What Is a Raisin?

Buying, Cooking, and Recipes

Bowl of raisins and sultanas

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A raisin is a dried grape. The grapes can be dried by the sun or a mechanical process, resulting in raisins. These dried fruits are produced and eaten around the world. Raisins are enjoyed raw or used in cooking and baking.

Fast Facts

  • Origin: The Latin word racemus which means “a cluster of grapes or berries.”
  • Shelf Life: 6 months for opened package
  • Nutritional Info: Raisins have a lower vitamin C content than fresh grapes

What Is a Raisin?

Once a grape is dried, it becomes a raisin. The first step in raisin production is harvesting grapes. Grapes are first pre-treated with a cold dip. This helps the water evaporate through the thick grape skin. Then the grapes are dried. Sun drying is inexpensive, but can be slow and increases the risk of pests. Mechanical drying causes rapid evaporation and is a quicker and more controlled process. Once dry, the raisins are sent to a processing plant to remove any stems or foreign objects.

Raisins vs. Currants

Raisins grow on vines and are sweet. Currants are tart and grow on bushes. Dried currants can be difficult to find in the store. They are often labeled as black currants.

Varieties

The most common varieties of grapes are natural dark purple ones and golden sultanas. There are also seedless raisins, as well as those that are the crimson and flame variety, especially if shopping in an organic or gourmet market. 

The natural raisin, made from the Thompson seedless grape, is labeled "natural" because of how the grape is dried. It's dried simply by the sun, without any oils or solutions. 

Golden raisins, called sultanas, are made from the same types of grapes used to make natural raisins but go through a different processing method, as well as a sulfur dioxide treatment, that gives these raisins their rich, golden hue. 

Raisin Uses

Raisins can be eaten out of hand, mixed as in into trail mix or oatmeal, or added to baked goods. Since they absorb a lot of liquid, they are often soaked in juice or alcohol before being added to baked goods.

How to Cook With Raisins

Raisins should be added to ingredients as the recipe calls for. They can be chopped for a smaller size or left whole. The high concentration of sugars in raisins is what makes them sweet, but it is also what causes the raisins to become dried out and gritty after a long storage period. The sugars can crystallize inside the fruit, but that does not mean you cannot use them. There are a few ways you can revive dried-up raisins

  • Plump up the raisins by blanching them in hot water. Place raisins in boiling water for 10 to 15 minutes until they begin to expand. You can add citrus zest, spices, or liquor to the water for extra flavor.
  • Another option is to soften the raisins in the microwave. Place raisins in a bowl and drizzle with a few tablespoons of warm water. Microwave for 12 to 15 seconds, pour off any leftover water and let sit, covered. Once cooled, the raisins should absorb the moisture.
  • A third option is to revive the raisins in the oven. Between layers of paper towels, spread the raisins on a cookie sheet and place them in a 200 degree Fahrenheit oven for 20 to 25 minutes. Keep a close watch. Cooking for too long can do the opposite effect and overdry the raisins.

After reviving the raisins, they should be eaten, added to recipes, or refrigerated on the same day.

What Does It Taste Like?

Like other dried fruits, raisins are very sweet. They have a sticky consistency and because they were once grapes, the inside of raisins can be quite moist. Raisins that have become overdry can have a gritty texture.

Raisin Substitute

Different varieties of raisins can be swapped interchangeably in most recipes. To completely swap out raisins, try other dried fruits like dates, prunes, or dried cranberries. For the dates and prunes, chop the pieces to be raisin-sized.

Raisin Recipes

Raisins are popular in sweet and savory foods. Try some of these tasty foods:

Where to Buy Raisins

Raisins are sold in most major grocery stores. They can be found in the baking aisle or dried fruit area. Most raisins are sold in boxes or resealable packages. Sizes range from individual boxes that are perfect for lunchboxes to big tubs for bulk use.

In most packaging, you can't actually see the raisins so it is difficult to judge freshness by the eye. If you squeeze the box and it is squeezable and not hard, there is a good chance your selection is a good one. Another telltale sign is rattling. Give the container a good shake and listen. As raisins age, they continue to dry out, can shrivel up, even more, may harden, and will rattle around in a box or bag if shaken and dried up. 

Storage

It is important to store raisins properly, so they do not dry out too quickly. Seal raisins in an airtight container or bag and store in a cool, dark place. Most kitchen cabinets are too warm. A month on the shelf is the maximum time they should be left out, after that they begin to dry out, darken, and lose vitamins. Also, raisins are popular for attracting bugs, so scrutinize them for insect activity before using them. Refrigeration is recommended for storage longer than a month. In a properly sealed container, raisins can last six months to one year. 

Nutrition and Benefits

As a snack food, raisins have a number of nutritional benefits. They are high in dietary fiber, have a low glycemic index, low in fat, and contain minerals like copper and iron. While they may be enjoyed alone, be aware of the nutritional content of baked goods they are included in.