What Are Raisins?
Raisins are dried grapes. The drying process concentrates both the nutrients and sugars present in grapes, making raisins nutrient-dense and calorie-dense.
Raisins originated in the Middle East before making their way to Europe, where they were especially popular among the Greeks and Romans. Historically, raisins were used as currency, as awards in sporting events, and to treat ailments like food poisoning.
Today, raisins are available at most supermarkets. They can be made from a wide variety of grape types. Different grapes create different flavors and textures in the raisins.
Raisins can also be dried in different ways. Natural-dried raisins are dried in the sun and have a dark color. They take about 3 weeks to completely dry. They can also be dried in a home or commercial dehydrator.
Because they’re high in naturally occurring sugar as well as calories, experts say they should be eaten in moderation.
What Are Sultanas?
Raisins that are made using different drying methods or different types of grapes may have different names. Raisins, sultanas, and currants are three kinds of dried grapes. While they share many similarities, they also have their own unique features.
You might hear sultanas called “golden raisins.” Like most raisins in the United States, sultanas are made from Thompson Seedless grapes. These are medium-sized green grapes and are grown primarily in California.
To create sultanas, the grapes undergo a different drying process. They’re first dipped in a sulfur dioxide solution to keep them from turning dark. Then, instead of being dried naturally, they’re put through large dehydrators. They only take a few hours to dry compared to a few weeks for natural raisins.
Raisins vs. Sultanas
Because of the preservative and quicker drying process, sultanas are lighter in color than standard raisins. They look yellow instead of black or brown, which is why they’re sometimes called golden raisins.
They’re usually smaller than natural raisins and have a more juicy sweetness than either raisins or currants.
Sultanas are commonly added to baked goods, while red and brown varieties are popular for snacking.
What Are Currants?
Not to be confused with the black currant, which is a type of berry, what we call currants in the U.S. are raisins made from a specific type of grape: Black Corinth. They’re also called Zante currants or Corinth currants.
Black Corinth grapes are seedless and quite small. They were originally grown in the Mediterranean region and have been used to make raisins for a long time. Today, Greece is the largest producer of currants. California, Australia, and South Africa also produce currants.
Like raisins, currants are naturally dried and have a dark color.
Raisins vs. Currants
Currants are smaller than either raisins or sultanas. Their flavor is tangier and less sweet than that of other types of raisins.
They’re most often used in recipes like scones or cookies.
Raisin Nutrition Information
Raisins, sultanas, and currants have similar nutritional qualities. All are rich in antioxidants – substances that help your cells fight harmful molecules called free radicals. And they’re all good sources of:
A quarter-cup of standard raisins contains:
- Calories: 120
- Protein: 1 gram
- Fat: 0 grams
- Carbohydrates: 32 grams
- Fiber: 2 grams
- Sugar: 26 grams
- Calcium: 25
- Iron: 1 milligram
A quarter cup of sultanas contains:
- Calories: 130
- Protein: 1 gram
- Fat: 0 grams
- Carbohydrates: 31 grams
- Fiber: 1 gram
- Sugar: 10 grams
- Calcium: 20 milligrams
- Iron: 1 milligram
A quarter-cup of dried currants has:
- Calories: 110
- Protein: 2 grams
- Fat: 0 grams
- Carbohydrates: 30 grams
- Fiber: 3 grams
- Sugar: 27 grams
- Calcium: 40 milligrams
- Iron: 1.5 milligrams
Potential Health Benefits of Raisins
Raisins are a tasty and convenient food that can add a range of nutrients to your diet. As a dried fruit, however, they don’t have the water content of regular grapes. This makes them less filling and easier to overeat. Stick to small portions to avoid adding too many calories to your diet.
Adding a handful to your cereal or snack can have some potential health benefits:
Hearth health. Research shows that raisins could help lower your risk of heart disease by reducing blood pressure and blood sugar. The fiber in raisins lowers your LDL (bad) cholesterol, which reduces strain on your heart.
Raisins are also a good source of potassium. Studies have found that low potassium levels contribute to high blood pressure, heart disease, and stroke. The amount of potassium your body needs increases if your sodium intake is high, which is common in many people's diets. As a low-sodium food, raisins are a great way to ensure you’re getting enough potassium.
Lower risk of chronic disease. Raisins have higher levels of antioxidants than many other dried fruits. That’s because the drying process concentrates these antioxidants.
Antioxidants help prevent cell damage caused by natural factors like aging and lifestyle behaviors. Some of the stronger antioxidants in raisins are called phytonutrients. These plant-based compounds have been shown to reduce the risk of chronic conditions like diabetes, osteoporosis, and cancer.
Research suggests that phytonutrients may also have anti-inflammatory, pain relief, and brain-protective properties.
Gastrointestinal health. Raisins are a good source of soluble fiber, which aids digestion and reduces stomach issues.
Raisins also contain tartaric acid. Research shows this protein may have anti-inflammatory properties, improve intestinal function, and help regulate the balance of bacteria in your gut. One study found it may also act to reduce the risk of colorectal cancer.
Oral health. Some nutrients in raisins, like oleanolic and linoleic acid, may have antibacterial properties. Studies have found that this effect may limit plaque-forming bacteria in your mouth.
Potential Risks of Raisins
Raisins are considered safe for most people. They also have a moderately low glycemic index, which means they don’t cause sharp spikes and dips in your blood sugar levels. This can make them a good sweet snack option for people with diabetes.
But the dense nutrient content of raisins can cause negative side effects if you eat them in large amounts:
Unwanted weight gain. Some research shows that raisins can help people lose or manage weight. But they’re relatively high in calories per serving. So eat them in moderation if you want to avoid weight gain.
Stomach discomfort. The fiber in raisins is linked with a range of health benefits. But too much fiber in your diet can cause digestive issues like gas, bloating, and cramps.
Pesticide concerns. Raisins made from grapes sprayed with pesticides may contain residues. After the raisin-drying process, producers also sometimes fumigate storage areas to keep pests away. Consuming high levels of pesticides has been linked to health issues like cancer, so it may be best to opt for organic raisins when possible. Organic foods have fewer pesticide residues.
How to Eat Raisins
Not only do raisins make a handy snack on their own for kids or adults, they’re part of many sweet and savory dishes from around the world. They're a good alternative to candy or other sweets, as they can satisfy a sugar craving while offering some nutritional benefits.
Here are a few ideas for how to add raisins, sultanas, and currants into your diet:
- Mix with nuts and other dried fruits for a healthy trail mix.
- Sprinkle on top of yogurt, oatmeal, or cereal.
- Bake into cookies, scones, or granola bars.
- Toss into a green salad, or try them in a lentil and grain salad.
- Add as a garnish to curry or stir-fry for a pop of sweetness.
While the vitamins and minerals in raisins can benefit your health, they’re about 60% sugar. Raisins are generally cheaper than other dried fruits, but some other fruits may contain better nutritional value.
If you're watching your sugar intake, consider alternatives to raisins like:
- Dried apricots: They are lower in sugar and calories and a better source of iron and fiber.
- Prunes: They are lower in sugar and calories than raisins, rich in fiber, and pose less risk from pesticides.
- Goji berries: While high in calories, they contain about 30% less sugar than raisins and higher levels of antioxidants.