Raisins aren't the most attractive or glamorous of ingredients - they're shrivelled,dark and misshapen. People tend to either love them or hate them. What are they? Dried grapes. They can be sun-dried or processed in dehydrators, seedless or with seeds, on the stem or stemless, dark or golden. They're very sweet because drying concentrates the fruit sugars. What are the differences? The seedless types are easiest to eat and used in baked products and desserts. The flavour and perfume of a raisin will depend on the variety of grape it is. If you want something more flavoursome than the standard supermarket raisin, you'll probably have to visit a specialist shop. Some of the finest raisins come with seeds and stems intact, and while it takes more effort to eat them, the flavour more than compensates. What to look for: flavour and moisture. Although they're dried, they're not completely desiccated - raisins should still be moist. What else? So-called 'golden raisins' are treated with sulphur, which helps to preserve the colour. Sultanas and dried currants are two varieties of raisin. How to use: before being used in baked goods, raisins are often frequently 'plumped' in water or other liquid to prevent them from drying out further in the oven. They can be used in biscuits (see recipe, left), sweet and savoury breads (raisin-walnut loaf is a classic pairing with cheese), scones, tarts and pies. Raisins are even better after being soaked in rum, as both ingredients enhance the flavour of the other. Place the raisins in a sterilised jar and add enough dark rum to submerge the fruit. Shake the jar occasionally and let the fruit mature for at least a month. Rum-raisin ice cream is a classic (although don't add too much rum to the ice cream base as it will prevent it from freezing). The rum-soaked raisins are usually stirred into vanilla ice cream, but they also go well with chocolate ice cream. Raisins are also good in savoury dishes, especially with cured ham, as the sweetness of the fruit balances the saltiness of the meat. After baking the ham, place it on a chopping board to rest. Deglaze the baking pan with apple cider and a splash of chicken stock then simmer with whole cloves and raisins. Simmer to reduce the sauce slightly (it's not a thick gravy), season to taste then pour over the ham.