Dried fruit is crucial for many Christmas recipies. Photo: Markus Winkler

Raisin the topic of dried fruit

Continuing the series of frequently asked questions – what’s the difference between raisins, sultanas and currants?

The very quick answer is that they are all types of dried grapes. Depending on the country of production, different grape varieties are used for raisins and sultanas while currants are made from seedless grapes called Black Corinth or Carina.

The difference in all three is the treatment – while raisins are dried over a period of about three weeks naturally, sultanas are treated before drying to speed up the process. Both give us juicy and plump dried fruit.

Currants on the other hand are made from smaller seedless grapes that are dried over a period of three weeks as well. Due to their size, the result is smaller, darker and a bit denser than the other siblings of the family.

Currants can be quite hard and benefit from soaking in liquid to soften while raisins and sultanas love a good soak as well to take on the flavours (I soak my dried fruit a few days in Irish whiskey before baking my fruit cake for the festive season).

Delia Smith has a very good recipe in her 1978 cookbook ‘Complete Cookery Course’ (a book I recommend to any starting cook) where she uses 450g of currants compared to 175g each of sultanas and raisin for her cake. The result is quite dense and I normally switch the amounts to reduce the currants.

Due to the drying process, the natural sugar in the fruit is much higher (around 60-75 per cent) and vitamin C is significantly reduced but they are packed with fibre and potassium.

Raisins and sultanas can be interchanged quite easily, while currants will change the texture and flavour of the dish. Festive baking without these little fellas is unthinkable and can you imagine mincemeat without them?

Raisins and sultanas can be added to chutneys, sweet breads, desserts, ice cream or simply eaten as a snack.

I add raisins to my muesli to make it a bit sweeter without adding processed sugar or mix it with nuts for a snack alternative. There was even a time when I bought chocolate covered raisins at a market close to where I used to live.

Raisins and sultanas are quite inexpensive while you need to dash out a bit more for currants and the shelf life is rather good if you are not a frequent baker.

Dried fruit is around since before time – ok, since about 2000 BC in Persia and Egypt (the bible mentions raisins) and it is believed that the discovery came by accident when grapes dried on the vine.

Middle Eastern cuisine still uses a lot of dried fruit in their cooking, both in sweet and savoury dishes. The word raisins comes from the French word for grapes and has been used since medieval England where dried fruit was also used in cooking.

Now, I have to steal some whiskey from Mr T to give these little beauties a bath before baking!