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.
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.