The sultana is a "white" (pale green), oval seedless grape variety also called the sultanina, Thompson Seedless (United States), Lady de Coverly (England), and oval-fruited Kishmish (Iran, Turkey, Palestine, Russia). It is assumed to originate from the Asian part of the Ottoman Empire. In some countries, especially Commonwealth countries, it is also the name given to the raisin made from it or from larger seedless grapes; such sultana raisins are often called simply sultanas or sultanis. These are typically larger than Zante currants (which are actually a kind of dried grape, not currants in the botanical sense), and the Thompson variety is smaller than many seeded raisins. In the USA and Canada, the name "raisin" is applied to all dried grapes, so that the breakfast cereal known as "Sultana Bran" in Australia and the United Kingdom is called Raisin Bran in the United States and Canada.
Thompson Sultana raisins are small, sweet and have a golden colour.
Another seedless grape variety from the former Ottoman Empire, the round-fruited Kishmish, is also dried to make a larger sultana raisin.
The sultana grape's American name, Thompson Seedless, refers to William Thompson, a viticulturist who was an early grower in California and is sometimes credited with introducing the variety. According to the U.S. Code of Federal Regulations, the two names are synonymous. Virtually all of California raisin production (approximately 97% in 2000) and roughly one-third of California's total grape area is of this variety, making it the single most widely planted variety.
In the US, most raisins, including those with the typical dark brown colour, are made from the sultana grape, nicknamed the Thompson Seedless. The term "sultana" refers to golden-coloured dried grapes, which may also be called "golden raisins". Any kind of grape may be used to produce golden raisins, and any kind of golden raisins from any kind of grape may be marketed as "sultanas". Moreover, the golden colour may come from a treatment with sulfur dioxide rather than traditional drying and preservation methods. Most non-organic sultana grapes in California and elsewhere are treated with the growth inducing plant hormone gibberellin. In other grapes gibberellin is released by the seeds.
In some jurisdictions, seedless dried grapes are classified as Sultana and Thompson raisins according to the drying method used. Sultanas are steeped in a solution of water, potassium carbonate and vegetable oil in order to hasten the drying process. Thompson raisins are not treated with this solution but are dried naturally, and thus require more drying time than sultanas. Because of this, Thompsons are a darker colour than Sultanas.
Sultana raisins are eaten as a snack food without further processing and are used in a variety of dishes, such as fruitcake and Bath buns, sometimes prepared by soaking in water, fruit juice, or alcohol.
The sultana grape is also used to make white wine, in which use it is known for its "sweet blandness". It is referred to as a "three-way grape" because it is used as table grape, to make raisins, and to make wine. In the United States it is the base for wine generically called "chablis". This wine is named for the Chablis region of France, but it is not a true Chablis wine. In the EU, "Chablis" wine must be made from the Chardonnay grape produced in the region of the Yonne département.
End users include:
- Manufacturing industries such as bakeries and breakfast cereal producers
- Dairy products such as yogurt and ice-creams
- Salads and desserts
Thompson Seedless is the most planted grape in California due to its triple use.
Sultana grape juice was fraudulently sold as being of Chardonnay grapes in Australia for wine making, due to the lower cost of Sultana grapes. The fraud was discovered in 2003 by the Australian Wine and Brandy Corporation. It was considered the largest case of wine deception in Australian history.
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