By SOL VANZI
Although not native to our tropical country, grapes in many forms have become part of our celebrations. Fresh grapes are on our tables along with other local and imported fruits during New Year, Christmas, and Chinese New Year. Raisins (dried grapes) are vital ingredients in many of our special sweet and savory dishes. Wine, brandy, and cognac from the juice of pressed grapes are served during memorable meals.
We learned more about raisins and grapes at two events recently hosted by leaders in the two fields: the California Raisin Board and the House of Martell.
WORLD’S RAISIN CAPITAL
People have been enjoying raisins for as long as grapes have been growing. Raisins are naturally low in fat and contain healthy nutrients. California accounts for nearly 40 percent of the world’s raisin production.
California discovered the commercial potential of raisins quite by accident. In 1873, a freak hot spell withered the grapes on the vine. One enterprising San Francisco grocer advertised these shriveled grapes as “Peruvian Delicacies” and the rest is history. California is now the world’s leading producer of raisins.
On approximately 200,000 acres, 3,000 California Raisin growers produce 100 percent of the US raisin crop, totaling approximately 350,000 tons annually in an area within a 60-mile radius of Fresno, known as the central San Joaquin Valley.
Two-thirds of US raisin production is consumed in the US and Canada, while 1/3 is exported to nearly 50 countries. Worldwide raisin production averages 800,000 tons per year.
California Raisins fit well with consumers’ demand for low-fat, all-natural food items. Cholesterol free and a natural source of energy, it is rich in antioxidants and vitamins A, B2, B6 and C, fiber, iron, calcium, phosphorus, copper, potassium, and boron.
Eating raisins three times a day has been proven by the American College of Cardiology to lower blood pressure.
A 43 gram serving of raisins contains around 129 calories. Since they are high in calories, it is recommended that in a day, you should eat 1/4 cup of raisins or one small snack box (one and a half ounces).
RAISINS IN THE KITCHEN
At the trendy Ikomai + Tochi Japanese restaurant, California raisins were utilized in all the dishes on the day’s menu.
We started with a fresh green salad brightened with crisp sheets of dehydrated raisin juice the color of ruby, its slight acidity adding fresh notes to the lightly seasoned dish.
The meat dish was Buta Kakuni, pork belly done in the Japanese version of tonkotsu, with raisins providing the required sweetness.
Skin-on Roasted Salmon Chan Chan Yaki marinated in raisin puree was an eyeopener. Light, refreshing, and totally delicious, down to the last bit of crunchy skin.
Rice was Garlic Chahan, a colorful saffron-hued mélange of flavors and textures enhanced with tiny sultanas.
For dessert, we were surprised with oatmeal-raisin individual mug cakes that took only a minute to bake in the microwave oven. Dr. Klaus Tenbergen, master baker, and Dr. Priscilla Santiago demonstrated the recipes.
MARTELL CHANTELOUP PERSPECTIVE
As a lover of cognac, I was excited to attend the Philippine launch of Martell Chanteloup Perspective, an “Extra” cognac, which offers a perfect balance of aromas and sensations. It is produced by assembling the four main growth areas, or “crus,” of the Cognac region: Grande and Petite Champagne, Fins Bois, and Borderies, and appears in a beautiful amber color flecked with shimmering glints of light.
Upon tasting, it opened with fresh stone-fruit aromas such as bush peach, apricot, and floral notes. When swirled, it moved through candied fruit like orange and lemon towards dried fruits such as raisins, almonds, and nuts. Martell Chanteloup Perspective definitely made a strong aroma through its complexity.
It started soft and light on the palate. It was progressively enriched by candied and dried fruit notes with subtle hints of black currant. The balanced tenor of these aromas puts together the structure, elegance, and power that left a lingering spice finish in the mouth.
Regaling us with cognac stories was Jean Baptiste Gourvil, a Martell ambassador based in Malaysia.
Martell Chanteloup is an Ultra Prestige Cognac and has limited stocks in the Philippines. People prefer to drink it neat or on the rocks while for cocktails, the usual preference is the Martell VSSD. I love it stirred into very strong black coffee.
Among the great cognac houses, only Martell distills exclusively that clears all sediments revealing the luscious fruit aromas and finesse that serves as its hallmark. Martell always made the choice of understated luxury to focus on the very quality of its blends.