“Inject a few raisins of conversation into the tasteless dough of existence.” O. Henry
Being simply dried sweet grapes, raisins were the second in choice as a sweetener till the medieval times with honey being the top choice. The majority of the world’s supply of raisins comes from California, dried from Thompson seedless (95 percent), muscadine, or Black Corinth (Zante) grapes. Other main producers of Mosctael grapes are the USA, Turkey, Greece and Australia.
Originating from the Latin Racemus, from the ancient times raisins were in use. As evidence from history shows, raisins were an accidental discovery when they were found dried on the vines as early as 2000BC. The ancient Phoenicians and Armenians had taken the first steps in perfecting viticulture, the process of grape growing and selection.
While the Phoenicians started colonial vineyards in the areas of Malaga and Valencia of Spain and in Corinth (Greece)around 120-900BC; the Armenians founded their vineyards in Persia. These high yield growing areas had the perfect climate for making raisins and were also close to Greece and Rome, the first markets for raisins. Muscat raisins (over-sized with seeds and of fruity full flavor) were the primary crop in Malaga and Valencia. Corinth had grown the “Currants” which were tiny seedless, tangy raisins, where historians believe they got their name.
As the Phoenicians and Armenians began to trade raisins with the Greeks and the Romans who consumed them in large quantities; their popularity grew as well as their value. From being given as prizes to barter to trade or cure for ailments; raisins were always in demand. Raisins were a part of Hannibal’s troops rations when he had crossed the Alps.
“Raisins are a thing that lasts, they come in small boxes, and you always feel like eating raisins, even at six in the morning. A raisin is always an appropriate snack.” Fran Lebowitz
Although in popular demand, it wasn’t until the 11th century that raisins were seen in Europe. One of the reasons were the difficulty in maintaining the quality of the raisins for the long travel. By the 11th century, with improved packing and shipping techniques as well knights returning home from the crusades bringing back raisins with them, a huge market and demand was created.
By mid-14th century, the English cuisine included raisins and currants as it’s integral parts. As viticulture spread to France and Germany, grapes and raisins had entered the European cuisine spreading over to their colonial conquests. As viticulture had been perfected in Spain, grapes were being used to make products such as dry table wine, sweet dessert wines and Muscat raisins. With the colonization of the Americas and Mexico of today, their knowledge of viticulture had followed them there. By the 18th century, the Franciscan fathers had settled as far north as present-day Sonoma, California. Viticulture and its strong influence on California agriculture, was one of the enduring legacies left behind by the colonial rule. With the seedless grape variety (thin-skinned, seedless, sweet and tasty) being grown by the English immigrant William Thompson, newer variants of the products were created. By the late 1800s, once the Armenians (descended from the first founders of vineyards in Persia) began settling in the San Joaquin Valley, viticulture had progressed in California with supplies for raisins to nearly half the world, making it the largest producer anywhere.
“The wrinklier the raisin, the sweeter the fruit.” Alan Tudyk
Like most dried fruits, raisins can add the flavour to most recipes, ranging from the breakfast menu to elaborate meals as well as desserts. While buying raisins, their freshness can be determined by the containers being squeezable less hard and less rattling when shaken. Being blanched or plumped up (soak in hot water), sliced or chopped, added midway or at the end; the mode of introducing them into the recipes alters the flavours of the cooking giving a different effect at each step. Their popularity is marked by April holding two raisin days as National Raisin & Spice Bar Day (April 5th) and National Raisin Day (April 30th) celebrated by foodimentarians. Either way, into recipes or had directly, raisins spruce up the meal, both for the palate and nutrition wise.
“My indulgences are Skittles and rum raisin ice cream.” Sanya Richards-Ross