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Where Do Raisins Come From?

132574displayOne of the most amazing things I have seen is the process used to turn grapes into raisins. I will never forget hearing the farmers say: “raisins are on the ground if the rain will just hold off for a few more days.” I was fresh from southern California and all we grow there are freeways. Please take a minute to read this post and learn how it is done…..

Considering the widespread use and popularity of raisins, it is hard to imagine the classic breakfast cereal, Raisin Bran, without the little fruit that has, over the years, infiltrated lunch boxes, trail mixes, oatmeal cookies and a whole host of sweet and savory treats.

Raisins have been around for centuries. First mentioned dating as far back as 1490 B.C., they were thought to have been discovered by accident as grapes drying on the vine. “They are one of the most ancient foods,” said Bernadine Ferguson, a Fresno-based food and culinary consultant who has worked with the California Raisin Marketing Board for more than 30 years. Indigenous to the Middle East and the Mediterranean, raisins have always played a huge role in the diets and cuisines of people who live in those regions, she said. They learned early on that the drying process preserves the food—and makes it lighter to transport.

Not much has changed over the years in how raisins are made. They still are, for the most part, “nothing but grapes and sunshine,” to borrow that famous Sun-Maid expression.

raisinsBut turning grapes into those tiny, wrinkled nuggets of sweetness is also no easy job. The process takes place in the Fresno area of California’s San Joaquin Valley, where a long, hot growing season has turned this region into the nation’s raisin capital.

Nearly 3,500 raisin growers in the San Joaquin Valley produce almost all of the United States’ raisins and 45 percent of the world’s crop, according to the California Raisin Marketing Board.

In August, when the grapes are sweet and ripe, an army of workers descend on the fields with clippers and pans to pick the grapes. The workers lay thin sheets of paper beneath the vines. Then they cut bunches of grapes into the pans and drop the grapes onto the paper trays.

Spread out on the paper trays, the grapes sit in the baking sun for about two to three weeks, depending on how hot temperatures get. During that time, the intense summer heat caramelizes the natural sugars in the grapes, giving raisins their distinctive color and flavor.

After the sun has worked its magic, the fruit is ready to be collected. Workers roll the paper trays into bundles and transfer the raisins into bins destined for the processing plant, where the raisins are washed and cleaned, stemmed, sorted and inspected before packaging.

The majority of California raisins are made from Thompson seedless grapes, which were first introduced in the 1870s by farmer William Thompson, a Scottish immigrant who was growing the seedless grape variety on his ranch in Sutter County in Northern California. Thin-skinned, sweet and, most importantly, seedless, the versatile green grape was born to be a raisin, but is also used for fresh consumption, juice and wine making.

Not much has changed over the years in how raisins are made. They still are, for the most part, “nothing but grapes and sunshine,” to borrow that famous Sun-Maid expression.

Click for a great article: How To Make Raisins From Fresh Grapes

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