“Grapes are the best among fruits…” Ashtanga Hridaya
Raisins are dried grapes.
One of the star fruits in Indian cuisine, ripe brown raisins are found dotted in rich milk puddings, ensconced inside sweet syrupy cheese balls called Gulabjamuns, and stirred into fragrant rice.
Ayurveda says there is a reason why raisins are used so generously in Indian cooking from time immemorial. The ancient sages and rishis of India taught the people to weave the use of raisins and other healing foods into their everyday lives. This enabled them to eat healthy food without thinking of it as “medicinal”. Just like education is very effective when combined with entertainment, healing foods work best when they are tasty too. Just so with raisins.
In Ayurveda, raisins are considered as a highly nutritious food. They are well-known for their great medicinal value. Below are some aspects of the psychophysiology where raisins work best:
- The lungs: Raisins lubricate the body’s channels — particularly the lungs. Therefore, people with less-than-robust respiratory systems find them very healing.
- The brain: Raisins have a medhya effect, which supports the brain and nurtures it.
- The mind: Taken in quantities and combinations recommended by a qualified Ayurvedic practitioner, raisins can uplift and balance the emotions.
- The throat: Raisins with milk or water can relieve thirst.
- The bowel: Raisins soaked overnight and taken in the morning support bowel movements. Ayurveda suggests a healthy raisin recipe: Combine 50% raw milk and 50% cool water. Eat two handfuls of soaked raisins twice a day, and sip two glasses of this water alongside. Besides this, eat light foods like squashes — lauki in particular is good — to regulate your bowel movement.
- The womb: Women who want to get pregnant have been known to benefit by including raisins in their diet — raisins are considered bringhana foods, supportive of natural fertility.
What are Raisins Like?
In Ayurvedic terms, raisins contribute the madhura, or sweet taste, to food. They have a cooling effect on the body. They are also heavy to digest. Combined with their high glycemic index, this means that raisins are best consumed in moderation.
An excellent way to reduce the glycemic index of raisins is to combine them with spices like cinnamon bark and cardamom. Cinnamon in particular has the ability to lower the glycemic index, so it is very beneficial to include it when taking raisins.
Raisins and Your Dosha
Raisins provide gentle nourishment; hence they are pacifying to Vata dosha. In particular, Apana Vata, the sub-dosha that looks after waste elimination and other abdominal functions, is nurtured by raisins.
Pitta and its sub-doshas derive great benefit from raisins. Soaked overnight and taken in the morning, they support Sadhaka Pitta (which governs the emotions) and pacify Pachaka Pitta (responsible for digestive functions) and Ranjaka Pitta (which balances blood chemistry). Raisins also help protect from Sun damage by supporting Bhrajaka Pitta, which governs skin metabolism. Basically, raisins are useful in healing a whole range of Pitta-related problems, like burning sensation while urinating. Their diuretic effect flushes out urine, cooling the system.
As far as Kapha is concerned, raisins can actually aggravate this dosha, owing to their heavy and sweet nature. Unless combined with cardamom or cinnamon, raisins taken in heavy amounts can increase Kapha.
In her book, Heaven’s Banquet, best-selling author Miriam Hospodar shares some practical tips on eating and storing raisins:
“Beware of golden raisins: they are ordinarily brown raisins that have been treated with sulphur dioxide to maintain their color. Monukka raisins are large and often crunchy from tiny seeds. Zante currants are actually small grapes, also called Black Corinth. Store raisins in the refrigerator so they don’t ferment.”