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Sultanas vs. Raisins: Similarities and Key Differences

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Sultanas vs. raisins - Dr. Axe

Few packaged and portable snacks are a good source of natural fiber, antioxidants, and essential minerals like iron and potassium. Dried fruits, like sultanas and raisins, are one exception to this rule.

Sultanas are sometimes called “golden raisins” because they have a yellow, golden color. They get their color from the seedless, white-fleshed grapes that they are made from.

You’ll find them in both sweet and savory recipes such as trail mixes, baked goods, curries and rice pilafs. Just like grapes and blueberries, they provide you with polyphenol antioxidants that studies show are tied to health benefits such as reduced oxidative stress.

What Are Sultanas?

Sultanas are small, sweet dried fruits that are similar to raisins. How are sultanas made? Both raisins and sultanas are forms of dried grapes that grow on vines, although they are made using different types of grape varieties.

Sultanas are made from “common white grapes” (Vitis vinifera), a species of Vitis that is native to the Mediterranean region, Central Europe, and southwestern Asia.

You’ll find sultanas in baked goods, trail mixes and cereals. They absorb liquid at high volumes, have a sweet taste, and are used in many of the same ways as other dried fruits like raisins, currants, dried cranberries, figs and apricots.

Studies show that many varieties of dried grapes have anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties, so including them in your diet can lead to beneficial effects against a number of inflammatory diseases.

Sultanas vs. Raisins

What is the difference between raisins and sultanas? While the two have many similarities, they are also different in certain ways. What sets them apart is the type of grapes they are made from and the processing methods used.

Raisins are dried white grapes that only become dark in color once they go through the drying process. They can be made from a variety of different grape species, such as Moscatel, Lexia, Waltham Cross and Thompson grapes.

Sultanas are also dried white grapes, but they come from seedless varieties. They tend to easily absorb liquid, are smaller than raisins, and are usually slightly sweeter.

Raisins are typically dried for three weeks, while sultanas are first coated in a vegetable oil solution and then dried more quickly. They are also preserved with sulfur dioxide more often than raisins, which helps to retain their lighter golden color.

Can you replace raisins with sultanas? In most cases, yes. Both serve the purpose of adding a bit of sweetness and a chewy texture to a variety of recipes. Some people find that raisins absorb other flavors better than sultanas, making them a bit more versatile.

Nutrition Facts

Why are sultanas good for you? Sultanas are a good source of carbohydrates and natural sugars, plus dietary fiber, along with some potassium and iron. They also contain protective polyphenol antioxidants.

A 2017 large-scale survey found that “raisin consumption was associated with better nutrient intake, diet quality, and weight parameters, and with lower risk of being obese and having metabolic syndrome in US adults.”

Certain studies have also found that sultanas (in addition to currants, prunes and apricots) provide a decent amount of folate, manganese and boron, although the amount depends on the specific kind of sultanas and how they are made.

The Global Grains and Ingredients website reports that “sultanas contain a wide variety of minerals: Calcium, Copper, Iron, Magnesium, Manganese, Phosphorous, Selenium, Zinc “, in addition to having some vitamin E, K and B vitamins.

According to the USDA, one 1/4 cup serving of sultanas contains about:

  • 130 calories
  • 31 grams carbohydrates
  • 10 grams sugar
  • 1 gram protein
  • 0 fat
  • 1 grams fiber
  • 320 mg potassium (9 percent DV)
  • 20 mg calcium (2 percent DV)
  • 1 mg iron (5.5 percent DV)

Compared to grapes that haven’t been dried, the vitamin C and vitamin K content of sultanas and raisins is significantly lower. The drying process causes levels of these nutrients to be greatly reduced, however the dried versions can still provide fiber, carbs and antioxidants.

Health Benefits

1. Good Source of Fiber and Carbohydrates

Dried fruits are a good source of fiber, as well as carbohydrates which provide the body with energy. For example, they make a good snack choice for athletes before or after a workout, since they replenish the body with glucose which helps to power muscles and the brain.

Sultanas and raisins have a moderate to low glycemic index value, thanks to their high-fiber content. This means that they cause your blood glucose (sugar) levels to rise more gradually than regular sugar or refined carbohydrates do. A study published in the Journal of Nutritional Science states that “raisins are a healthy choice not only for the general population but also for individuals with diabetes or insulin resistance.”

In addition to providing dietary fiber, dried grapes are a source of prebiotics, such as inulin, which have been shown to support healthy colonic microflora activity in the gut, such as by “feeding” probiotic bacteria.

Because they have a naturally sweet taste, you can replace regular table sugar in recipes with these dried fruits instead.

2. High in Antioxidants

One of the most noteworthy sultana health benefits is their supply of polyphenol antioxidants, the same types found in “superfoods” like a variety of berries, spinach, black beans, almonds and green tea.

Polyphenols are type of plant compounds that are linked to many health benefits, especially heart health, metabolic health, and cancer-fighting effects.

These antioxidants help protect against free radicals, oxidative stress and inflammation, all of which contribute to effects of aging and many diseases. Including them in your diet can support better blood sugar control, help to prevent blood clots, protect vision and eye health, and provide benefits for neurological health.

Another type of antioxidant found in sultanas is oleanolic acid, which has been shown to have hepatoprotective effects, plus anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, and antitumor activities. Studies suggest it can offer protection against cavities and tooth decay, and to defend against growth of harmful bacteria on the gums.

3. Provide Iron and Potassium

Are sultanas high in potassium? Like other types of raisins, they are considered a decent source, providing about 8 to 9 percent of your daily potassium needs.

Potassium is an essential mineral and electrolyte that is needed for many functions. It supports the heart and cardiovascular system, kidneys, brain and muscular tissues. It’s needed to help balance the effects of sodium in the diet, supports normal blood pressure, and can help to prevent headaches, dehydration, heart palpitations and swelling of glands.

A 2014 study found that “regular consumption of raisins may reduce glycemia and cardiovascular risk factors, including blood pressure (BP) rate.”

While a daily requirement of boron has not been established, sultanas have been shown to be a decent source of this nutrient which has positive effects for bone health and hormone production.

4. Low in Cholesterol and Sodium

If you’re following a low-cholesterol and/or low-sodium diet, such as the DASH diet or MIND diet, then dried fruits make a good source of nutrients and fiber.

The potassium found in sultanas is supportive of lowering high blood pressure. The low cholesterol and sodium content is suitable for people with other health conditions, including kidney problems, arteriosclerosis and heart disease. As part of the Mediterranean diet/MIND diet, dried fruits are valued for their antioxidant content that is linked to cognitive and heart health.

Iron supplied by sultanas, an essential mineral that is mostly found in red blood cells, is supportive of maintaining higher energy levels, since adequate iron helps to decrease fatigue. Iron in your diet is also supportive of the immune system, helps to treat anemia, and boosts production of hemoglobin which carries oxygen around your body.

Uses and Recipes

Sultanas are sold ready to eat and can be snacked on alone, or added to a variety of recipes. Just like other dried fruits, they are used in many recipes around the world, such as:

  • Traditional British and Irish cakes and puddings
  • Trail mixes, combined with nuts, seeds and other dried fruits
  • “Christmas cake” or Christmas puddings
  • Cookies, breads and oatmeal
  • Mince pies
  • Chutneys and curries
  • Carrot salad and other vegetable salads
  • Pasta salads, orzo salads and wild rice recipes

In basically any recipe that calls for raisins or cranberries, you can use sultanas instead. Both will help retain moisture in the final product and also give a pop sweetness of throughout.

Here are a few recipes you can add sultanas to:

Store dry fruit in a cool, dry and dark place in a container or bag with a tightly closed lid. Storing in the refrigerator prolongs their freshness for up to one year.

Where to buy sultanas in the U.S.:

What are sultanas called in America? Usually sultana or golden raisins. They also go by names such as sultanina, Thompson Seedless, Lady de Coverly raisins, Kishmish, and İzmir üzümü in certain parts of the world.

You can find sultanas in most major grocery stores, health food stores (check the “bulk bin” section for better prices) or online.

Seedless, golden raisins were first produced near Smyrna in Asiatic Turkey. Why are sultanas called sultanas? Different countries use different names to describe this dried fruit. It’s exactly known what the origin of the name is.

Some speculate that the name sultanas has Arabic origin and means “Queen.” Similarly, in Italian sultana means feminine.

Risks and Side Effects

Are sultanas fattening, for example, due to their sugar content? Anything can be fattening if you eat too much of it, and dried fruits are no exception. It’s a good idea to keep an eye on your portion size, since raisins and sultanas can be easy to overeat due to their small size.

Sulfur dioxide is used as a preservative in dried fruits. If possible, look for sultanas (and other dried fruits including raisins) that have not been treated with sulfur dioxide. These are somewhat difficult to find and are often called “natural sultanas.”

Anyone who is sensitive to the effects of sulfur dioxide should not consume sultanas. Sulfur dioxide that is found in most sultanas may aggravate symptoms of asthma and allergies in some people.

Dried fruits can also be toxic to pets, including dogs. Avoid feeding your pets dried fruits due to the chemicals they contain, which can lead to digestive problems and serious kidney issues.

According to the American Kennel Club, in pets “grape/raisin toxicity can even be fatal. Ingesting the fruit could potentially lead to acute (sudden) kidney failure in dogs. According to ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center, they received a total of 3,722 calls involving grapes and raisins in 2016.”

Final Thoughts

  • What are sultanas? Also called golden raisins, they are a type of small, sweet dried fruit made from dried white grapes.
  • Sultanas vs. raisins nutrition: What’s the difference? The two are similar and both made from grapes, however sultanas are always made from white, seedless grapes and are usually treated with vegetable oils and sulfur during the manufacturing process. They offer similar nutrients, including polyphenol antioxidants, fiber, and some potassium and iron.
  • Sultanas are relatively low on the glycemic index, make a good pre or post workout snack or athletes, and can be used to replace sugar in recipes.
Josh Axe

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