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(Updated 4/5/2011)
The Health Benefits of Raisins
Brown or golden, both pack a healthy punch

Raisins are one of the most well known and versatile dried fruits available today. However, they’re not a modern discovery. The process of drying grapes into raisins has been practiced since ancient times. Raisins were produced in Persia and Egypt and were even mentioned in the Old Testament. Ancient Romans also used raisins as barter currency and prize awards for winners of sporting events.

Today, most raisins come from the San Joaquin Valley in California, where many commercial raisins are grown and processed.  During mid-September, when their sugar content reaches a desirable level, grapes are handpicked and placed on clean paper trays to dry in the sun. The grapes can also be oven dried. A grape becomes a raisin when its moisture content drops below 16%. They are then removed from the vine and are stored in wooden “sweat boxes,” which are sanitary storage containers. Raisins are kept in the sweat boxes until they’re ready to be processed and shipped. Processed raisins are properly destemmed and decapped, then are sorted, cleaned and washed in water to assure a fresh product.

There are two types of common raisins, dark and golden.  Dark are the most well known, which begin as green grapes and naturally darken as they dry. These raisins are usually the product of Thompson seedless grapes. Most golden raisins are also the product of Thompson seedless grapes and are kept light in color through the use of sulfur dioxide. Another type of golden raisin is known as muscats because they’re made from white muscat grapes that have been seeded, oven dried and treated to maintain their color.

Raisins are a popular dried fruit because they are versatile and have a considerable shelf life. It is ideal to purchase raisins that are sold in bulk or in transparent containers so that it is easy to judge the quality of the raisins before they’re purchased. Raisins are best when they are moist and undamaged. In order to keep them fresh, it is best to store them in an airtight container in the refrigerator. You can also store single serving boxes in the refrigerator to keep the product fresh. It is best to eat raisins within six months of the purchase date.

A low fat and high energy snack, raisins pack a high dose of antioxidants. Antioxidants play an important role in protecting the body’s cells from damaging compounds. Studies have shown that antioxidants may act as an anti-aging tool for the body and the brain. Some studies have also shown that antioxidants may help to prevent serious diseases like cancer. Raisins can also help to lower cholesterol and reduce the risk of heart disease. While adding raisins to a daily diet can be beneficial to men and women alike, women can reap extra benefits. Raisins contain high levels of Boron, which is a substance that is essential for bone health. Boron is an important substance for women to help fight the onset of Osteoporosis.

Because of their versatility, raisins are a dried fruit that can easily be added to any diet. Add them to hot or cold cereal or granola for a healthy breakfast. Have a delicious, energy packed afternoon snack by eating a handful of trail mix with raisins and nuts. Incorporate raisins into your favorite baking recipes for bread, muffins and cookies. Even add them to a dinner meal by making them an essential ingredient in poultry stuffing or rice mixes.

No matter the color, golden or traditional brown, raisins are a delicious and essential part of a healthy diet for all ages. Start enjoying the benefits of this economical dried fruit today!