The Accidental Origin Of Raisins Dates Back Thousands Of Years

Given their status as dried grapes, it's fairly easy to make raisins. They ultimately derive from grapes that are left to dry out in the sun. In fact, this natural process may help explain how people first accidentally discovered them thousands of years ago.

It is believed that raisins were first discovered around 2,000 B.C. when some unsuspecting individual inadvertently stumbled upon them in their dried form on grape vines (via California Raisins). Quickly, people realized they could replicate the process. Some of the most advanced civilizations of the time, including the Egyptians and Phoenicians, adopted the early cultivation of raisins and eventually dispersed the fruit throughout parts of the ancient world via the existing trade routes of the day (per Sun-Maid). 

One of those trade connections involved the Greeks and Romans, who incorporated raisins into their religious and sports ceremonies, using them to decorate shrines and even presenting them as awards for winning sporting competitions (via Britannica). Kind of makes you look at golden raisins in a whole different light.

Raisins make the rounds

Northern Europe didn't get to experience the sweet taste of raisins until the 11th century when knights returning from military expeditions during the Crusades toted them back from Persia and the Mediterranean. Soon, these cultures incorporated raisins into recipes, and the raisin train kept rolling, becoming part of the cuisine in England, France, and Spain. Raisins were even brought along as food on voyages of exploration and conquest by the colonial powers due to their ability to store well over long periods.

Spain introduced raisins to the New World through its itinerant missionaries in the 18th century, who while proselytizing and spreading the message of the Catholic faith throughout modern-day Mexico and California, also imparted their wisdom of viticulture (per Ag MRC). Interestingly enough, much like their initial discovery, the first crop of raisins in California is believed to have been harvested by accident, when a heat wave in 1873 caused grapes in a vineyard to dry up prior to being collected.

It turned out to be a fortuitous occurrence. Today, California is the only U.S. state producing raisins.  In fact, no dried fruit exceeds raisins' popularity in America, and America ranks second in the world in raisin production behind only Turkey. Worldwide, 1.3 million metric tons of raisins were produced in 2021/2022. Not a bad journey for a tiny, shriveled dry fruit that was happened upon by chance.