by Bree West
Made by dehydrating grapes, raisins have wrinkled skins and a sweet, chewy fruit. They are produced by one of three commercial methods: sun-dried (natural), artificially dried (dipped), and sulfur dioxide-treated (golden). The most common varieties include the Thompson Seedless (called Sultana outside of the U.S.), Malaga, and Muscat. While the colors of raisins vary, they are typically a dark brown color.
Raisins came about by discovery of accidental dried grapes that were left on the vine. However, after the discovery of the raisin, it took many hundreds of years to figure out which variety of grape was best for the production of raisins, which was the Muscat. Though the flavor of the Muscat raisin is considered superior by some, the necessity of removing seeds caused most producers to switch to the Thomson Seedless grape.
This fruit needs plenty of sunshine and water to grow well, and it has been found that the best place for cultivation of raisins is in the San Joaquin Valley, which has become the center of the California raisin industry. Some of the other leading producers of raisins include Australia, Turkey, Greece, Iran, and Chile.
Raisins are a great source of the trace mineral boron, as well as antioxidants, vitamins B1 and B6, and fiber. Raisins, similar to prunes, are often eaten to help promote intestinal regularity because of their high fiber content. This high fiber content helps to add bulk to stool and make elimination of the stool easier and quicker.
Interestingly, raisins have a possible new use as an alternative to the extremely carginogenic (cancer-causing) chemical sodium nitrite, commonly used as a preservative in bacon, beef jerky, lunch meats, ham, and other processed meats. It breaks down in the body into cancer-causing chemicals called nitrosamines during the digestion process. Researchers have shown that ground up raisins are a great and effective substitute for sodium nitrite because they help to prevent bacterial growth. This is a very exciting discovery, because not only do raisins serve the same function as sodium nitrite, but they aren't harmful to health and they provide a number of nutritional benefits, such as antioxidants and fiber.
Raisins are a great source of potassium, a mineral which lowers high blood pressure. Multiple studies show that those whose bodies contain adequate to high amounts of potassium have significantly lower and healthier blood pressure levels. Just a quarter cup of raisins contains about 272mg of potassium, about eight percent of the daily value, and even this amount of potassium has significant ability to lower blood pressure.
Another mineral contained in good amounts in raisins is iron. Iron is essential for creating hemoglobin in red blood cells. Hemoglobin is the component of our blood that carries oxygen throughout our body. When iron is low, we experience unpleasant symptoms such as fatigue. Women need to be especially concerned about getting enough iron, particularly when menstruating and pregnant. Raisins provide a simple, delicious, and cost-effective way of getting necessary iron.
When buying raisins, buy them in bulk or in transparent containers so that you can see the quality of the raisins, making sure they are not moist or damaged (unless buying Muscat raisins which will be sticky). If buying packaged raisins, make sure the container is tightly sealed and that there is no visible damage or moisture. Keeping raisins in the fridge or in an airtight container helps to keep the raisins fresh for longer and will prevent them from drying out. Raisins can be stored in the fridge for up to one year.
Raw Oatmeal Raisin Cookie Dough Bars
- 3/4 C walnuts
- 3/4 C rolled oats
- 1 C Medjool dates
- 3/4 C raisins
- 1 tsp vanilla
- 1 tsp cinnamon
- pinch sea salt
- 1/3 C unsweetened shredded coconut
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