Sultanas are a classic Australian snack, loved by kids, grandparents and everyone between. They are full of healthy nutrients and are incredibly versatile. Sultanas are low in sugar, available year-round and deliciously sweet. When choosing sultanas, my preference is always naturally dried and preservative-free.
Once you’ve got these juicy little treats in your pantry, they’re perfect for everyone in the house (just not the dog). Read on for my 3-ingredient sultana squares recipe. Here’s why I think sultanas are the perfect dried fruit snack.
What Are Sultanas?
Dried fruit has been a staple of many diets and cultures throughout history. Hunter-gatherer tribes would sun-dry fruits, to ensure ample food for colder months or travel.
Sultanas are one of the most popular dried fruits available today. Sultanas are dried grapes, usually of the pale green Thompson seedless variety. In the UK, Australia and New Zealand, sultanas are more commonly available than raisins (more on that later). Sultanas are usually golden or amber in colour, sometimes quite dark, sweet and juicy. Sultanas are available either sun-dried or with preservatives to maintain colour and flavour.
Sultanas: Nutritional Information
In 100g of sultanas, you get:
- 79.3g carbohydrates
- 4.5g dietary fibre
- .25g fat
- 3.3g protein
Sultanas are valuable sources of
- B vitamins
Health Benefits of Sultanas
- High in natural fibre
- High in polyphenols
- Improves fullness
- Low G.I.
- Regulates blood sugar levels
- Good source of magnesium
Sultanas help induce satiety and influence hunger signalling. This promotes fullness and as such, sultanas could be valuable for weight management. Sultanas are naturally low-G.I., which means they don’t cause a blood sugar spike when eaten. The high fibre content of sultanas means they can promote healthy bowel function. Research shows sultanas could be a useful food in the management of diabetes, obesity and heart disease.
Fun fact: The process of drying fruit seems to increase the availability of it’s micronutrients. According to recent research, folate is higher in Australian dried sultanas, and other dried fruit, compared to fresh fruit.
Sultanas - High in Polyphenols
Strictly speaking, raisins and sultanas are both dried grapes and would therefore have comparable nutritional value, including healthful polyphenols. The scientific research available on raisins can reasonably be applied to sultanas.
Sultanas and raisins contain quercetin and kaempferol at higher levels compared to grapes. These polyphenols confer many health benefits, including lower insulin responses and providing anti-inflammatory effects in the body. Some studies suggest diets high in dried fruit, including sultanas, help moderate cancer risk in some populations.
Sultanas or Raisins - What’s the difference?
Sultanas are golden in colour, larger in size and are derived from Thompson seedless grapes. A raisin is a dried grape, just the same as a sultana is a dried grape. Often raisins are made from the seedless sun muscat grape variety.
Sometimes, the golden colour may be synthetically produced by sulphur dioxide, rather than traditional drying methods. To add confusion, in the U.S., the term sultana refers to any lighter dried grapes, which may also be called ‘golden raisins’.
Wikipedia helpfully clarifies things further, by adding “any kind of grape may be used to produce golden raisins, and any kind of golden raisins from any kind of grape may be marketed as ‘sultanas’.”
Clear as mud? Yep, I agree.
To be honest, as long as you’re eating naturally-dried, sun-dried and ideally Australian-grown dried grapes, call them anything you like. Sultanas or raisins - in terms of nutrition, maybe it doesn’t matter.
How Are Sultanas Made?
All dried fruit, including sultanas involves a process whereby water is removed and the fruit is naturally or synthetically preserved. Fast water removal ensures the fruit retains its flavour, colour and nutrient content.
Ancient drying methods involved arose from Mediterranean regions, using a dry emulsion cold dip of potassium carbonate and fatty acids. This helped water molecules transfer to the surface of the fruit, to allow for evaporation.
There are three major methods to drying fruit. These are sun dried, shade dried and mechanically dried. Each method produces sultanas that look slightly different, but mostly taste the same. On the whole, sultanas produced from any drying method will still provide similar nutrients, minerals and vitamins.
Sun-dried is the most natural process, with the least amount of intervention. Just one step away from a fresh grape. In my view this process yields a naturally-sweet sultana, just as it should be. It’s the cheapest form of drying sultanas, however environmental factors can impact the resulting product. Bacteria, insects and mould contamination are all a risk with improperly sun-dried sultanas.
Shade drying fruit has similar contamination risks as sun-dried fruit and is less commonly used. Mechanically drying fruit allows manufacturers to control some of the usual environmental issues. This is the most commonly used method for sultana manufacturing. In most cases, sulphur dioxide is added to mechanically dried sultanas, which give them a premium appearance, long shelf life and high quality taste and texture.
Sultanas: What Are The Health Risks?
Sultanas and any dried fruit are often full of preservatives and additives. There are health risks associated with consuming foods high in these compounds. Sulphur dioxide is a commonly used preservative in sultanas. It can cause immune reactions, such as headaches, asthma, skin flushing, eczema and rashes around the mouth and chest.
Aside from the acute risks associated with preservative consumption, foods laden with chemicals can cause general health issues as well. Reducing the chemical load on the liver will help digestion, the immune system and the skin. My recommendation is to always read the label, look for sulphur dioxide (preservative 200 or 220). Wherever possible, consume naturally-dried preservative-free sultanas.
Sultanas: Not For Your Dog
It’s best to keep sultanas away from your four-legged friends. According to the RSPCA, grapes, raisins and sultanas can be toxic to your dog. Ingesting them could potentially cause sudden kidney failure or hypovolemic shock. The mechanism by which this occurs is still not fully understood. Some theories around grapes possessing a nephrotoxic agent are common amongst vets. And the exact quantity of sultanas that cause this issue varies amongst breeds and dog sizes.
How To Enjoy Sultanas
Naturally dried Australian-grown premium grapes make for the best and most nutritious sultanas. Tender and sweet, with a little chew, these sultanas are preservative-free and make for a healthy snack. Perfect for trail mixes, baking, make-your-own cereals, flatbreads and Middle Eastern dishes. Delicious in Indian Pilaf, chutneys and of course Christmas cakes.
3-Ingredient Sultana Squares
These sultanas squares are super simple, chewy and sweet. This slice celebrates sultanas as the perfect dried fruit snack. Not everything in life needs to be complicated. Sometimes we just want a sweet treat. Packed with the goodness of Australian sultanas, these make a wonderfully satisfying after school snack or perfect at morning tea with a freshly made cuppa.
- 375g Australian natural sultanas
- 400g (1 tin) sweetened condensed milk
- 1 ¼ cups self-raising flour
- Line a 20cm x 30cm slice tin with baking paper. Preheat oven to 180 degrees C
- Mix sultanas, condensed milk and flour in a bowl, combine well
- Transfer mixture into prepared tin and spread evenly with spatula
- Bake for 20 - 25mins or until golden brown
- Allow to cool completely in tin before slicing
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