Making the Most of Raisins, Currants and Sultanas

Making the most of Raisins, Currants and Sultanas

The joys and health benefits of eating raisins, currants, and sultanas were almost certainly discovered when someone stumbled across unpicked grapes that had simply dried in the sun. That may have been around 2000 BC.

As the growing of grapes developed across the Mediterranean region so did the craft of creating dried fruits from them.

Soldiers returning from the Crusades brought back the sweet, dried grapes and they made an instant impact in British kitchens.

Raisins, which may get their name from the Latin for a cluster of grapes racemus, are still dried naturally in the sun for up to eight weeks.

Currants are the dried form of a small black grape variety and may be named after Corinth where there were early plantings in Greece.

Sultanas owe their name to a white, seedless grape variety that may have begun life in Turkey. Many sultanas are now mechanically dried after being treated with the preservative sulphur dioxide which maintains their light colour. It also results in sultanas retaining an especially high antioxidant level.

All three of these fruits have established themselves at the heart of the British Christmas with major roles in Christmas pudding and mince pies as well as fruit cakes at any time of year.

This is not just an English thing as the Welsh classics Bara Brith and Welsh Cakes and Scottish favourites Dundee Cake and clootie pudding make clear.

But they have also become an everyday staple in breakfast and energy bars, flapjacks, granolas and muesli.

Currants have their special English classics like spotted dick and Eccles cakes.

Raisins are a truly international ingredient appearing in tagines and biryanis and even the South African bobotie with minced meat. The Americans eat raisins (which in the US is the name for all three varieties) with beef, chicken, pork, lamb and ham. They also serve them with fish and vegetables including squash and asparagus. For a glimpse of the US taste for raisins take a look at the website of the California raison producers at LoveYourRaisins.com

Sultanas crop up in apple pies, apple cakes and strudels. But they also find themselves alongside fish.

But for all that the simplest way to enjoy raisins, sultanas or currants is simply to grab a handful and tuck in.

The Inside Story

It takes between 4 and 6 ounces of grapes to produce one ounce of raisins, currants or sultanas.

Which means that while the water content of the fresh fruit is dramatically reduced the nutrient content is concentrated.

When it comes to vitamins and minerals the dried fruits have up to four times the content of the fresh grape. The notable
exception to this is water soluble Vitamin C much of which is lost in the drying process.

But that leaves six of the energy boosting B vitamins, Thiamine (B1), Riboflavin (B2), Niacin (B3), Pantothenic acid (B5), B6 and Folate (B9).

A handful (around 30g) of any one of the three fruits has around a gram of protein and up to 2 grams of fibre.

They also pack in calcium, magnesium, iron, manganese, phosphorous, potassium and zinc.

Grapes, fresh or dried, contain an extraordinary range of phytonutrients, the plant chemicals that are linked
to antioxidant and anti-inflammatory functions in the body. Research continues into their links with heart conditions, the
nervous system and the immune system. Among phytonutrients in grapes are flavanols, carotenoids and phenolic acids.

The sweetness that raisins, currants and sultanas bring to food derives from the natural sugar fructose which has a low GI rating (glycaemic load per gram) and does not create sudden surges in sugar levels in the blood.