Raisins

What are raisins?

Similar to sultanas, raisins are dried grapes, mainly produced in California, Greece, Australia, Turkey, Iran and Afghanistan. However, they are darker in colour than sultanas having been dried more slowly. Their colour usually ranges from light brown to black.

The variety of grape that’s used to produce raisins affects the size and colour. For example, using the Thompson variety produces a sweet raisin similar to a sultana but with a slightly darker colour. Using a Greek variety of grape can result in a black raisin with a more tart flavour.

They are produced commercially using a three-step process – pre-treatment, drying and post-drying.

The pre-treatment stage of production involves soaking the harvested grapes in an oil or alkaline solution to double or triple the rate of water loss during the drying process. There are three ways to dry raisins – sun drying, shade drying or mechanical drying. Mechanical drying is the most common as it can be controlled to produce a consistent product free from contamination. After drying, the raisins are cleaned in water and the stems and any leaves are removed before a second brief drying phase.

Health benefits

Raisins really are healthy and you should consider including them in your daily diet.

Raisins contain up to 72% sugar (fructose and glucose), but this isn’t a bad thing. They are full of energy and can be used as a healthy way to gain weight or as a boost for athletes. They also promote the absorption of other nutrients in the gut including protein, vitamins and minerals. This means foods are efficiently converted to fuel for those with active lifestyles.

The fibre in raisins can help relieve constipation and alleviate diarrhoea to maintain a healthy digestive system. And a recent study has shown that they affect the structure of blood vessels reducing their stiffness and together with their high level of potassium. This can be effective in reducing blood pressure.

They are also rich sources of antioxidants, which are important scavengers of free radicals – one of the main causes of the changes in cells that can lead to cancer, macular degeneration or cataracts. They also contain several essential vitamins and minerals including iron, copper and B vitamins. These are important in the production and maintenance of red blood cells and the prevention of anaemia.

Sometimes sulphur dioxide is used in the pre-treatment phase of raisin production. The advantage is that it preserves the flavour and locks in vitamins during drying. On the downside, it can irritate asthma and other allergies. Make sure you read the label if you’re a sufferer.

Remember, raisins are poisonous to dogs and can be fatal. Don’t share your healthy superfood with man’s best friend!

Recipes

While raisins can be eaten raw as a snack, they’re also great in muesli, cakes, bread, mincemeat, chutneys and pickles – and, of course, energy balls.

In the UK, we often soak them in alcohol such as rum and brandy, or perhaps lemon juice or tea, before using them in cakes or fruit loaves. However, they are also delicious in Middle Eastern dishes like tagines or as part of stuffings and sauces for lamb, poultry, pork or game.

Energy ball recipes containing raisins: