Tasgaon – Sangli belt in Maharashtra is famous for its delectable raisins accounting for 90 percent of total production in the country. The state of Maharashtra ranks first in terms of production of grapes and exports more than 1.22 lakh tonnes annually.
According to historians, grape cultivation originated in Armenia and was brought to North India by Persian invaders in 1300 CE. Farmers discovered that the grapes dried in the sun were deliciously sweet. As grapes are highly sensitive to climatic conditions, it was found that Sangli district had the right agro-climatic conditions for the production of raisins. An excellent team of renowned professors, scientists and engineers made a dehydration chamber in the early 1970s that had the capacity to dry about 100 kg of grapes.
The experiment proved to be highly successful with good-quality raisins produced. As this method was expensive, the team studied the process of making raisins adopted in Afghanistan, Iraq and other countries and arrived at their own method of making raisins under the shade or using solar energy.
The approximate annual production of raisins in Sangli is 1.25 lakh tonnes of which 30 – 40 percent is exported. A big auction market of raisins was started in 1994 in Tasgaon which now has more than 100 trading centres and 60 – 65 cold storage warehouses.
Sangli district is blessed with good monsoon showers, black soil rich in potash and phosphate, water from the Warana and Krishna rivers and hot and dry summers and mild winters. Tasgaon, Miraj, Palus, Kadegaon, Atpadi, Malgaon, Kavathe-Mahankal, Jath and Agalgaon are the main centres producing raisins in Sangli district.
The grape cultivation done in over 60,000 acres in Sangli district is specifically for the production of raisins. Seedless grape varieties like Thompson seedless (round and long, golden in colour and pulpy), Manikchaman (long and golden green in colour), Sonaka (long and green in colour) and Tas-A-Ganesh (round and green in colour) are preferred for the production of raisins. Each variety produces berry having a specific aroma, colour, taste, shape, size, pulpiness and hardness or softness typical to it.
Quality of raisins depends on the size, colour, weight, taste and flavour of the grapes. Scientific and accurate grape cultivation will result in excellent quality raisins. Grapes should be plucked only when they are fully ripe and reach the appropriate TSS level. Fully ripe grapes are harvested after 4 to 5 months (mid- February till April first week) when the brix level becomes 20 – 25 percent. Early harvesting will increase the acidity of grapes and cause excessive shrinkage of raisins.
An Australian dipping treatment which is chemical free is used to remove the waxy layer of the grapes and decrease the drying time which is followed by sulphur fumigation to control oxidative browning to retain its characteristic green colour.
Drying grapes is the most critical process as it will determine the quality of raisins. Green grapes have around 22 to 26 percent sugar and drying reduces the amount of water and increases the sugar to 60 percent by weight. The grape bunches are spread out on meshes inside a drying shed away from direct sunlight. The grapes are dried till they have only 13 percent moisture.
Incomplete or improper drying will significantly affect the quality of raisins. Direct sunlight on the grapes will reduce the pulp and sugar content, harden the raisins and change its colour. Around 4 to 5 kg of green grapes dry into 1 kg of raisins. The raisins are washed with lukewarm water and dried again in cool temperature. It is then graded according to size and colour. Green, yellow and black are the three types of raisins produced in Sangli.
Sangli raisins are known for their uniform size, texture and colour, long shelf life, pulpiness and sweetness. These raisins have a thin peel (skin), soft texture with fewer wrinkles and lustrous appearance. The uniform golden green colour indicates the superior quality of these raisins with each and every one of them remaining separate.
Sangli raisins have medicinal and curative properties. They contain potassium and magnesium that decrease the toxicity in the blood, are known to lower the insulin level and improve sugar absorption, help to regulate the two hormones leptin and ghrelin and have traces of boron that is vital to improve bone strength.
Sangli raisins was granted the Geographical Indication Tag (GI) in 2016.
Written by Lakshmi Subramanian
* Photos are only symbolic (Taken from public domain/internet and any copyright infringement is unintentional and regrettable)
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