3,000 California Raisin growers produce 100% of the U.S. raisins, totaling approximately 350,000 tons annually in an area within a 60 mile radius of Fresno, California – known as the central San Joaquin Valley. Two-thirds of the U.S. production is consumed in the U.S. and Canada, while one-third is exported to nearly 50 countries. Japan and the United Kingdom are top two export markets.
Raisins are essentially dried grapes of the “Vitis vinifera” Natural Seedless varietal type and are typically dried by the sun, whether it is on paper trays or dried on the vine. Natural (Sun-Dried) seedless raisins include the Thompson seedless and other newer cultivars such as Selma Pete, Fiesta and DOVine. California Golden Seedless and California Dipped Seedless raisins are mechanically dried and processed. Other raisin varietal types include Zante Currant, Muscat, Monnuka, Sultana, and other Seedless. Raisins may also be further processed into Raisin Paste and Raisin Juice Concentrate.
Once dried, the raisins are brought from the vineyards, stored in wooden bins, and processed as needed by having their stems and capstems removed, then sorted by size, cleaned and washed in water to assure a wholesome and safe final product.
Natural seedless raisins are dried by the sun, then loaded into bins for delivery to the processing plants. The raisins can either be dried on paper trays on the ground between vineyard rows or dried on the vine, and mechanically harvested once the desired level of dryness is achieved. Before they are unloaded from their bins, government inspectors take long prods to gather samples from the middle of each box. United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) standards must be met to ensure that each box is free of imperfections. Next, raisins are processed, which means they go through a series of conveyor belts and drums to remove remaining stems, chaff or lightweight fruit. The raisins also are sent through a vacuum air stream to catch any other undesirable materials. Finally, they’re size-graded and thoroughly washed in pure water.
In preparation for packaging, the raisins are moved through a laser sorter. The sorter’s light beams, along with a computer, to see if anything beside raisins is passing through the stream. If material other than a raisin is present, the computer sends a burst of air to knock it out of the stream of raisins and down a trough.
California Raisins are inspected under the most rigid standards. Quality control technicians inspect the raisins by hand throughout the packaging process, thus assuring that California Raisins are the cleanest, highest quality in the world. After final inspections, raisins are automatically weighed and packed in a variety of convenient sizes. California Raisins are then shipped throughout North America and the world for consumers to enjoy.
Part of the crop is used to make raisin juice concentrate (a minimum of 70 percent natural fruit soluble solids) and raisin paste (made from 100 percent raisins), which are added to a variety of foods, including dairy, confectionery and bakery items.
California Raisins come in three sizes: Select, Small, and Mixed. Select size raisins means that no more than 60 percent, by weight, of all the raisins will pass through round perforations 8.7mm (22/64-inch) in diameter. Small or midget size raisins means that 95 percent, by weight, of all the raisins will pass through round perforations 9.5mm (24/64-inch) in diameter, and not less than 70 percent, by weight, of all raisins will pass through round perforations 8.7mm (22/64-inch) in diameter. Mixed size raisins means a mixture which does not meet either the requirements for Select size, or for Small or midget size.
From part of the crop, the processors make raisin juice and raisin paste. Raisin juice is a pure extract of raisins. Throughout several processing stages, raisins are leached with water to produce raisin juice. The liquid is then evaporated in a vacuum pan to produce a self-preserving concentrate. Raisin juice concetrate contains a minimum of 70 percent natural fruit soluble solids. It’s added to a variety of foods, including dairy, confectionery and baking items. Raisin juice extends the shelf-life of bread products; it is a natural substitute for preservatives; and it sweetens and colors natural baking goods. For confectionary items, raisin juice acts as a sugar substitute and a filling for hard candies and molded chocolates. In crisp cookies and crackers, raisin juice helps control breakage. With chewy or soft cakes and cookies, the raisin juice can help maintain moisture. It also is a natural binding agent in cereal bars. Raisin juice serves as a natural syrup for yogurts and ice cream. It enhances the color and flavor of chocolate milk and ice cream. It also brings out the flavors of condiments and is an all-natural coloring agent.
Raisin paste is made from 100 percent raisins, produced by extruding raisins through a fine mesh screen. Raisin paste can be used to add visual appeal and flavor. It’s a stable ingredient that sweetens naturally. Raisin paste is used in sundae-style yogurts and cottage cheese, as well as in ice cream and frozen novelties. It’s also found in fruit-filled cereal products, granola bars and extruded breakfast cereals. Raisin paste has excellent sweetening capabilities in fine confectionery fillings and soft-center candies. In bakery items, such as breads, cookies and pasteries, the paste inhibits molds, extends shelf-life and enhances flavor.
- Half the world’s supply of Raisins are grown in Fresno, California
- ‘Raisin’ comes from the Latin ‘racemus’ meaning a cluster of grapes or berries.
- Raisins were first discovered drying on the vine in 1490bc.
- It takes 4 pounds of fresh grapes to make 1 pound of raisins.
- It takes three years to produce a single raisin, from planting the vine to harvesting.
- 95% of California Raisins are made from Thompson Seedless grapes.
- In the 14th century, Christmas puddings were made as a kind of soup with raisins and wine.
- In the 17th century, raisins were considered a spice alongside salt, sugar, currants, dates, figs and apricots.
- Ancient Greeks and Romans decorated places of worship with raisins and handed them out to winners insporting contests.
- The first professional baseball team in Fresno (the raisin capital of California) was founded in 1908. The team’s official name was the Fresno State League Club, but they were nicknamed ‘The Raisin Eaters’.