Raisin’ a Fuss over Raisins

Want to start a ruckus? Here’s a foolproof plan:

  1. Make some cookies.
  2. Put some raisins in the cookies.
  3. Don’t tell anyone about the raisins.
  4. Serve and observe.

Half of your human subjects will say “Yum, thanks for the raisin cookies.” The other half will say “Why didn’t you warn me about the raisins?!?!?” and probably never trust you again.

How could a little dried grape cause so much drama? It’s a controversial cookie ingredient, bran’s best friend, and the biggest letdown in your trick-or-treat bag. It’s also delightfully sweet, high in antioxidants and fiber, and awesomely versatile in the kitchen!

So on National Raisin Day, we’re wondering: where do you stand? Are you pro-raisin, or against? As with most complex issues in this big world, it probably depends on the situation.

Raisins traveled a long way for a long time before they landed in the middle of all this controversy. They’ve been savored since ancient times, perhaps as far back as 2000 B.C. They flourished in warm climates throughout present-day Spain, Greece, and the Middle East, and probably originated by accident when hot spells shriveled the grape crop.

In the 18th century, Spanish missionaries brought their grape-growing prowess to the favorable California climate. And when the next big heat wave came around, the wrinkly raisin arrived in the Americas at last.

Who could have foreseen the dark times ahead in American raisin history…like the invention of the carrot-raisin-mayo salad? Could that be the moment when it all went so wrong for raisins?

It’s been a roller coaster ride since raisins arrived stateside. In 1896, the first known oatmeal raisin cookie recipe — marketed as a health food! — was published, which was a high point in history or a very dark day, depending on who you ask. In the 1930s, someone dreamed up these extremely questionable raisin ketchup cookies. In the 1940s, Kellogg’s debuted Raisin Bran, and rum raisin ice cream hit the U.S. market in the 1980s courtesy of Haagen-Dazs. But just when you thought things couldn’t get any weirder, 1986 brought us a singing, dancing Claymation raisin band.

Oh, yes. Remember the California Raisins, early Millennials? They were the unlikely stars of a multi-million dollar ad campaign from a California council of raisin farmers, and they made raisins impossibly cool for a few brief, surreal years. They had their own platinum albums and merchandise and Saturday morning cartoons, but even with the boost in raisin sales, their commercials cost more than the raisin farmers could earn. By the time their popularity waned just a few years later, raisin coolness was over as quickly as it began.

From strange ad campaigns to downright scary concoctions, American raisin usage is admittedly odd. But even a raisin skeptic might find an affinity for them in different types of dishes! In North African cuisines, golden raisins star in savory dishes like lamb, chicken, and cous cous. Cuban picadillos pair raisins with ground beef and green olives, and in South Asia, you’ll find raisins in curries and sweet breads. The California raisin fad might have been short-lived, but raisins have played an integral — and dare we say: delicious — role in global cuisines for centuries.

If we may be so bold, we think we might know the solution to achieving raisin peace: the power of transparency and choice! Raisins should never, ever be a surprise. And even some hardcore haters have that one dish they’ll bend their own rules for: an aromatic Moroccan tagine, the old “ants on a log” snack that tastes just like childhood, or just a classic oatmeal raisin cookie…but if, and only if, you know it’s a raisin cookie from the very first bite.

So…tell us how you really feel about raisins. Love them? Hate them? What’s the one dish that should never be ruined with raisins? Sound off below!