How to get around your hate for raisins in cooking and baking

How to get around your hate for raisins in cooking and baking

“There’s no accounting for taste” is something I often mutter to myself, whether while reading recipe reviews or being on the receiving end of my son’s meal, ahem, feedback. I try to see things from other people’s points of view, but sometimes, I come across a food that I’ve always found so innocuous, so enjoyable, that it would never have occurred to me that other people might not like it.

So it was not without a little world-shaking years ago that, thanks to a few of my Post colleagues, I realized there were those out there who did not like — nay, hated with a fiery passion — raisins. Sure, I was used to hearing about a distaste for cilantro or kale, but raisins? Dried grapes?! I could hardly comprehend the fact that the snack I ate so much of as a kid, to the point of probably giving me cavities, would be offensive to people I respected. Go figure. (Then again, my dad never met a baked good he didn’t think could be improved by adding raisins.)

I put a call out on Instagram last week, asking for followers to unburden their raisin skepticism to me. It was … fascinating! The top hang-up was a belief in raisins’ resemblance to bugs, either in shape, size or texture. A few people cited their flavor and the way they show up in unexpected places, especially in savory dishes. For some, rehydrating in the course of baking made them more palatable, while others said rehydrating was exactly the issue in turning them too insectlike.

The good news is that none of these issues are insurmountable. Depending on whether you’re willing to expand your appreciation of raisins or would rather avoid them entirely, here are a few tips for how to deal with them in cooking and baking.

Try a different type of raisin

Dark raisins, made from Thompson seedless grapes, are probably what you’re most used to seeing. Their rich color and shriveled appearance are a byproduct of weeks spent drying in the sun, Sharon Tyler Herbst and Ron Herbst write in “The New Food Lover’s Companion.” But what about golden raisins? Although also made from Thompson seedless grapes, they explain, golden raisins are dried with artificial heat and treated with sulfur dioxide to preserve their lighter color. This keeps them moister and plumper than dark raisins, which can be helpful for some skeptics.

What about sultanas? The definition can be somewhat fluid, given the different international terms, and often “sultana” is used as a synonym for golden raisins. But true sultanas hail from Turkey, where the pale-golden green grapes are an ancestor of our common Thompson seedless, according to “The New Food Lover’s Companion.” They may also be treated with oil. Sultanas are sweeter, smaller and moister than raisins, says specialty food retailer Kalustyan’s, which sells sultanas from Turkey.

Another alternative: currants. Yes, those Zante currants you buy are actually not black or red currants, but a variety of grape that is very small, dark and aromatic. They make a fine swap for regular raisins.

Swap a different type of dried fruit for the raisins

The good news is that dried fruit is one of the easiest, least impactful substitutions you can make in cooking and baking. Sure, the flavor, texture and color may change to a modest degree, but if you despise raisins, that’s not a bad thing! Dried cranberries, blueberries and cherries are among the best replacements for raisins. For inspiration, see these Chewy Cranberry Coconut Oatmeal Cookies, which riff on a classic. Use unsweetened if you can find them or prefer them, but considering that raisins are naturally sweeter than these berries, sweetened are okay, too. Chopped dried dates, apricots and strawberries are also doable.

Leave the raisins out entirely

Raisins are what are often referred to as an “inclusion” in recipes, basically an add-in. What will happen if you skip them? Nothing! If you’re worried about volume or bulk, you can certainly use whatever nut, seed or chopped chocolate you like to make up the difference, but as long as you think it through and ensure the raisins are not serving a crucial purpose (such as being pureed as the natural sweetener in my Whole-Wheat Zucchini Bread), leave them out and move on with your life, or recipe.

Try raisins in an entirely new context

Maybe you’re willing to give raisins another chance. Food and Dining editor Joe Yonan is an avowed raisin skeptic, but even he likes them when pickled, as in this recipe for Roasted Eggplant With Fresh Mozzarella, Tomatoes, Pickled Raisins and Mint, in which “brown sugar and vinegar transform raisins into something tart-sweet and much more interesting than plain.” Pasta With Pine Nuts and Golden Raisins is a pantry-friendly recipe from none other than legendary Italian cookbook author Marcella Hazan. Rosa’s Spinach Egg Tortilla With Pine Nuts and Raisins takes its inspiration from a classic Catalan dish. Jarred chutneys, especially Major Grey, often contain raisins, and they’re a flavorful, low-lift way to see the fruit in a different light.