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We need to talk about California Raisins' amazing history

As a natural sweetener to create many savory and sweet dishes and treats, discover this ingredient's rich narrative that stretches back to 2000BC.

Ah, sunny California. The land of milk, honey, and raisins!

Thanks to the state's conducive microclimate with a perfect combination of hot sun, steady water supply, and snowfall, this is just one of the factors that make California the #1 grape/wine producer in America and #4 wine producer in the world after France, Italy, and Spain. With that, it's no wonder that California is also #1 for exporting California Raisins.

This humble yet valuable crop was first discovered by accident when they were found dried on vines as early as 2000 BC, with the Phoenicians and Armenians taking the first steps in perfecting viticulture (the process of grape growing and selection). This led to a wildfire-like demand for the crop, to which raisins became part of many noted events in ancient Europe. They were so valuable that they were even used as prizes for sporting events in Greece and Rome.

Grapes and raisins became an important part of European cuisine by the time countries like Spain started to colonize the Americas. In Spain, where viticulture had been perfected, grapes were being used to make products such as dry table wine, sweet dessert wines and Muscat raisins.

The Spanish friars and conquistadors found their place in the sun near Fresno in the San Joaquin Valley in California which is considered to be one of the most fertile valleys in the world. With plenty of sunshine, a long, hot growing season and a plentiful water supply from the nearby Sierra Nevada Mountains would soon make the San Joaquin Valley the center of the raisin industry in California.

In 1875, the birth of the perfect seedless California Raisin was born thanks to William Thompson and his son, George, after William received three cultivars of the grape “Lady de Coverly” from Ellewanger & Barry, of Rochester, N.Y., and grafted them on the roots of one of their grapevines. Their vineyard flooded, and only one of the three sprouts grew. From this sprout, the seedless raisin grape was developed and was exhibited to be thin-skinned, seedless, sweet, and very tasty.

At present, Thompson Seedless Grapes are still used for making California raisins. They have been joined in the Natural Seedless varietal category by DoVine, Fiesta and Selma Pete. These light-colored grapes, when dried by the sun, become the familiar dark California Raisins we’ve grown to love.

More on California Raisins' history, sustainable practices, and research improvements here.

Delicious as they are, here are more awesome facts about California Raisins:

  • Sweet. Naturally. No sugar is added to California Raisins, a natural, sun-dried fruit. As a sugar substitute, California Raisins eliminate or reduce the need for added sugar in recipes.

  • California Raisins are a highly versatile ingredient that can be used in cooked food, baked products, and beverages.

  • California Raisins can be conditioned, used as a starter for breads, and processed to create California Raisin paste and juice.

  • California Raisins are a great snack for the young and old.

  • California Raisins are some of the most economical dried fruit available.

Now that you have a better appreciation of California Raisin, it's time to show off raise a toast and show off your skills in the kitchen by trying these recipes at home! Or better yet, simply have a handful of raisins and make it a quick and healthy snack to add that needed fuel to your busy day.

Check out these recipes with the use of California Raisins!

Chef Jackie Ang Po's Ensaymada

Award-winning celebrity Chef Jackie Ang Po took her time to revamp this classic recipe in between her busy schedule with her cafe Fleur de Lys and lots of cooking and baking tutorial videos online. This soft, fluffy sweet milk bread got an extra dose of natural sweetness using California Raisins, not to mention, that rich layer of buttercream and cheese! If you prefer a more savory treat, you can also try recreating Chef Jackie Ang Po's yummy California Raisin Empanadas!

Chef Edward and Trixie Bugia's Tita Cora Cookies

This celebrity husband and wife team behind the famous CHIP cookies in Manila made these insanely delicious cookies with that magical combination of butter, eggs, flour, coconut and California Raisins! It's a treat you wouldn't want to miss! Get the recipe here or better yet, simply order their Tita Cora cookies online!

Chef Buddy Trinidad's Raisin Bread

People from all over the country used to flock to Baguio Country Club just to get their raisin bread stocks to take home, but raisin bread can easily be done in your own kitchen, provided you have the most important ingredient on hand. California Raisins and earthy cinnamon are swirled into this soft sweet bread and baked by the one and only award-winning chef and President of the Pastry Alliance of the Philippines, Buddy Trinidad.

BONUS recipe: Manilastreats' Wildflour-inspired Carrot Cake

We are legit fans of Wildflour's Carrot Cake, which we think is one of the best in Manila, so we tried to recreate this celebratory cake with lots of carrots and raisins!

What's good about making this ourselves is that we were able to adjust it according to our taste.

For the cake, preheat your oven at 350F and make the batter by following these steps. This recipe makes two small cakes or one 9-inch sized cake (depending on your pan)

Step 1: Mix wet ingredients

  • 2 large eggs

  • 1/2 tsp vanilla extract

  • 3/4 cup dark brown sugar

  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar

  • 1/2 cup canola oil (you can also use healthy oils like coconut oil, avocado, or olive oil)

  • 3/4 cup fresh unsweetened applesauce (to make this, cook apples until soft and blend until smooth)

Step 2: Mix dry ingredients

  • 1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour

  • 1 tsp baking powder

  • 1/2 tsp baking soda

  • 1/4 tsp salt

  • 3/4 tsp ground cinnamon

  • 1/2 tsp ground ginger

  • 1/4 tsp ground nutmeg

  • 1/4 tsp ground clove

  • 1/4 cup ground macadamia (or course almond flour)

Step 3: Mix (along with 3 tbsps of dry ingredients on Step 2)

  • 1 cup grated carrots (fine or course)

  • 1/2 cup California raisins

  • 1/4 cup walnuts or almonds, chopped

Mix dry ingredients in batches to the wet ingredients. Add the carrot/California raisins/nut mix before pour into lined cake pans and bake for 25 mins or until a toothpick inserted comes out clean. Cool completely before adding the frosting.

For the creamy frosting, simply whisk/mix the following until fluffy:

  • 8 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature

  • 3 ounces unsalted butter

  • 1 1/4 cups powdered sugar

  • 1/3 cup heavy whipping cream

  • pinch of salt

  • Optional: 1/2 cup coarsely chopped nuts, more for topping cake

  • Optional: for an added zing, you can add fresh lemon zest or 1 tsp lemon juice

Because we love California Raisins so much, we probably added a little bit more than what was originally on the recipe. Try it and let us know what you think! Enjoy!

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