What Are the Differences Between a Sultana, a Currant & a Grape?

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Sultanas, currents and grapes are all edible fruits, but their names are often used interchangeably and erroneously, which can cause some confusion. To make the matter even more complicated, fruit names are not necessarily used across international borders. For example, some fruits are given one name in the United States while that same name applies to an altogether different fruit in the United Kingdom. The best way to demystify the difference and commonalities among sultanas, currants and grapes is to break each fruit down by its scientific name and characteristics.

Taxonomy

  • Grapes are thin-skinned berries and are part of the Vitaceae family. The sultana is a grape that originated in Turkey; in the United States, the original sultana grape was cultivated as the Thompson Seedless grape. Ergo, a sultana is a grape when fresh; when dried, it's simply called a raisin. In the United States, sultanas are known as golden raisins while they are known as sultanas in the United Kingdom. When determining between a grape and a sultana, remember that all raisins are grapes, but not all raisins are sultanas. Currants are from the genus Ribes, which means they're related to gooseberries, not grapes. However, to confuse matters, in California, a seedless grape variety called Black Corinth is sun-dried and sold as a mini-raisin named Zante Currants.

Characteristics

  • There are myriad varieties and cultivars of grapes that can be eaten fresh, dried into raisins, pressed into juices and fermented into wines. In the United States, so-called table grapes, which are eaten fresh, include the Thompson Seedless green grape, and Flame Seedless and Ruby Seedless red grapes. Thompson Seedless grapes are the predominant variety dried as raisins in the United States. Yellow in color, they are slightly larger and plumper than dried currants and other dark-skinned raisins. True currants, or Ribes, are smaller berries than grapes, and are available in dark blue (black), red and white varieties.

Distribution

  • Grapes are cultivated worldwide in more than 90 countries. Top producers include Italy, France, Spain, Turkey and the United States. Vitis vinifera grapes are the most dominant species grown worldwide for wine, eating fresh and being dried into raisins. Currants made their debut in North America in the late 1700s when they were brought over by colonists from Europe, where the berry has been cultivated since the early 1700s. In modern times, currants are commercially cultivated in the United States, primarily in the state of Washington.

Uses

  • As noted, grapes have myriad uses as an edible fruit. In the United States, more than half of the grapes grown are made into wine, a third are dried into raisins, 10 to 15 percent are eaten fresh, and the rest are canned or made into juices and jellies. Cassis is a traditional French liqueur that's made from black currants, and the key ingredient in Cumberland sauce is red current jelly. If you live in the United States or Canada and find dried currants in the supermarket, they're likely grapes, not true currants, and they are used just like raisins to add sweetness and texture to a variety of dishes.

References

  • Photo Credit Eising/Photodisc/Getty Images Hemera Technologies/Photos.com/Getty Images Stockbyte/Stockbyte/Getty Images
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