August 26, 2011

What's the Difference Between a Sultana and a Raisin?

Raisins and Sultanas by bongo vongo
Raisins and Sultanas, a photo by bongo vongo on Flickr.
It's pretty difficult to translate British recipes into American-ese to begin with, thanks to the old "metric vs. imperial" debate. The waters are further muddied, however, by the British insistence on the use of "sultanas" when most American recipes contain no such animal. What exactly is a sultana, and how does it differ from the similar raisin?
Some say that the only difference between a sultana and a raisin is $1.50 per kilogram, or the difference in American-English and British-English, but the matter goes a bit deeper than that. In fact, it's an incredibly messy and confused distinction! Here are a few points to keep in the back of your mental culinary database:
  • "Raisin" is the overall term for a dried grape, regardless of variety. Light or dark, tart or sweet, it doesn't matter.
  • A sultana is a specific kind of raisin, from the area of Turkey. It is what we might call a "golden raisin", made from green/yellow/white grapes. However, they do darken during the drying process. They are usually dried from seedless grapes of the Thompson variety. Sultanas are considered sweeter and juicier than most varieties, and look plumper.
  • Yet another idea of the "difference between" is that raisins are dried naturally, while sultanas are dried with vegetable oil and acid.
  • Now let's throw in something else for fun: currants! True currants are actually not dried grapes at all, but Zante currants are dried Black Corinth grapes. These are technically raisins, but are generally considered to be smaller and tarter than other varieties.
Let me guess, you're more confused now than you were before? So am I . That's why I'm giving you a yummy recipe that could use raisins OR sultanas OR currants!

This recipe comes from Marie over at The English Kitchen!

Cherry and Sultana Loaf with Fresh Lime and Ginger
Makes 2 (1 lb) loaves

A refreshingly light cake with a tasty lime icing. Chock full of glace cherries, sultanas, preserved stem ginger and lime. Delicious! Make one to eat now and one to stick in the freezer to enjoy at a later date. (Don't ice if you are putting it into the freezer. Save that for the day you want to serve it.)

  • 6 ounce self raising flour
  • 4 ounces butter, softened
  • 4 ounces caster sugar
  • 3 large eggs, beaten
  • 2 ounces raisins
  • 2 ounces glace cherries, quartered, washed and dried
  • 5 ounces sultanas
  • 4 bulbs preserved stem ginger, finely chopped
  • the finely grated zest of two limes
  • 4 ounces icing sugar, sifted
  • 2 TBs lime juice
  • 1 bulb of preserves stem ginger, chopped
  • the finely grated zest of one lime
  1. Pre-heat the oven to 160*C/325*F. Butter and line two (1lb) loaf tins with parchment paper. Set aside.
  2. Place all the cake ingredients in a large bowl. Mix well together on low speed of a mixer to start with, and then medium speed until well mixed together and smooth. Divide evenly between the two loaf tins and smooth the tops.
  3. Bake in the pre-heated oven for 45 to 50 minutes, until well risen and golden brown. A toothpick inserted in the centre should come out clean and the top should spring back when lightly touched.
  4. Remove from the oven and allow to cool in the tins. Once completely cold, remove and ice.
  5. To make the icing mix together the icing sugar, lime zest and lime juice until smooth. Spread over top of the cakes. Sprinkle with the chopped stem ginger. Cut in slices to serve.


  1. Interesting info about raisins and sultanas. Looking at your photos made me crave for that kind of food. Happy weekend. :)


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