Sunday, November 8, 2015

Ingredient Tasting: Raisins

For my recent spot on Good Day Columbus to celebrate losing more than 50 pounds in seven months I made some delicious breakfast cookies, which are a much more substantial and delicious version of an oatmeal raisin cookie.  It got me thinking, how many different types of raisins are out there to choose from and does it really make any difference what kind you use? So I rounded up 10 different brands representing five different variations of raisins and put them to the test. I ate a handful of each raisin and also baked each into one of my breakfast cookies.

Since it is the industry standard in raisins I started with Sun-Maid.  I'm glad I did because I discovered this amazing 100th anniversary e-book that will teach you absolutely everything you wanted to know, not just about Sun-Maid, but raisins in general. Of particular interest to me was page 102-103 that talks all about which types of grape are chosen for how they are dried. Sun-maid raisins appear to use a blend of a few different grape types in their raisins, but mostly Thompson.  Of all the raisins.  This resulted in a more complex flavor profile than any of the other raisins I tried.  They were also a little less tart, slightly drier, and a little bit grittier with noticeable stem fragments.

Lucky's Market bulk section included Thompson, organic Thompson, and a variety I couldn't find elsewhere called Fire.  The regular and organic Thompsons were virtually indistinguishable from each other, though the organic raisins were slightly juicier.  They were more tart, but less complex in flavor than the Sun-Maid raisins.

The Fire raisins were noticeably larger than any of the other varieties.  They had tougher skins, and were chewier.  My wife described them as almost a cross between a raisin and a prune.

Earthbound Farm Organic jumbo Thompson raisins had a flavor that reminded me of molasses and were noticeably bitter, though very plump and juicy.  They were my third least favorite raisin to eat.

Sage Valley organix Thompson raisins were very similar to Sun-Maid, but more tart, less complex, and overall not as good.

Aldi raisins were the worst of the bunch.  They were noticeably smaller than Sun-Maid raisins, dry, gummy, and did not have a very strong flavor.

At this point I moved away from more traditional raisins to see if there would be any surprises out there.  I did stick with just raisins as bringing in other dried fruits like cranberries would be like comparing, well, you get it.

Sun-Maid's baking raisins are wet and sticky to the touch and not what you would expect a raisin to feel like when you bite into it.  It was my second least favorite raisin to eat.

Zante Currants are not, in fact, currants at all, but are dried from Black Corinth grapes.  They are much smaller and drier, but have a similar taste to regular raisins.  If you like the taste of raisins, but find they are too large, especially when baking, then these are great substitute.

Finally, the Golden raisins.  These are not, in fact, made from a different kind of grape, but are instead dried differently, using dehydrators and sulfur dioxide instead of drying them in the sun.  They are bit juicier than regular Sun-Maid raisins with a pleasant, almost citrus flavor that made them one of my favorites to eat.

Now what was really interesting was what happened when I baked them all into the breakfast cookies.  Taste became completely irrelevant and it became entirely a matter of texture.  The raisins that I liked the eating the least, the Fire, baking raisins, and jumbo organic Thompsons, were all the best in the breakfast cookies, while the rest all just  sort of faded together.


The Winners:
For eating, Sun Maid Raisins are the most popular for a reason.  There flavor profile was the most enjoyable, though I do wish they were a little less gritty and a little more juicy. The fire raisins were probably my favorite for baking, but the Sun-Maid baking raisins were nearly as good.

The Losers:
Aldi and Earthbound Farms Organic jumbo Thompson raisins were the worst for eating, but both are fine when baked into a cookie.

Special Awards:
The golden raisins were a really enjoyable change of pace from a classic raisin are definitely worth trying.  However, their flavor did sort of get lost when baked into the cookies. The Zante currants might the perfect choice of raisins for people who don't really like raisins.

The Rest:
All the other varieties really are fine whether for eating or baking and in the end you'd have to be a real raisin aficionado to get too bent out of shape over varieties.

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