude. So for me is about being totally truthful to the core. That is what we are asking for when we take responsibility for ourselves in all aspects of our life.

    Yes, raw food is an industry and as such is susceptible to profiteers to make easy money at the cost of truth, out of its followers and fans. Using marketing to say what it is not, just to sell an item makes it the same as a child’s supermarket cereal that states “100% Natural” or a beauty product promising the fountain of youth, or a car that will give you sex appeal. We know don’t we not to believe this kind of advertising so why do we expect the raw industy to be any different?

    A lie is still a lie in any form. Let’s not fool ourselves – raw food is now an industry

    But we are also still a community and as a community we must share, open up, and support each other to be the very best we can be at this moment. That is our journey and if you are being untruthful it will be revealed.

    Those of us on the raw path are after the best we can get. It is our belief and quest that we deserve no less than the Raw Truth.

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  • It’s our right as consumers to have full awareness and knowledge of the practices going into producing our food, especially when the price tag is elevated as is often the case with raw food products. Misleading or dishonest claims need to be revealed, reprimanded and all claims adjusted to reflect the honest truth of the production of the food.

    In the superfoods industry, where prices are often extremely high, claims are lofty (justifiably or unjustifiably so as the case maybe) and the industry isn’t uniformly regulated, the need for honest and fair practices is never more necessary. Consumers have the right to know and trust that the products they buy, whether raw chocolate or anything else, have labels that accurately reflect the processing procedures and ingredients.

    It is our right as consumers to make our purchase decisions based on real facts, not false claims. As a raw food and health educator, it is especially important to me that we hold the industry to its highest integrity and only support businesses that have the purest of values.

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  • This episode reflects poorly on those who sold non-raw chocolate as raw, and it is relevant to question whether other “raw” products the same people are promoting nowadays are in fact really “raw”. What documentation do they have on the processing of those products?

    For example, raw “superfood” powders are heavily promoted nowadays. These products have to be dried and ground; drying processes often involve heat, and grinding generates heat.

    Also, given the sources of these products, a relevant question is whether they are required to be heat-treated (or irradiated) to kill insects, to meet government import regulations (or may be heat-pasteurized to sterilize the product to protect the importers from lawsuits). In other words, what assurance is there that the latest “superfood” powders being marketed (often at inflated prices) are really raw?

    Raw has become a label, a brand, nothing more than a way to make money for too many people in raw ‚Äì including, in my opinion, many of the gurus. It’s all about money for some of these people, and your health is not important to these people.

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  • I have been watching Sarah’s expose on the raw chocolate saga unfold with interest. I think she is doing something which seems rare in journalism these days – reporting the truth based on some good old investigative journalism.

    As well as the wider ethical issues, this work will be important for all nutritional therapists like myself who believe in the power of raw food and recommend it to their clients – we can’t do our jobs effectively if we can’t make reliable recommendations based on correctly labelled food products.

    As ever all of us in the “alternative” health world may be crying out for greater ethics and transparency in the pharmaceutical industry ‚Äì but we also need to embrace similar ethics and regulations in our own backyard and BE the change we wish to see in the world‚Ķ

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  • good on you sarah. now why arent i surprised by this..i think many untruths and inaccuracies will reveal themselves in the raw world in months and years to come. sadly i think we have followed like sheep.

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  • I came into raw food/alternative medicine because of a long illness, sadly along the way I have found a lot of dishonesty at the root of the natural movement. I have spent thousands of pounds trying to find a cure only to be let down on many occasions. Raw food is still the hero but sadly a lot of people just see it as a huge moneymaker. The raw chocolate scam is just another example of how people are being exploited and it is degrading what is truly a worthwhile movement. Sarah keep up the good work.

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    • Thanks to everyone who commented for such intelligent and insightful contributions.

      To add to all the reasons this is an important issue, I must quote the wise words a friend of mine uttered at lunch on Saturday, “If we in this enlightened, conscious little marketplace can’t work together to ensure it operates with integrity, fairness, honesty and transparency, what hope do we have of doing anything about the massive deceit and corruption in the wider world?” SO true‚Ķ

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  • If we all remembered that ‘raw’ is really about fresh live energy filled foods. 🙂 As planet earth created. And the raw food choices are not really about huge amounts of dehydrated foods. raw choc, kelp noodles etc. We would feel very content.
    Dehydrated foods (as yummy as they are, and I still have some sometimes) ARE NOTHING to do with the real choice for pranically alive and vibrant foods. Yes maybe???? technically the magick number on the dial is not exceeded??? and we can indulge and stuff our bodies with a wierd combo of foods and still feel okay!!! Come on guys.. WE KNOW when a food is alive and we dont need any company and or authority to say, it’s okay it’s raw!!!
    Dehydrated foods ARE energetically dead and it’s our choice to eat or not.
    As for kelp noodles.. WELL come on.. how did dark rich kelp turn into white translucent slush!! and be raw.. erm.. They can tell me all they like That food, all moist in its plastic clingy film container, ain’t food!!
    And as for raw choc..
    Its a bit like ‘raw nuts’ How many of the nuts are raw..? Are they? I dont know. In truth I am not that fussed.
    Just dowsing our food will let us know.
    WE need (I feel ) to step out of this modality of others saying ‘it’s okay to eat guys’ Bit like the doctor who says to patient ‘your food choices have no effect on this specific disease’ and then patient goes off quite happily stuffing cream buns. SAYING ‘owh it’s okay the doctor said!!! ‘
    It’s up to US to make our conscious food choices. IF there is a huge raw food industry WE HAVE given it permission to be there. IF there is misrepresentation (which I sure there is!) we are all part of the tapestry of its presence.
    WE could choose to eat or not choose to eat.
    WHY are we still seeking someone elses tick of approval when we KNOW in our wisdom place that raw live and vibrant foods is about simple, and as near to mother as we can source. Have a magick filled Thurs xxxx
    My intent is to invest in what WORKS not trying to fix what doesnt work.. BUT in truth I still try of course! Giggle. xxxx

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    • Yes, the raw food diet is mainly about fresh fruit and vegetables, but it’s hard to make much money from them, so as in every other field of life, there are people trying to persuade us that superfood powders, crackers, snack bars and chocolate are an essential part of the raw lifestyle.

      I’ve never understood the hype around raw chocolate. Yes, I eat it occasionally, but not trying to kid myself that it’s really good for me! And now it seems a lot of it wasn’t actually raw anyway.

      If only those who want to profit from the raw food movment would be content with selling us juicers and recipe books, and stop trying to convince us that manufactured foods are superhealthy. If it doesn’t rot, it isn’t alive. Perhaps those of us who are fed up with all this should abandon the ‘raw’ label completely, and focus on ‘living’ foods instead.

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      • Excellent Linda Joy, I enjoyed reading your comment. Re the so-called super foods. Yes they are processed, but I do feel (don’t fully know?) that we are in a time when our bodies might be needing some of that ‘medicine’ from other traditions.. Food IS our medicine, BUT medicine is ALSO our food. so the herbs and stuff can be good in moderation. The elephants travel miles to get to some mineralised clay stuff, each year. And other wild animals do seek out what now adays are commonly called ‘supe foods’ So I do feel they can have a place. BUT I object to ALL fear marketing. I came off of Dr. Mercola’s site for that reason. Great guy, lots of excellent info, heart and intent. BUT the delivery that constantly agitated fear and anxiety prompting purchase of stuff didnt sit well with me..

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  • I think this is about people being duped by companies making loads of money – that is what is wrong with this whole topic. We are trying to let people know to ask for more information and proof before they believe something. Glad you have found your way Ruth but the sad truth is so many people haven’t and are getting conned. This story is for them so that they can maybe start to look deeper.

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  • Wonderful stuff from all, thank you. Ultimately, whilst raw snack and “treat” foods are nice to have occasionally, we must view them as such – occasional treats. Do we need them? Probably not. Does our health suffer if we do not indulge in them? Definitely not. Since they exist and are targeting raw fooders such as ourselves, do they have to be raw? Absolutely! However, in my opinion, we do not need concoctions of nut butters, “raw” cacao and some liquid sweetener or other, whether it is labelled as as a raw superfood or not. Let’s get back to green juices and salads, and remember what proper raw food is all about.
    Love to all, Max.

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  • While it would be great if all companies were honest, I think that it’s unrealistic to think that would happen. If one wants to be sure that their food is raw, why not just eat local fruits, vegetables, etc.? Cacao is lovely but hardly necessary for survival or health. What’s wrong with local (or, in my case , living in Alaska ) semi-local fruit for making lovely scrumptious desserts? Being “low income”, I stick to local, in season fruits and veggies. I can get a lot of organic apples for the price of a little cacao…and noone is talking about the “slavery” component of cacao (chocolate).I think that a lot of people who would be interested in raw food are discouraged by the apparent need for equipment (i.e. food dehydrator, juicer etc). What’s wrong with just water to drink and fruits, veggies, sprouts, nuts etc.? Use your imagination and these exotic ingredients needing to be “trusted” become unnecessary AND you’ll save LOTS of money on ingredients and equipment not to mention the keeping of packaging and broken electrical gadgets out of landfills!!!

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  • We have seen the scandal over raw agave nectar as being not raw after all and more so as being unhealthy because of its high fructose content. We have seen lately another scandal over Adya Clarity highly promoted by raw gurus and it turns out being a toxic product containing aluminum and high iron. Now we see raw chocolate being sold as raw while it was in fact cooked. I think we raw consumers need to trust our source of foods or not buy it until we know. Too bad to hear those bad news. It leaves me with a disgust feeling. It also makes me look inside and see where in my life I am dishonest and resolve to act with more honesty.
    I am really grateful for Sarah and all the others out there who are sharing the truth and are fighting for it.
    Thanks, Sarah

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    • My gut feel was anti agave, from the start off. Just looking at it and tasting it evoked a huge NO from my body. Same with adya clarity.. although I DID start to doubt my intuit! as so many were raving about it. I even checked in with a couple of raw food gurus as to its efficacy.. and was assured it was good stuff. So again with cacao.. my first response was no.. but I DID get sucked up into the rah on raw choc.. but deep inside I always knew it was my mind creating a nonsense cop-out for recreational foods.
      I dont feel its about being victims and being conned. WE all know. and choose to often ignore and then shoot the messenger.
      I am not anti people being in abundance from their chosen livlihood – I am not anti money. I feel its a powerful energy force that can be used for good when utilised consciously and with heart and good intent..
      I don’t like fear marketing.. that’s below the belt.. Ultimately what creates sustaining abundance both material and energetically is about open heart, integrity and a desire to serve and uplift others…
      As I said earlier, we are EACH responsible for what we create in those who supply and sell – WE always have the choice.. and when we stop, feel and listen. WE KNOW when a food is optimal for the body in which we live or not. 🙂 xxx

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  • I am also ‘an investigator’, very often going (or trying to go) to the roots, source, origin….to find the truth, but it has also another side (as I am sure you’ve found out yourself by now). People don’t like it when someone goes to uncover their ‘secrets’ which are not supposed to be known.

    Really big thank you for the work you do – apparently just one part of it – uncovering these practices in businesses (yay – correct spelling?) – lying to people and cheating them and so on…. And also for ‘discovering’ and sharing other information that needs a lot of research.

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    • Hi Sian – I have thought long and hard about whether I will name names and have also sought the (differing) opinions of some of my closest friends and associates on this. I will most probably not name names in this report, for reasons I will go into there, but which include the fact I actually feel very sorry for anyone who is in a state of such scarcity they would behave so unethically in their business. I don’t wish to cause them more pain than they obviously already have in their lives, but do hope that bringing this into the open might persuade them to get back into integrity.

      However, others with whom I’m working are reporting this story too and may decide differently.

      What I can say about my report is that it will contain enough information about how to tell whether a chocolate product is or isn’t raw to make that a lot easier, and so readers know the questions to ask. I also hope to empower readers to ask these questions of companies. When we are being asked to pay up to five times as much for something because it says raw on the label, we have an absolute right to ask for proof of that claim.

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  • Hey Sarah. So pleased to find your web site. You did such a great job as editor of Fresh magazine. It’s not the same without you, it’s lost not just quality but its heart and soul. I’ve been missing your articles so I was really pleased to find you online. I wish I could settle in and read through it all now. I’ll be back. Sincere thanks for all you’re sharing here.

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  • 100 pages could be written on this. All corporate people, stockholders, and politicians involved in lying will hopefully one day be brought up in court for fraud and put behind bars. But not if we keep asking these same people to check themselves. The people need to keep these outsiders from infiltrating their grassroots organizations. No labeling GMOs. We need them BANNED.

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