Raisins are packed with Christmas spirit and nutritional kapow, says Susan Jane Murray, so soak up their taste
Once loved, nay, adored for their sweetness, raisins are due a comeback in 2011. I expect blueberries to go into rehab. It takes four pounds of grapes to produce a single pound of raisins. This markedly concentrates a raisin's nutritional kapow.
Counted as one of your five-a-day, a handful of these chewy little candies will give you astral amounts of antioxidants and phytochemicals, equivalent to a bunch of fresh grapes. That little handful has blushing amounts of resveratrol too; this phytonutrient is said to furnish our body with anti-cancer infantry.
Antioxidants and phytochemicals such as resveratrol help deactivate the menacing molecules in our bodies known as free radicals — imagine an internal system of Pac-Man, the Eighties’ computer game. You've got the idea. Raisins also provide us with a generous smattering of minerals. There's boron for women, which is increasingly identified with good bone health and calcium metabolism.
There's iron for lazy teens — iron is an important mineral in energy production, and there's potassium for office-party hangovers. Keep a stash of raisins in your drawer. Having earned the name Colonel Colon, a raisin's magnesium and fibre content can control the troops in the bowel department. Apologies for the visual. A more sensible option than larders of laxatives, don't you think? After all, 'tis the season. Now for the downsides. Research has shown that grapes carry more pesticides and agrichemicals than most other fruit.
Agrichemicals don't exactly sound synonymous with good health, but the jury are still debating this one. If you're worried, the European Working Group (EWG) has a handy guide to pesticide residues that’s downloadable online, or as an iPhone application. It's a simple list of the ‘cleanest' fruit and veg, and the worst. The president of the EWG, Ken Cook, is eager to make the case to eat more fruit and veg, whether conventional or organic. He comes across as a smart and practical shopper rather than a loony food fascist.
Raisins are not so good for diabetics either, with their high glycemic load. In fact, all dried fruit carries greater glycemic indices (GI) than their fresh equivalent. This means dried fruit holds higher concentrations of natural sugars, something diabetics have to watch. Low glycemic fruits to splurge on instead include fresh cranberries, raspberries, blackberries, gooseberries, blackcurrants, and strawberries. Berry Christmas.
JUICY CHRISTMAS MINCE
Criminally tasty on top of whole roasted butternut squash, or smothered in granny's custard. Fa-la-la-la-lahhh . . .
You will need:
1 Santa hat
200g (2 cups) raisins
1 Rooibos or Earl Grey tea bag
2 tablespoons molasses
2 tablespoons mixed spice
3 tablespoons grated fresh ginger, skin removed
Juice and rind of 1 small, unwaxed lemon
Rind of 1 unwaxed orange
2 apples, grated
Step one — resuscitate last year's Santa hat from the attic. Place on your head, and embarrass offspring. Inordinately.
Step two — in a bowl, marinade half the raisins in a mug of Rooibos or Earl Grey tea, whichever you are using, along with the molasses, the mixed spice, the grated fresh ginger, the lemon juice, and Wham's greatest hits.
Leave overnight. In the morning, repeat step one. Then blitz the soaked-raisin mix with a hand-held blender. This is the sticky sauce. Stir through the other half of the raisins, the lemon and orange rind, and the grated apples. Allow the flavours to disport among themselves for several hours before serving. This makes a cracking Christmas brekkie with crunchy walnuts and thick Greek yoghurt.