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California raisins are proving their worth as Peter Meadows, marketing director of the California Raisin Administrative Committee UK Europe tells Tandoori.
I’m proud to say that there are more than 10,000 Indian restaurants and catering services in the UK today and approximately 19% of them are using California Golden Raisins.
This is a noticeable market increase compared with only 11% the previous year.
California Golden Raisins, which have been grown in California for 60 years, are tangy and sweet in flavour making them ideal in a variety of savoury and sweet dishes, making them popular in Indian cuisine.
The plump, sweet fruit are used extensively in dishes such as mild and creamy korma dishes, rice items like pilau and biryani, desserts like kheer and halwa, chutneys and even south Indian sweets and cakes such as paramannam, sweet pongal and gobi kasuri methi. So as an ingredient, raisins have a great versatility.
Even in Ayurveda, raisins are considered a highly beneficial food and Ayurveda scriptures say they have great medicinal value.
Interestingly, Golden raisins have been used in Southern Indian dishes for centuries, but the recent use in the last 5-6 years of California Golden Raisins in the UK of Indian cuisine can be attributed to a number of things. Increased awareness through recipe development has played its part as well as colour and taste of the product generally. Many restaurateurs have told us that the size and in particular, the rich golden colour is particularly attractive when used in a variety of dishes.
Studies have shown that California Golden Raisins contain slightly more phenolic compounds than normal natural sun-dried raisins. Phenolic compounds are a form of antioxidant. Antioxidants help fortify the body’s defence mechanisms and are known to help decrease the risk of coronary heart disease. All of this adds value via the additional health benefits to dishes – not forgetting all the other health benefits such as fibre, iron, vitamins B2 and B6, potassium, zinc, calcium and phosphorus.
Though California Golden Raisins are produced from the same Thompson Seedless grape as the dark California Raisin we are so used to seeing, but are only left in the sun for one week. The raisins are then cleaned thoroughly, oven dried and treated with the preservative, sulphur dioxide. This form of sulphite has been used for centuries to prevent darkening of the fruit during the drying process. Sulphite also preserves the vitamin A and vitamin C content, adding extra nutritional value to the product.
The California Raisin Administrative Committee is a marketing organisation representing the 3,500 growers and processors of California raisins, most of whom are situated within a 50-mile radius of Fresno in the San Joaquin valley, California. The primary function of the California Raisin Administrative Committee is to increase usage of California raisins. The main drivers of increased usage are innovation and product development. By supporting key industry users as well as retail suppliers, California raisins can now be found in over 20,000 different products worldwide. The committee works with manufacturers, wholesalers, retail suppliers as well as consumer groups to expand awareness and applications from bakery products, sauces and condiments to more unusual applications such as beer. It is also worth noting that California raisins offer the lowest cost/value ratio of any baked fruit product.
Available in 12.5kg (30lb) boxes, California Golden Raisins can also be purchased in 500g packs from various health food shops and other main retailers.
There is much evidence to support the fact that the committee’s activities are working and that UK ethnic sector are not only enquiring about California Raisins, they are actually using them in new dishes. Awareness of California Raisins among chefs in the ethnic sector is now at 63% - and that’s unprompted awareness!
Indeed, there is evidence to suggest that the usage in Indian cuisine will continue, and we hope, increase. The ethnic market as whole is still an important market for the committee in the UK, so our influence will extend outwards in future to incorporate even more product development oriented activities, which is what our market demands.