Raisins are basically grapes that have been dried up for preservation. There are many types of raisins, since there are also many types of grapes they can be made of: red, white rose and many more varieties in shape and size. Raisins have been used in all parts of the world since ancient times. Every local culture has included them in their own particular dishes, with surprising results. From Europe to the Americas, raisins are important ingredients in the respective cuisine and traditions.
The tem raisin comes from Middle English but it was actually loaned from the old French language of the time. The meaning of the word has been lost in modern French, where raisin means a normal grape, while the dried version is named "raisin sec". The true origin of the term is the Latin word racemus, meaning grape cluster.
There are many types of raisins but the most common are made from seedless Thompson grapes. Even if these grapes are green, the raisins have a darker color, between plum and black. Green grapes are also the raw material for the distinctive golden raisins, but these keep their color due to treatment and special processing.
Raisins are prepared by drying, which is one of the most ancient forms of food preservation known to man. Back in the day, preservatives were not available and refrigeration wasn't invented yet. Even advanced salting and smoking techniques were still unknown, so preventing food from spoiling was a very difficult task. Natural foods have a very short shelf life and it only took one or two days for meat and dairy products to become inedible. Even fruits or vegetables only lasted a few days or weeks at best. Humans had to find a way to store food after the harvest or a successful hunt, otherwise they would die of hunger. Drying meats and vegetal products was the most obvious solution. If water is eliminated from food and it is stored in a dark dry place, bacteria and mold are less likely to develop and the product lasts much longer.
Raisins and other similar dried food items were critical for the survival of our ancestors. Without them, they could not survive during winters and other harsh periods, when the food became scarce. Raisins are an excellent source of vitamin C, a key nutrient during the winter months, which made them even more important in human diet. These dried fruits also supply good amounts of antioxidants, iron and potassium.
Today, raisins are easily available all over the world and are considered to be a cheap and healthy food that can be added to any diet. There are many ways to prepare and consume them. They are delicious and can be eaten raw. Most often, raisins are added to bakery products such as muffins, pies, breads or cakes. Probably the most popular recipe is the delicious oatmeal raisin cookies. The dried grapes can also be added to chutneys and salads. There are numerous other recipes that can be found on the internet or even the product packaging.
Raisins are an excellent choice for bodybuilders and athletes due to their high content of fructose, glucose and other sugars. They provide an energy boost, as well as an increase in body mass. Due to the powerful package of nutrients in their composition, raisins improve the reaction of the human immune system. These compounds are able to boost the absorption of minerals, vitamins and proteins in the body.
When a raisin is dried, the fiber inside shrinks in size. The opposite happens as you ingest it, since the fluids in the mouth allow the fiber to swell. This is a very useful effect against constipation, since it bulks up the food in the intestines and the stool as it travels down. Raisins are rich in insoluble fibers, which increase their volume by absorbing water without dissolving. This property fights against diarrhea, since the fibers absorb the excessive liquid from the stomach and intestines. It is also very useful for regular and predictable stools.
Unlike most sweets, raisins don't cause damage to teeth. Their content of oleanolic acid actually protects them not only from decay and cavities, but also gingivitis and other periodontal diseases that are started by bacteria.
All dried fruits, including raisins, are very rich in sugars like fructose and glucose and provide a sizeable energy boost. They are great for gaining weight in a healthy way, which is important for athletes and body builders in particular. However, many other people, for example those recovering after surgery, need a way to gain body mass without consuming cholesterol, which is very unhealthy. Besides the sugars, raisins also provide numerous other nutrients. These include minerals like selenium and phosphorus, as well as vitamins and essential amino acids. In addition to their own content, raisins boost the absorption of these nutrients from other food sources, providing an immunity boost that protects the body against infections and other diseases.
These dried grapes are also rich in a type of blood polyphenolic antioxidants named catechins. Antioxidants are considered extremely important in modern medicine because they protect the body from the action of dangerous free radicals that can destroy tissues and cells. Free radicals have been identified as one of the main causes of cancer, so neutralizing them is very important. The antioxidant compounds provided by raisins can prevent the onset of cancer or at least limit its development. Consuming raisins daily can keep the level of antioxidants high, which is very important for health.
Raisins have been known since ancient times to contribute to hearth health and reduce high blood pressure. These claims have been largely ignored by modern science but recently scientists have finally started to investigate them. Studies have indeed found that consuming raisins can lower high blood pressure but the exact mechanism on how they achieve it is still unknown and the test results are not definitive. Scientists suspect that the high content of potassium is the cause, even if raisins are packed with many other beneficial nutrients. Potassium is well known as an essential mineral that decreases blood pressure by relaxing the blood vessels themselves. It is also suspected that hypertension is reduced by the dietary fibers in raisins, which also work at blood vessel level.
Raisins can balance the human metabolism, an effect that has been validated by modern research. Several studies have concluded that consuming them can prevent the spikes in insulin levels that are so dangerous for diabetes patients, by decreasing the postprandial insulin response. Compounds found in raisins regulate the rate of sugar absorption and make it more predictable, which greatly reduces the risk of serious incidents for people who suffer from diabetes. The production of hormones that make us feel both hungry or full, leptin and ghrelin, is controlled as well. The balance of these two chemicals is essential in weight loss, so including raisins in your diet can prevent you from eating too much.
Raisins have a high content of calcium, the building block for our bones and teeth. They also include very large amounts of boron, a compound that boosts the absorption of calcium and improves bone structure. This combination is especially useful for women after menopause, since they need to assimilate larger quantities of calcium in order to prevent the onset of osteoporosis.
Anemia can also be treated by eating raisins, due to the rich amounts of iron. Raisins improve the production of fresh blood because they also supply generous amounts of vitamin B complex. The third essential blood nutrient found in raisins is copper, another essential mineral.
Including these dried fruits in your daily diet improves the response of your immune system and can treat fevers and infections. This is caused by the rich amount of phenolic phytonutrients, which are antioxidants with a strong antiseptic action.
Raisins are a great source of potassium and magnesium, two essential minerals with multiple uses. They are bases on the pH scale and have a powerful natural antacid action. This counters acidosis, a very dangerous condition that makes the blood or the body gasses more acid than normal. This problem, also known as toxicity of the blood, can lead to numerous health issues, some of them extremely dangerous. Examples include heart diseases, arthritis, gout, renal calculi, hair loss, boils and skin diseases. Acidosis can cause internal organ damage or even cancer.
Since ancient times, raisins were known to increase libido and sexual desire. This effect has been linked by modern researchers to arginine, an amino acid that can cure erectile problems. This compound also boosts male fertility, by increasing the levels of sperm motility during sexual contact. Raisins are still used for this purpose in India, where a traditional custom is to give newly-wed couples on the night of their wedding a glass of milk boiled with raisins and a bit of saffron. Raisins are a great choice in general for people who have various sexual endurance problems.
Polyphenolic phytonutrients are strong antioxidants found in raisins that act at eye level. They counter the free radicals that are the root of many eye conditions, such as macular degeneration, cataracts or even blindness.