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Raisins & Currants

Why Eat It
Varieties
Availability
Shopping
Storage
Preparation
Nutrition Chart


Why Eat It

Like other dried fruit, raisins are a concentrated source of calories, sugar, and nutrients. They supply a healthy amount of dietary fiber (both soluble and insoluble), as well as some iron, potassium, and B vitamins. The same can be said of currants, which are actually very small raisins made from the Black Corinth grape (sold fresh as "Champagne grapes"). The name currant (not to be confused with the fresh berries of the same name) is probably a corruption of the word Corinth.

The first raisins were undoubtedly grapes that had dried naturally on the vine, but more than 3,000 years ago people were picking grapes and laying them in the sun to dry--a process that has remained virtually unchanged. (Today, most raisins are still sun-dried, though some are dried in ovens.) Raisins were a precious trade item in the ancient Near East and also highly valued in ancient Rome (where two jars of raisins could be exchanged for a slave). Spanish missionaries brought them to Mexico and California in the eighteenth century, and nearly all the commercially grown raisins in the United States (and about one-half of the total world supply) now come from the San Joaquin valley of California, where the raisin industry began booming in the 1870s after a heat wave dried the grape crop on the vine.

Varieties

Nearly all U.S. raisins are made from four different grapes: Thompson Seedless (which are also the most popular green grapes for fresh consumption), Muscat, Sultana, and Black Corinth. The grapes are dried into the following types of raisins:

Currants: Made from small Black Corinth grapes, currants are seedless and very dark in color. About one-fourth the size of other raisins, currants are sometimes labeled "Zante Currants," referring to the Greek island where the Corinth first grew.

Golden raisins: Like natural seedless raisins (see below), these are also Thompson Seedless grapes, but are oven-dried to avoid the darkening effect of sunlight. They are also treated with sulfur dioxide to preserve the light color.

Monukka raisins: These large, dark, seedless raisins come from the grapes of the same name. They're produced in limited quantities and are usually available at health-food stores.

Muscat raisins: Large, brown, and particularly fruity-tasting, these raisins are made from big, greenish-gold Muscat grapes. Muscats are considered a specialty item and are mostly used in baking.

Dark raisins ("natural seedless"): These sun-dried Thompson Seedless grapes constitute 95% of the Californian raisin crop. The green grapes naturally develop a dark brown color as they dry in the sun, a process that takes from two to three weeks.

Sultanas: The large, yellow-green grapes that are dried into these raisins are particularly flavorful and soft. Sultanas are more popular in Europe than in the U.S.; however, they are available in many gourmet and health-food stores.

Availability

Raisins are available year round. Muscat raisins, preferred for holiday baking, are usually sold in the autumn and winter months. Currants are usually available in very large supermarkets or gourmet stores as are clusters of raisins still attached to the stems.

Shopping

When buying packaged raisins, check that the box or bag is tightly sealed. Squeeze and shake the package to see if the fruit is soft; if the raisins rattle inside, they are dried out. When buying raisins in bulk at a gourmet shop or health-food store, choose moist-looking, clean fruit.

Storage

Unopened packages of raisins will keep almost indefinitely in the refrigerator. Once opened, reseal the package, excluding as much air as possible, or transfer the raisins to an airtight jar or bag. Proper storage will deter the fruit from drying out and will prevent the sugar from crystallizing on the surface. If refrigerated, the raisins will keep for up to a year; they will stay even longer in the freezer and they will thaw quickly at room temperature.

Preparation

If they have been correctly stored and are not dried out, raisins require no special preparation. However, you may wish to soften them by one of the following methods: To plump raisins for baking, cover them with hot liquid and let stand for five minutes. Or, let soak overnight in the refrigerator. To conserve nutrients and flavor, use the least amount of liquid possible and then include it in your recipe.

If raisins have dried out through improper storage, steam them over boiling water for five minutes. Or, sprinkle them with liquid, cover, and microwave for one minute, then let stand, covered, for one minute longer. Raisins that are stuck together in a hard clump will loosen up and separate if they are heated in a 300°F oven for a few minutes.

When chopping raisins with a knife or chopper, grease the blade lightly with vegetable oil to prevent the fruit from sticking to it. When baking with raisins, dredge them lightly in flour before adding them to the batter or dough to keep them from sinking to the bottom of the pan. Or, mix half the fruit into the batter and sprinkle the rest on top once the mixture is poured into the baking pan.

Nutrition Chart

Raisins (Dark & Golden)/1/4 cup packed

125
Total fat (g)
0.2
Saturated fat (g)
0.1
Monounsaturated fat (g)
0
Polyunsaturated fat (g)
0.1
Dietary fiber (g)
1.7
1.3
Carbohydrate (g)
33
Cholesterol (mg)
0
Sodium (mg)
5


Date Published: 04/21/2005
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