Did your school lunch box include a little red box of raisins? Mine did. Popular in cookies, oatmeal, bread or muffins, most people have tasted a raisin in their lifetime.
This can be a polarizing experience – it’s love/hate thing. Personally, I like raisins unless they’re pretending to be chocolate chips in an oatmeal cookie. So not fair.
People have been making and eating raisins for thousands of years. According to a major commercial raisin producer:
“People have enjoyed raisins since the earliest days of civilization. The early Phoenicians and Egyptians were responsible for expanding the popularity of raisins throughout the western world. Due to their long-term storability and ease of transport, raisins traveled with Christopher Columbus, tickled George Washington’s palate at Mount Vernon, helped fuel Robert E. Peary’s conquest of the North Pole in 1908, and accompanied astronaut Scott Carpenter in outer space in 1962.”
Raisin grapes never have seeds. The grape most used for making raisins is the Thompson. Other popular hybrids are the Fiesta and Dovine. All of these grapes have very high sugar contents so they taste sweet.
Grape growers use a measuring device called a refractometer to tell how much fructose (fruit sugar) is in the juice of a sample grape. They let the crop mature until they have sweetened enough for picking by hand.
Once harvested, raisin grapes are laid out on trade paper in the sun to dry. Then the paper is rolled up.
Another way to dry grapes is to train the canes (vine branches) to grow up a wire. The wire supports the canes as they grow heavy with the grapes which hang over the wire. The cane is cut when the grapes become sugary enough and dry in place. This technique is called “dry on the vine.”
You can make raisins at home in a food dehydrator. Or your oven.
Raisins can be brown, yellow, or purple. Many people favor the yellow variety, claiming golden raisins taste better, fruitier, and are soft and plump – never overdried and grainy, like brown raisins. You might think that different colored raisins come from different colored grapes. Nope. Color depends on the drying method used.
Paper-dried raisins turn brown because they dry quickly in a high temperature. Golden raisins are put into large dehydrators which control temperature and humidity levels. They are also treated with the antioxidant sulfur dioxide which promotes overall health and is a preservative.
Just like other sweets, moderate consumption is key. Those cute little raisin boxes from the grocery store hold about 100 calories. A half-cup serving of raisins has about 216 calories and 42 grams of sugar. My mom used to call them “nature’s candy.”
The sugars and carbohydrates from raisins metabolize quickly and provide instant energy. This is why they are a favorite ingredient in endurance bars and trail mixes. Although they are high in calories, raisins are also very nutritious.
Raisins are high in iron. Our half-cup portion contains 1.4 milligrams of iron (about 7 percent of the recommended daily amount for adult women and 17 percent for adult men). Iron is essential for making red blood cells and helping them carry oxygen to all parts of the body. Not getting enough iron in your diet can lead to iron-deficiency anemia.
That same half-cup of raisins delivers 2.7 grams of fiber which is about 6 to 12 percent of your daily needs (depending on age and gender). A diet high in fiber helps digestion by softening and bulking up the stool, so it passes through the gut instead of backing up (constipation).
A high-fiber diet has been linked to weight loss because the stomach feels full. However, remember those calories and don’t overindulge.
Did you know that raisins are a great source for calcium? It’s true: a half-cup of raisins contains about 36 milligrams of calcium, about 5 percent of your daily requirement. Calcium builds strong bones and teeth and helps prevent osteoporosis (weak, brittle bones that fracture easily).
Raisins also have a lot of the trace element boron which, together with vitamin D (the Sunshine Vitamin) and calcium, promote bone and joint health. Boron is also on the front line for treating osteoporosis.
Chemicals called phytonutrients, found in raisins, have antioxidant properties which help get rid of free radicals from the blood and prevent cellular and DNA (genetic) damage. Phytonutrients are also linked with improving vision and are recommended for patients with cataracts, macular degeneration, and other eye conditions.
Raisins contain phytochemicals that can improve oral health. Oleanolic acid, linoleic acid, and linolenic acid all fight bacteria in the mouth, reducing cavities and protecting the gums.
If you aren’t convinced yet that raisins are here to help us, there is an amino acid called L-arginine in raisins which is an aphrodisiac – it stimulates the libido, induces arousal, and raises sperm motility levels.
Finally, raisins are high in potassium. Eating a few raisins three times a day may significantly lower blood pressure, according to a scientific study presented at the American College of Cardiology in 2012.
Not just for kids, raisins are a great source of instant energy without sacrificing your nutritional ethics. Enjoy a few dried grapes today!