Raisins are essentially the dried and preserved version of grapes. Just as there are many types of grapes — green, purple, red, globe, and champagne grapes to name a few — there are just as many types of raisins. They are produced and consumed all over the world, from Eastern Europe to the West Indies, from the Mediterranean to the Americas. Each culture that consumes them cooks with them in different manners, resulting in a large variety of dishes.
The most common type of raisins are made from Thompson seedless grapes, which are green. These range in color from dark plum to black. Golden raisins, which are generally yellow in color, are made from green grapes also, and are treated and processed differently to retain the golden-green color.
One of the oldest ways of preserving food is to dry it. In years past, before refrigeration, salting and smoking methods, and the use of other preservatives in foods, it was very difficult to keep food from spoiling. Meats and dairy products could go bad in as little as a day. Fruits and vegetables might last as long as a few weeks, but not beyond that. In order to preserve the bounty of a successful hunt or harvest, humans learned to dry fruits and meats. By removing most of the moisture from food and then storing it in a dry space, mold and other bacteria are not as likely to take over.
Therefore, dried foods such as raisins have been responsible for keeping our ancestors alive through harsh seasons when the land becomes barren. Raisins are especially good in such circumstances as they offer vitamin C, an essential element of nutrition that is often not available in winter months. They are also a good source of iron, potassium, and antioxidants.
As dried fruits go, raisins are generally the least expensive of the lot; dried apricots, mangoes, and even cranberries are often much more expensive. Raisins are a healthy and inexpensive kitchen staple that can be added to many dishes to add extra nutrition. They can be added to breads, muffins, cakes, and pies. They also add sweetness to salads or be added to chutney. Of course, the fruit can also be enjoyed on is own. Oatmeal raisin cookies are a traditional favorite that are both delicious and easy to make. In fact, recipes cookies are printed on the backs of many oatmeal packages and raisin boxes.