The first raisins were probably grapes that had dried naturally on the vine, but more than 3,000 years ago people were picking grapes and laying them out 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 grapes to California in the 18th century, where the raisin industry began booming in the 1870s after a heat wave dried the grape crop on the vine. Today California’s San Joaquin Valley produces nearly all the commercially grown raisins in the United States and about 50 percent of the world’s supply.
In 1876 William Thompson, a Scottish immigrant living in the northern Sacramento Valley, introduced the Lady deCoverly seedless grape at the Marysville (California) District Fair. These grapes, which would become known as Thompson Seedless grapes, were thin-skinned, seedless, and sweet. Today, Thompson Seedless grapes account for nearly all of the California-grown raisins.
Types of Raisins: Currants, Golden Seedless, and More
Most raisins produced in the United States are made from seven different types of grapes, but regardless of the variety, it takes about 4 1/2 pounds of fresh grapes to make 1 pound of raisins.
Similar to all dried fruit, raisins are a concentrated source of calories and sugar, but they also provide good amounts of iron and potassium. To derive the most benefit from the type of iron in raisins (“non-heme”), eat raisins with foods rich in vitamin C, such as fresh citrus fruits or juices. Healthy amounts of both soluble and insoluble fiber are present in raisins as well.
For a full listing of nutrients, see Raisins in the National Nutrient Database.
How to Cook with Raisins
Raisins can add a fruity complexity to many savory dishes, so don’t consign these gems to the occasional snack. Try these ways to use raisins with cooked meats, pastas, and salads.
Published January 26, 2016