Monday, January 19, 2009

Raisin Hell: The Results

Do people like raisins? Yes, some do. Others vehemently hate them in nearly every use. Still others love them in one food but can't stand them in another. However, after tallying the results of last month's survey, the general opinion seems to be one of ambivalence. On a 1–5 scale, with 5 being the highest opinion of raisins (i.e., "I want to marry them" in the original survey), the average rating was 3.44; they may be flirting, but I don't think the public is quite ready to run off to Vegas with raisins.

Average ratings in different foods (data point falls under each blue bow tie). Overall raisin rating from Question 1 indicated by the dashed line.

The ratings for specific uses of raisins tell a slightly different story. The highest average rating went to Oatmeal/Hot Cereal (3.75), probably the most common way many people think to use raisins. Interestingly, this was the only use to score above the average overall opinion of raisins, while most others clustered right around 3. Raisins in ice cream are clearly not popular (1.88), which isn't entirely surprising given that rum-raisin (the most common use of raisins in ice cream as far as I know) seems to be loved by a handful of people but reviled by most others, like salty liquorice, Dr. Brown's Cel-Ray soda, or Smash Mouth.

The question "Are there any dishes in which you particularly hate/love raisins" generated some interesting comments and pointed out some glaring omissions from my list of common places to find raisins (e.g. cold cereal and trail mix - how did I forget those?). Here are some of the best comments:
  • I hate raisins in and on everything!!!!
  • that rice pudding stuff in indian restaurants.
  • Why spoil an oatmeal cookie with raisins?
  • I hate raisins in all cakes and ice creams. Otherwise I love them.
  • Raisins just kind of appear in my life and I think "oh, that's pretty good" and then I ingest them.
  • Raisinbread is super extra tasty
  • I hate raisins in Power/Nutrition/Breakfast Bars. But then, I hate Those Bars period so I guess that doesn't count.
As much as I love raisins, I will admit that there are some negatives. I hate the sticky fingers you get from eating them, and I can't stand when I get jabbed by a little grape stem that got left on the fruit. Others agreed, but the most popular choice (clearly overwhelmed by American respondents) was "People that hand them out on Halloween like it's a replacement for candy." Old wounds clearly take time to heal (either that or we have a lot of 8 year-olds reading our blog these days). "The flavor baked" just edged out "The flavor raw" as the best thing about raisins.

I had two predictions regarding prunes: (1) people would rate them lower than raisins overall, and (2) the people that disliked prunes probably haven't had them for quite a while. Both of these predictions turned out to be true (at least in a hand-waving pseudo-statistical sort of way for the latter). The average rating of prunes was 2.875 compared to 3.44 for raisins — not a surprise given the prevalent low opinion of prunes, but we didn't delve into the reasons behind this. The time since last prune relationship to prune opinion came out about how I imagined it would break down:

Time since last pruneAverage Rating
Within the last few weeks4.6
Within the last year3.1
1-many years1.5

This seems to confirm my theory that people that think that they don't like prunes simply haven't had them for a while and their opinion is colored by distance and misinformation. It's also possible that people haven't eaten prunes in years because they honestly don't like them, but prunes are so objectively tasty that I'll just discard this possibility. I think a lot of people haven't had prunes in years mostly because (a) their parents forced them to eat them because they were healthier than candy and they have been scarred ever since, (b) because they're perceived as "old people" food, (c) they think prunes are a strong laxative (they're not - they just have fiber in them like most fruits), or (d) they think prunes taste "brown" and leathery. If you fit any of those categories, do me a favor and go buy a small thing of prunes and report back.

When I asked respondents to define "sultana", almost everyone got the correct answer (a dried seedless white grape), although several threw me a bone and voted for "A largely underappreciated Belarusian funk band" (thanks for that). Most also got that "greengage" is a greenish plum cultivar, but again I was tossed a few freebies by the people that responded "Danger Mouse's arch-enemy". Thank you all for indulging me – I know I can count on you.

Sultana's hit single "Мы фанки жеребцов"

Baron Silas Greeenback, not a small green plum

I also wanted to know if people had ever eaten hot or baked fresh grapes. This is clearly a leading question, and obviously I like them and think others should too. I had never thought of such a thing until eating them at César in Berkeley where they will occasionally serve them oven roasted on the vine drizzled with sherry vinegar. It may sound strange, but they're amazingly tasty with a bit of meat and cheese and dead easy to make at home (the recipe is in the César cookbook, but essentially it involves a bunch of red flame grapes put on parchment paper on a cookie sheet, drizzled with sherry or balsamic vinegar, and baked in the oven until they start to brown). Of course, this is just another of the myriad uses of the fabulous grape; don't get me started about chicken tagine with baked prunes...

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