Raisins–why they’re good for baking, cooking and plain snacking
Delicious. Healthy. Versatile. Easily available.
Now, how can you go wrong with raisins?
Yes, that sweet, tiny, fruity dark bits provide flavor, texture and color to a wide variety of dishes. Or, eaten as is, they also make for a nutritious and filling snack.
Raisins even make baked goodies taste better. They add a touch of sunshine to breads, muffins, cookies, cakes, pies, tarts, puddings and what-have-you.
This was proven true by noted American pastry chef Nathan Mitchell Stamm, who recently flew to Manila to demonstrate how easy it is to incorporate raisins in recipes. He showed local bakers, pastry chefs, culinary students and baking suppliers how California Raisins’ sweet, fruity taste makes them an ideal ingredient.
“We often talk about flour as an unstable commodity in the market,” said Stamm. “Raisins, fortunately, are the most stable, reliable products in the market.”
Stamm is a leading figure in the baking industry in the US, having worked in Denver, Idaho and Michigan as executive pastry chef. He is now the associate instructor at Johnson and Wales University, Providence, Rhode Island.
He also writes for various pastry and culinary publications and has won awards in baking contests in the US, including the grand prize for America’s Best Raisin Bread in 2009 for his California Gold Rush and Couronne Aux California Raisins.
Stamm was a five-time winner of the Research and Publishing Award at Johnson and Wales University. Last year, he bagged the Dean’s Award for Professional Development, also at Johnson and Wales University, and was voted one of the top 10 bakers in the US by Dessert professional magazine.
“I’ve been using raisins in my entire culinary career,” said Stamm. “After I won in the raisins contest, I started reading and studying about it. Quite often, bakers talk about flour, but we don’t talk about wheat. Just like we talk about raisins, but we don’t talk about its production process—the soil, climate, moisture content, picking, pruning, drying and packing. The more I study raisins, the more I respect the product.”
Stamm had a chance to experience himself what happens during the raisin production process in San Joaquin Valley in California, where Thompson seedless grapes (a variety used for California Raisins) come from.
Stamm said Thompson seedless grapes from San Joaquin are still the best for making raisins. Today, 99 percent of the raisins from the US are produced there.
“Quality control plays an important part in the life cycle of California Raisins,” explained Stamm. “They are dried on clean paper trays or on the vine, and are not directly exposed to dirt or sand. Before raisins are taken from their bins, onsite government inspectors test samples. Each box of raisins should be free of contamination, pests and other imperfections.”
Raisins are stored, cleaned and processed under sanitary conditions. They are thoroughly washed in pure water. Then, they are weighed and packed in protective poly-lined cardboard boxes in a variety of convenient sizes.
Health-wise, raisins are fat- and cholesterol-free. They contain simple, natural sugars that are easily absorbed by the body and converted to energy.
“It’s just the original, natural product, nothing’s added to it,” said Stamm. “It’s just an evaporated product packed with vitamins and minerals. It has magnesium, folic acid, calcium, phosphorous, copper, zinc, iron and vitamin B6.”
Raisins’ dietary fiber and other components may also reduce the risk of heart disease and cancer. Raisins, Stamm added, rank among the top antioxidant foods according to The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) tests.
Recent research also confirms that compounds found in raisins may reduce cavity-causing bacteria in the mouth.
“I’d say if you’re going to eat sugar, eat a natural sugar from real fruits,” noted Stamm. “A person doesn’t become diabetic from eating fruits. It’s a form of lifestyle and generic predisposition. Raisins are low in calories and low in sodium, so they’re an ideal alternative to manufactured, artificial snacks.”
“In the US, people hardly get out of their car to buy food. They go to a drive-through to buy coffee and doughnut and just swallow them without even tasting it. With raisins, you are forced to chew them more. The more you chew them, the more you taste their goodness. The more you taste their goodness, the more satisfying the experience will be.”
As a pastry chef, Stamm believes adding raisins to baked goods is always a wise choice.
“Raisins are a natural substitute for preservatives and fat, while enhancing flavor and texture. It’s important for bakers to know that raisins also extend the shelf life of bread products, sweeten and color baked goods naturally and also act as a binder.”
During the demo, Stamm showed how to bake several goodies incorporating raisins, plus how to mold, shape, style and flavor the baked goods.
Stamm, who flew to Kuala Lumpur from Manila for another demo, also exhibited his award-winning bread, Couronne Aus California Raisins, which allows the sweetness of raisins to blend well with the tangy bread.
He also baked California Raisin Brioche, a classic combination of raisins and syrup in buttery dough, capped with a chocolate crunch; All the Gold in California Raisin Foccacia, tasty and fragrant with fresh rosemary and lemon zest; and California Raisin Cloud, a slightly sweetened dough encased with plump raisins, with a cookie on top for texture and flavor contrast.
Stamm’s food demo was part of the efforts of the California Raisin Administrative Committee (CRAC) and the US Department of Agriculture-Foreign Agricultural Service to promote raisins to the world. CRAC has been conducting seminars, recipe development contests and menu development for many years to conquer new markets for raisins.
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