Our pantry staples series sees us take a look at the ingredients that most people usually have in their kitchens – chickpeas, beans, noodles and the like. This time we're focusing on raisins.

Raisins are massively popular in Ireland, as both a snack food and an ingredient. We love how versatile and flavoursome raisins, as well as how much of a boost of energy they can give us. In terms of nutrition, raisins are fairly good for you, as they contain lots of dietary fibre, low glycemic index carbohydrates, copper and iron. They are also quite high in antioxidants.

What Are Raisins?

Raisins are made of dried grapes. There are several different varieties of raisins available, but in the UK, US, Ireland, New Zealand and Australia the term raisin specifically applies to dark-coloured, large dried grapes. Sultana, which are also often called raisins, are usually golden-coloured dried grapes and currants are small, seedless dried black grapes. 

Traditionally, raisins are sun-dried, but can also be artificially dried with machines. They can be made from any type of grape, as the drying process will darken and caramelise them. Sultanas are usually dried in dehydrators, which control temperature and moisture, allowing the sultanas to keep their golden colour. Often, sultanas are also dipped in wax or treated with sulphur dioxide to preserve their colour. 

Around 1,500 years ago, the Phoenicians and Persians began to create vineyards in the warm climates of the Mediterranean, which accidentally led to raisins, when a bunch of grapes were left to dry in the sun. During the 11th century, knights travelling to Eastern Europe were exposed to raisins and brought them back to the east, which created a larger demand for the dried fruit. By the 14th century, raisins and currants were massively popular in English cuisine and when European colonisers arrived in the Americas, they brought wine, grapes and raisins with them. The arrival of raisins in the Americas has led to the United States becoming the world's main producer of the dried fruit, with the area producing nearly a quarter of all raisins around the world. 

How To Select And Store Raisins

A good raisin should be soft and squeezable; if it is hard or dry, then it's old and will lack flavour. To check that your raisins are as fresh, give the bag a squeeze if you can. If they're in a box, give it a shake as dry, old raisins will make a rattling sound.

When you get your raisins home, you don't want them to dry out, so it's best to store them in a sealed container or bag and keep in a cool, dry place. If they are kept in a warm location, raisins can begin to dry out and darken further. 

Raisins can also be revived in a microwave; simply place them in a bowl with a few spoons of water. Microwave for 12-15 seconds, then pour out the water and leave to cool. Make sure you use your raisins on the day of revival, otherwise they will dry back out again. 

Recipe Inspiration

We love to add raisins to lots of different dishes for an extra bump of flavour, like salads, baking and curry. If you're looking to incorporate some raisins into your diet, why not try Michelle Darmody's granola buns? They're ideal for an on-the-go breakfast and are full of nutrition. If you want a savoury option, try Sunil Ghai's stuffed potato cakes.  

How do you like to cook with raisins? Let us know in the comments below.