They may be ugly, but raisins have some beautiful health benefits.
Raisins have been revered since ancient times. Grapes were dried into tiny wrinkled gems as early as 2,000 BC, when they were eaten and used as decorations during feasts and religious ceremonies, as well as utilized for barter currency and prizes during sporting events by the Romans.
Produced worldwide today, California is the largest producer, tracing back to 1873 when a determined grape grower took his crop, which had been “destroyed” by a heat wave, to market and met instant success. The rest is, indeed, history.
Unlike most dried fruits, and perhaps a tribute to their popularity, dried grapes are uniquely named raisins. Grapes and raisins share the scientific name, Vitus vinifera, though the contrast between the shrunken, wrinkly pellets surrounding their sweet, chewy flesh, are quite the contrast to their plump, juicy counterpart. Grape varieties, such as Thompson seedless, Muscat, Sultana, and Malaga are the most popular to dehydrate, whether by sun or oven drying.
A one-quarter cup serving of raisins delivers 6 percent Daily Value (DV, based on 2,000 calories per day) of satiating dietary fiber, 9 percent DV of heart-healthy potassium, and a dose of health protecting antioxidants, though, because most raisins are made from white grapes, they do not contain a significant amount of resveratrol, as do red grapes.
The health benefits of eating raisins are many. Several new studies on raisins and health were published in the June 2013 Journal of Food Science. One such study shows that raisins and grapes eaten as an afternoon snack led to a lower overall food intake among children, compared to eating other common snacks, like chips or cookies.
Not only did raisins give a feeling of fullness, they also provided important nutrients, such as potassium and iron. Another study, a scientific review of almost 80 studies, also published in the journal, shows that raisins have the potential to reduce the risk of diabetes and heart disease, and that raisin consumption contributes to improved blood glucose control for diabetics, and also can be helpful for weight loss and management.
THE FINER POINTS
Raisins are readily available year-round, both in bulk and small packages. Choose richly colored, moist raisins when you can hand select or see them through the packaging. Store them in an airtight container, and refrigerate or freeze for longest life — up to six months.
Pour a little hot water over raisins to “plump” them before use. They are especially delicious in baked scones, quick breads and muffins. Raisins are also easily tossed onto hot or cold cereals, yogurts and salads, as well as added to pilafs and stuffing, trail mix, or eaten straight out of hand.
NOTABLE NUTRIENTS: Seeded raisins (1 ounce)
Dietary fiber: 2 g (8 percent recommended Daily Value)
Potassium: 231 mg (7 percent DV)
Copper: 0.1 mg (7 percent DV)
Iron: 7 mg (4 percent DV)
Manganese: 0.1 mg (6 percent DV)
RECIPE FOR RAISIN SCONES
2 1/3 cups prepared whole grain coarsely chopped biscuit mix
3 tablespoons sugar
1 egg, beaten
1/2 cup milk
3/4 cup raisins
• Milk and sugar for topping
Preheat oven to 450° F
Stir together biscuit mix, sugar and raisins. Blend egg and milk; add to dry mixture, stirring thoroughly.
Turn out onto lightly floured board. Pat and roll into an oblong about 1/2-inch thick. Cut in diamonds by making diagonal cuts with a knife. Prick tops with fork; brush with milk and sprinkle with sugar.
Bake on greased baking sheet for 10-12 minutes.
Makes 12 scones.
Nutrition information per serving: 130 calories, 3.5 grams fat, 23 grams carbohydrate, 3 grams protein, 4 grams dietary fiber, 230 mg sodium.
Recipe adapted courtesy of California Raisin Marketing Board.
Reprinted with permission from Environmental Nutrition, a monthly publication of Belvoir Media Group, LLC. 800-829-5384. www.EnvironmentalNutrition.com.