Q: I am planning to add California Raisins to my power bar. How do I deal with moisture transfer from the raisins?
A: California Raisins have a moisture content of around 18 percent. Most of the performance bars on the market today also have a moisture content in this range. So the transfer will be minimal either from the raisin to the bar or bar to raisin.
Q: I just had an oatmeal bar with raisins that tasted like they were chocolate-coated, but there was no chocolate listed in the ingredients. How did they do that?
A: California Raisins have a very mild flavor and tend to pick up other spices and flavors in formulas and impart desirable flavors of their own. This synergy between the raisin and other flavors in the bar may have created this chocolate sensation.
Q: I want to develop a mini-cookie (bite-size) with oatmeal and raisins. The raisins I use for my regular-size cookies are too large. Is there a good way to chop them?
A: Tea biscuit manufacturers in England and in the USA tend to utilize midget or mini midget raisins or Zante currants. At one time there was a diced raisin available, but I do not think it is offered anymore except by special order. Typically raisins are diced right out of the case in a commercial food processor. I have never seen this done on large scale operations but this is how it is done in small bakeries.
Q: Will chopping them create more problems in the mixer or with moisture transfer in the stored product?
A: Some bakers like the idea of crushed raisins in a product to give sweetness and color. But you definitely will see a darkness of the product. Most of the moisture transfer will occur right in the mixing and the remaining product will have a high percentage of raisin skin, which has a lower moisture than the interior of the raisin. This should not add extra problems to the product in small batch goods. For commercial operations, this is an untested area.
Q: Are there other sizes or varieties that I could use, instead?
A: Midget raisins, mini midget raisins, and Zante currants are the choices of biscuit makers.
Q: We want to reduce the saturated fat in our carrot cake. We have tried dried plum purée, applesauce, and a processed fig product to replace a portion of the shortening. Is there a raisin product that would work better?
A: Remember a few years ago when all of the rage in the bakery world was to include plum or prune paste and lower the fat? Well, if you read into the old editions of the Raisin Report from the ’80s you will see that this was a concept pioneered by the California Raisin Advisory Board. Simply put: the addition of raisin paste gives the product a texture and feel to the mouth that emulates fat. Formulators can reduce or eliminate fat with the inclusion of raisin paste. The concept was used by cookie manufacturers across the USA. From my perspective, raisin paste is superior in the fat replacement area over plum or prune paste from a formulation standpoint: 1. Raisin paste has a mild flavor which blends right into the product without a strong fruit flavor. (and) 2. Plum paste is more acidic and can sometimes affect the yeast in a product.
Q: How would I adapt my formula to it? Would it make a difference in the mixing process?
A: Substitute on a pound for pound basis. You can add non-fat dry milk if dough is too watery or add water if the dough is too stiff.
Q: How about shelf-life – would it be as long or longer than with shortening?
A: High fructose and moisture content helps maintain shelf life. (We do not have controlled experiments to prove superiority over other shortenings, but we guess it is as good or better.) We have an upcoming project in this area.
Q: I understand that there is a liquid concentrate made from raisins that is used to sweeten cola drinks and sauces. We package dried sauce mixes. Is there a dehydrated raisin sugar that we could use to sweeten and flavor our products?
A: There are two different products available to the food industry which may work in this product category: 1. Drum dried raisins. Natural raisins are dried to around four percent moisture and powdered. 2. Spray dried or crystallized raisin juice concentrate. This is a powdered version of raisin juice concentrate. Due to the fact that raisins are so hygroscopic, there is normally an anticaking agent added to the product.
Q: I understand that demand for new and innovative products is always growing. What new applications for raisins will we see in these food products in the future?
A: We monitor new product introductions monthly, and we see more and more raisin usage in high quality and gourmet specialty products. For example, there is a demand for savory sauces, Middle Eastern foods and other products sweetened and enhanced with raisins.
Q: Where in the world do you think raisins are just waiting to be discovered? What food products will that area demand most?
A: There are so many places in the world with raisin consuming traditions that are so eager to try California Raisins. In Russia, for example, there are more than 100 different types of breads produced at a typical bakery. Most traditionally have contained raisins. India has a long tradition of raisin usage and produces only a small amount. They use raisins in dishes from chutneys to dosas.
A real area of potential is our neighbor in the South – Mexico. Although they do produce raisins in the state of Sonora, they have a rising high quality baking industry in the major cities including Mexico City and Monterrey. Some of these same bakery industries have U.S. operations and even own some of the largest bakeries in the USA. And, they are moving to raising product standards on the Mexican market as well. California Raisins fit right into this need.
Q: Is there a difference between natural sun-dried raisins and organic raisins?
A: From a taste and appearance standpoint, no. Some will say they are sweeter and taste different but I cannot tell the difference.
Q: If I label my product “all natural”, do I have to use organic raisins?
A: No. The labeling act of 1990 is very specific in what we can say about food products. We recommend that a manufacturer check any wording and claim with a labeling or packing attorney. You can also research these questions at http://www.ams.usda.gov/nop/ USDA Organic Standards and at http://www.fda.gov/ora/inspect_ref/igs/nleatxt.html
The term “natural” has not been defined in FDA’s law (the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act) or in FDA’s regulations. Of course, the word has a meaning to most consumers, and in the absence of an official definition, the common or usual meaning prevails for regulatory purposes. To many consumers, the term “all natural” would mean that a food is made without chemical food additives or refined ingredients. The Food Safety and Inspection Service, USDA which regulates meat and poultry products, has established policies on the use of claims on food labels, including natural and organic claims.
Q: I know that natural seedless California Raisins are laid on the ground to dry in the sun. If I use them in my product, how will I know that they are safe?
A: The California raisin is laid on clean paper or plastic trays in the sunshine right in the rows of the vineyards. They stay in this state until they reach a moisture content of around 15 percent. At this time, they are what we call field grade raisins. This means they are dry and quite hard and have a firm skin. Right after harvesting, the field grade raisins are “blown out” to remove any field materials. Then they are placed in wooden bins until they are ready to be processed. Because of the hard dry nature of the field grade raisin, it is possible to rigorously wash the raisin to remove dirt, sand or foreign materials. Visual and mechanical high tech inspections remove any materials or substandard raisins from the process.
Q: I have heard that the use of raisins or raisin paste in my bread will inhibit mold growth? Is this true? How does it work?
A: Raisins contain a naturally occurring organic acid called propionic acid. This substance serves as a natural mold inhibitor and has been proven to decrease mold growth in bakery products. This is especially interesting in flat breads like pitas, tortillas and others which naturally have high moisture contents and are susceptible to mold.