Basics of Dried Fruits
Pick up any baking recipe where dried fruits are involved and there is no way of avoiding the three stalwarts of raisins, currants, and sultanas. These three are used extensively in traditional British and Irish cakes and puddings. You will find them in many guises but they are the main players in both a Christmas cake or Christmas pudding, and mince pies would be nothing without them. You will even find them in chutneys and curries making them, without a doubt, one of the most versatile ingredients in the kitchen.
So are they interchangeable? Are they simply the same thing but with just a different colored skin?
The answer is no. They are, in fact, very different and each brings their qualities to the baking party. Plus, if you add to the issue that different countries use different names, it can become even more confusing.
Firstly, the currants talked about here are a dried fruit and should not be confused with soft fruit currants such as black currants.
The currants mentioned here are the dark, black currants popular in cakes. You will find them in classic dishes like Spotted Dick or an Eccles cake. They are dried, dark red, seedless grapes often called the Black Corinth grape. The grapes are dried to produce a black, shriveled, sweet, flavor-packed fruit.
The grapes were originally cultivated in the south of Greece and more specifically, the island of Zante, hence the name Zante currant, used in the United States.
The name currant comes from the ancient city of Corinth. Other names for currants are Zante currants, Corinth raisins, or Corinthian raisins. In the UK and Ireland, they are simply called currants.
Raisins are dried white Moscatel grapes. When they are dried the result is a dark, dried fruit much like a currant, making it dense in texture and bursting with a sweet flavor. The main producers of the Moscatel grapes are the United States, Turkey, Greece, and Australia.
Raisins can (unlike currants) soak up other flavors, which is why it is popular to soak raisins in flavored alcohols such as brandy or almond-flavored Amaretto before using in cooking. The raisins can hold the flavor making the finished dish even tastier.
A sultana is a dried white grape, but of the seedless variety. Sultanas are golden in color and tend to be much plumper, sweeter, and altogether juicier than other raisins. Turkey is the main producer of sultanas.
Also known as golden raisins, sultanas will absorb other flavors, but not as well as regular raisins.