Grapes 101 – The Basics
Most people are familiar with grapes, which are small round or oval sweet-tart berries with semi-translucent flesh encased in a smooth skin. They have become a popular treat around the world and because of modern day shipping, they are available year-round in most places.
Grapes are native to many parts of the world, including parts of Asia, Africa, and North America. They have grown wild since prehistoric times. Evidence shows that grapes were cultivated in Asia as far back as 5,000 B.C. People enjoyed grapes so much, that the fruit was carried around the world and is now cultivated everywhere except in Antarctica. Worldwide, about 30,000 square miles of land are planted with grapes. The annual production is about 150 trillion pounds of grapes. Italy, China, Spain, and France grow about half of all commercially produced grapes. Other key grape-producing countries include Turkey, Chile, Argentina, Iran, South Africa, and Australia. In the United States, over 90% of all commercially grown table grapes are produced in California, where over 700,000 acres of table, wine, and raisin grapes are cultivated.
There are 60 different species of grapes with literally thousands of varieties scattered around the world. Basic types include table grapes (usually enjoyed fresh), wine grapes (used for making wine), and raisin grapes (used for making dried fruit). Some contain edible seeds, while others are seedless. Like blueberries, grapes are often covered by a protective whitish bloom.
Table grapes are often larger in size and have been developed to be seedless, with relatively thin skins. Wine grapes are often smaller in size, contain seeds, and have relatively thick skins, which help to provide the wine with a richer aroma. All types of grapes come in a variety of colors. Green, red, and black are the most commonly found colors in the United States. However, grapes may also be yellow, blue black, crimson, pink, and purple. Raisins are made from dehydrating grapes either in the sunlight or oven drying.
Nutrition and Health Benefits
With regard to specific nutrients in grapes, their shining star appears to be more in their phytonutrients rather than vitamins and minerals. However, grapes do have some noteworthy nutrients to mention. Both red and green grapes have a significant amount of copper, along with appreciable amounts of Vitamin K, thiamin, riboflavin, potassium, manganese, Vitamin C, magnesium, Vitamin A, fiber, and iron. One cup of red or green grapes has 104 calories. Of course, they have a high water content along with plenty of naturally occurring sugars.
As a group, grapes have an amazing phytonutrient content. While no one variety of grape will be high in all of the phytonutrients found in grapes, collectively they have been widely studied and the list of phytonutrients in grapes appears to be ever-growing. The phytonutrient compounds found in grapes include: Stilbenes (resveratrol, piceatannol, and pterostilbene), Flavanols (catechins, epicatechins, procyanidins, proanthocyanidins, and viniferones), Flavonols (quercetin, kaempferol, myricetin, and isorhamnetin), Phenolic Acids (caffeic acid, coumaric acid, ferulic acid, and gallic acid), Carotenoids (beta-carotene, lutein, and zeaxanthin).
Also, grapes have been shown to contain melatonin and unique oligopeptide molecules that have antibacterial and other beneficial properties. With so many beneficial phytonutrients, it is not surprising that grapes have been found to offer many health benefits supporting the cardiovascular, respiratory, immune, inflammatory, blood sugar regulating, and nervous systems. They have also been found to offer cancer prevention, lowering the risk of breast, prostate, and colon cancers, in particular.
Raisins. Raisins are dehydrated grapes processed either through the heat of the sun or oven drying. While raisins can be a good addition to a healthy diet, they should not be considered to be a substitute for fresh grapes. The dehydration process removes water, concentrating the sugar and calories in the grapes. For every ounce of raisins, you have four times the amount of sugar and calories that you would find in an ounce of fresh grapes. Also, we should not assume that information that applies to fresh grapes would also apply to dehydrated grapes. Separate research would need to be conducted on raisins to determine their health benefits and related information as it applies to the dehydrated fruit. Nevertheless, raisins can be a healthful and tasty addition to snacks, cereals, salads, and other recipes.
Antioxidant Benefits. The total number of different antioxidant nutrients found in grapes totals well into the hundreds! It is noteworthy that these compounds are concentrated largely in the seed and skin of grapes. However, it is important to eat the whole grape since there is also value in the flesh too.
Research on the antioxidant benefits of grapes includes preventing certain oxygen-related enzymes from becoming overactive, increasing our blood levels of glutathione (a critical antioxidant nutrient), helping to protect cell membranes from free radical damage, lowering levels of oxygen reactive molecules in the blood, reducing the oxidation of fat, and lowering biomarkers of oxidative stress.
Anti-inflammatory Benefits. Along with their strong antioxidant support, grapes also provide us with equally strong anti-inflammatory benefits. Grapes have been found to lower the risk of inflammation by reducing the activity of pro-inflammatory messaging molecules and the overproduction of pro-inflammatory enzymes.
Cardiovascular Benefits. The cardiovascular system benefits in many ways from the abundant antioxidants and anti-inflammatory compounds found in grapes. The following benefits have been found through research studies on grapes and grape components:
* Better blood pressure regulation (including lowering high blood pressure)
* Better regulation of total cholesterol (including lowering high total cholesterol)
* Reducing LDL (low-density lipoprotein) cholesterol levels
* Reducing LDL oxidation
* Reducing the levels of reactive oxygen molecules in the blood
* Reducing cell adhesion to blood vessel walls
* Reducing clumping of platelet cells, when such clumping is inappropriate
* Enhancing the release of nitric oxide from the lining of blood vessel walls in situations where vasodilation is needed
* Better inflammatory regulation in the blood
* Increased levels of glutathione in the blood
Blood Sugar Benefits. Grapes are classified as a low-glycemic index food, with a value ranging from 43 to 53. Research has connected grape intake to better blood sugar balance, better insulin regulation, and increased insulin sensitivity. It is speculated that the strong phytonutrient content of grapes is largely responsible for these benefits.
Anti-Ageing and Longevity. Some of the phytonutrients in grapes appear to play a role in longevity and may provide anti-aging benefits. Resveratrol (a stilbene phytonutrient found mostly in grape skins, but also in grape flesh and seeds), has been shown to increase the expression of three genes related to longevity. Some researchers have shown a link between resveratrol and these specific genes by activation through diets that keep us optimally nourished with fewer calories. This combination appears to increase our chances of healthy aging and longevity.
Cognitive Benefits. Several recent studies have shown that grapes may provide us with some important cognitive benefits. One human study found improved scores on the California Verbal Learning Test after participants drank 1 to 2 cups of Concord grape juice a day over several months. Other animal studies have shown that excessive reactive oxygen species (ROS) and accumulation of beta-amyloid protein in the brain could be prevented with grape extracts. Grape extracts have also been found to reduce pro-inflammatory messaging molecules in the brain. Large-scale human studies are needed to confirm these findings, but the benefits look very promising.
Anti-Microbial Benefits. A number of phytonutrients in grapes (including quercetin and resveratrol) have been shown to have anti-microbial properties. Research in this area is very young, but scientists speculate these compounds may help prevent microbe-related problems like food-borne illness.
Anti-Cancer Benefits. Chronic oxidative stress and inflammation are key factors in the development of cancer. Since grapes have abundant supplies of antioxidant and anti-inflammatory compounds, they can help lower our risk for cancer by reducing oxidative stress and chronic inflammation. Current research has focused primarily on the effects of the antioxidants in grapes on breast, colon, and prostate cancers.
Vision Benefits. According to a study by researchers at the Bascom Palmer Eye Institute at the University of Miami, Florida, grapes can help to ward off eye diseases. This benefit is attributed to their lutein and zeaxanthin, two strong antioxidants that prevent free radicals from causing damage to the retina.
How to Select Grapes
For the best flavor and most antioxidants in grapes, choose those that are fully ripe. They should be plump and without wrinkles. They should be intact, firmly attached to healthy-looking stems and not leaking juice. The area of the grape around the attachment point should have the same color as the rest of the grape.
Color can be an indication of sweetness in grapes. Green grapes are medium sweet. They should have a slight yellowish hue. Red grapes are very sweet and should be mostly red. Purple or blue-black grapes are the least sweet, and should be a deep, rich color.
How to Store Grapes
Grapes will spoil and ferment at room temperature, so they should always be stored in the refrigerator. Store them unwashed loosely wrapped in a perforated or open container. It is helpful to place a paper towel or clean cloth in the container (under the grapes) so it can absorb any moisture released by the grapes, wicking it away so the grapes do not sit in drops of water. Grapes need air circulation to help keep from getting moldy, so a perforated or open container solves that problem. They should keep fresh for up to 5 days.
How to Prepare Grapes
Simply give your grapes a good rinse in fresh water. Having them in a colander is helpful so they don’t fall off into the sink. Allow them to drain well, and pat them dry if desired. Enjoy!
If you have standard commercially grown grapes (not organic) and want to remove any chemical residues from them, here’s an easy, scientifically-proven way to do it…
To a large bowl or pot, add a solution of 1 teaspoon of baking soda per 2 cups of water. Make enough solution to be able to completely cover the grapes. Allow them to sit in the solution for 15 minutes, then rinse them well. Pat them dry, if desired. Then use your grapes as desired. Grapes can be treated like this first before storing them in the refrigerator. When storing them after treatment, be sure to loosely wrap them in a paper towel or clean cloth, then place them in an open container in the refrigerator. This will allow time for any extra moisture to dry. Once they are completely dry, they can be transferred to a perforated container or left in the open container. Try to use them within 5 days.
How to Freeze Grapes
Grapes may be removed from stems, washed, and patted dry. Place the prepared grapes on a baking sheet (lined or not…either way will work) and place that in the freezer until the grapes are frozen. Then, transfer the frozen grapes to an airtight container or freezer bag and return them to the freezer. Use them within 12 months.
The flavor of frozen grapes will not be as strong as when they were fresh. Also, the texture will be very soft if thawed, so it is best to use them in their frozen state. Frozen grapes can be enjoyed as a simple snack, added to smoothies or beverages, blended with frozen banana as an added sweetener, or added to any fruit salad to help keep cut fruit cold.
Quick Ideas and Tips for Using Grapes
* Add grapes to any fruit salad for added color, flavor, texture, sweetness, and nutrition.
* Try adding fresh grapes to your favorite curry.
* Add grapes to your favorite green salad.
* Serve grapes with your favorite cheese.
* Make a parfait with yogurt, grapes, and bananas, or any other fruit(s) of choice.
* Make a simple fruit and spinach salad by tossing together some fresh spinach, tangerine sections, seedless grapes (halved), some toasted chopped walnuts, one chopped scallion or some chives, and top it with your favorite vinaigrette dressing. Add a little shredded cheese of choice, if desired.
* Make some fruit and cheese kabobs for your next lunch gathering. On skewers, alternate grapes, strawberries, and cheese cubes (i.e., cheddar and Monterey Jack cheeses). Serve with a dip made of 1 cup vanilla yogurt, ½ cup sour cream, 2 tablespoons of honey, and ½ teaspoon of ground cinnamon.
* If you’re making a dish that calls for grapes and you don’t have enough, you could substitute blueberries in place of the grapes.
* One pound of fresh table grapes = about 75 medium grapes = 2-1/2 to 3 cups.
* On a hot summer day, cool off by snacking on frozen grapes. Simply pull them off their stems, rinse and dry them, then pack them in a freezer bag or container. [To keep them from freezing together, freeze them on a tray first before placing them in the bag or container.] Enjoy them whenever you want a quick, frozen treat.
* Try a frozen grape slushie. Blend frozen grapes, and another fruit if you want, such as blueberries or strawberries (optional), along with some grape juice and some ice. Enjoy!
* To “wow” your guests at a gathering, try making chocolate dipped grapes. Wash the grapes ON their stems. Then snip the stems into small bundles of 3 or 4 grapes. Dab them dry or allow them to dry on a paper towel. Then, carefully dip the grapes halfway into melted chocolate of your choice. By dipping them only half way, you end up with two-toned colorful grapes that are delicious and also a delight to see on a fruit tray. You can bet they won’t last long!
* Try roasted grapes. Lightly coat them with a little olive oil, salt, and pepper. Roast them on a sheet pan at 425F for 30 minutes. They will be blistered and caramelized on the outside and juicy, almost like grape jam on the inside. If you want to make them savory, add some fresh rosemary or thyme sprigs to the baking pan. Serve them as a condiment with meat of choice, on toast, spoon them over ice cream, add them to a green salad, toss them with pasta for a balance of sweet and spicy flavors, or add them to a cheese tray.
Herbs and Spices That Go Well with Grapes
Basil, cardamom, cinnamon, cloves, fennel seeds, garlic, ginger, mint, nutmeg, parsley, rosemary, salt, star anise, vanilla
Foods That Go Well with Grapes
Proteins, Legumes, Nuts, Seeds: Almonds, beef, cashews, chia seeds, fish, hazelnuts, lamb, lentils, nuts (in general), peanuts and peanut butter, pecans, pistachios, pork, poultry, pumpkin seeds, veal, walnuts
Vegetables: Arugula, Brussels sprouts, cabbage (esp. red), carrots, celery, celery root, cucumbers, endive (Belgian), fennel, greens (salad), jicama, onions, scallions, sprouts (i.e., radish, sunflower), tomatoes, watercress
Fruits: Apples and apples juice, avocados, bananas, blueberries, figs, grapefruit, lemon, lime, mango, melon, orange, pears, raspberries, strawberries, watermelon
Grains and Grain Products: Bulgur, farro, grains (in general), rice, quinoa
Dairy and Non-Dairy: Cheese (esp., blue, Brie, cream, feta, goat, ricotta, soft), mascarpone, milk (dairy and non-dairy), sour cream, yogurt
Other Foods: Caramel, chocolate, honey, mayonnaise, oil (esp. grapeseed, olive, walnut), rum, sugar, vinegar (i.e., balsamic, sherry, white wine), wine
Grapes have been used in the following cuisines and dishes…
Desserts (i.e., tarts), pizzas, salads (i.e., fruit, grain, green, vegetable), salsas, soups (i.e., fruit, white gazpacho)
Suggested Food and Flavor Combos Using Grapes
Add grapes to any of the following combinations…
Apples + Bulgur + Lemon
Balsamic Vinegar + Ricotta Cheese
Cream Cheese + Ginger
Endive + Walnuts
Feta Cheese + Hazelnuts + Salad Greens
Feta Cheese + Lentils + Mint
Lemon + Sugar
Grape and Arugula Salad http://www.whfoods.com/genpage.php?tname=recipe&dbid=168
10-Minute Fruit and Cheese Salad http://www.whfoods.com/genpage.php?tname=recipe&dbid=129
5-Minute Grapes in Honey-Lemon Sauce http://www.whfoods.com/genpage.php?tname=recipe&dbid=219
Grape and Melon Salad http://www.whfoods.com/genpage.php?tname=recipe&dbid=169
Ginger Yogurt with Fruit http://www.whfoods.com/genpage.php?tname=recipe&dbid=127
Yogurt with Fruit http://www.whfoods.com/genpage.php?tname=recipe&dbid=176
15 Things You Aren’t Making with Grapes (But Totally Should Be!) https://www.tasteofhome.com/collection/creative-recipes-for-grapes/
18 Unconventional Grape Recipes to Step Up Your Dinner Game https://www.brit.co/grape-recipes/
12 Delicious Grape Recipes https://californiagrown.org/blog/12-delicious-grape-recipes/
5 Minute Grape Sorbet https://www.liveeatlearn.com/5-minute-grape-sorbet/
15 Great Recipes Starring Grapes https://www.marthastewart.com/275164/grape-recipes
33 Grape Recipes for Pizza, Jam, Salad and Pie https://www.epicurious.com/ingredients/14-ways-to-cook-with-grapes-gallery
Easy Grape Jam https://www.fabfood4all.co.uk/easy-grape-jam/
28 Gorgeous Grape Recipes https://www.tasteofhome.com/collection/gorgeous-grape-recipes/
Joachim, David. (2010) The Food Substitutions Bible. 2nd Edition. Toronto, Ontario, Canada: Robert Rose, Inc.
Page, Karen. (2014) The Vegetarian Flavor Bible. New York, NY: Little, Brown and Company.
Julia W. Klee (Judi) began her journey enjoying “all things food” in elementary school when she started preparing meals for her family. That love of food blossomed into a quest to learn more and more about health and wellness as related to nutrition. She went on to earn a BS Degree in Food and Nutrition, then an MS Degree in Nutrition. She has taught nutrition and related courses at the college level to pre-nursing and exercise science students. Her hunger to learn didn’t stop upon graduation from college. She continues to research on a regular basis about nutrition as it relates to health. Her hope is to help as many people as possible to enjoy foods that promote health and wellness.