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

These small, sweet dried fruits are often used in similar ways, so can you swap one for the other?

Raisins may be best known as kid snacks and cookie staples, but their uses are actually much broader—they can add a welcome sweetness to sautéed spinach or collard greens, and complement savory dishes such as beef braciole and chicken with olives and spinach rice. Some recipes call for golden raisins, and others don't specify, but is there a difference between raisins and golden raisins?

What's the Difference?

Although there are some subtle differences, the short answer is that the two varieties can be used interchangeably. Before we get to the details, though, we'll note that you may have seen the term "sultana," which is how golden raisins are referred to in many parts of the world. In the U.S., though, "raisin" generally means the darker, purple-ish tinted fruit, and golden raisins are, well, golden.

raisin variety in bags on wood table
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From Grapes to Raisins

To make both varieties of raisins, makers dry grapes (typically Thompson Seedless) for about three weeks. Regular raisins are somewhat larger than golden raisins, but both have a soft texture and a sweet taste. Both are great in oatmeal and cookies, although raisins' dark color can nicely offset an otherwise beige canvas. And because of their larger size, raisins tend to perform slightly better in recipes that have you soak them first to plump them up (the soaking liquid can range from hot water to alcohol, depending on the use). As for why they look different, golden raisins are treated with a preservative called sulfur dioxide, which helps them retain their lighter color.


It's best to store any variety of raisin in an airtight container rather than the bag or box you purchased them in. If the ones in your pantry have hardened, though, you can rehydrate them by putting them in a bowl and pouring boiling water over them. Within 10 to 15 minutes, they'll be soft again, and you can lay them on a paper towel to dry before baking or cooking with them.

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