Grapes are a fruit found in countries throughout the world. Some are best for eating, while others get processed into wine or juice. Most grapes are sweet, but there are varieties that have a thick, tannic skin protecting the sugary flesh, which can change how the grape is used. All grapes grow on vining plants and botanically speaking, grapes are berries. Different varieties of grapes thrive in different locations depending on the climate, soil, water and sunlight.
What Are Grapes?
The grapevine is a deciduous woody vine. As far as we know, humans began cultivating grapevines between the seventh and fourth millennia B.C in the region between Iran and the Black Sea. By 4000 B.C. the grapevine gained popularity through the Nile Delta of Egypt, and into regions known today as Israel, Iran, Turkey and Cyprus.
Now grapes are grown and harvested all over the world, and there are thousands of different cultivars in the world. In the United States, nearly every state grows some type of grapes, with the largest producer being California by far, but then followed by Washington, New York and Oregon.
The grape is easy to store and travels well. Most wine grapes and table grapes can't be substituted for the other; they each have a distinct flavor profile, sugar content, and skin quality and color that make them either best for eating or for turning in to wine. However, both wine and table grapes are grown the same way and need similar conditions to thrive.
Over the years, some grapes have been propagated to be seedless. Originally, all grapes had seeds, many with more than one per berry. Grape growers have managed to crossbreed different cultivars to produce the grapes we see in the grocery store today, such as Crimson Seedless, Flame Seedless, and Niagara. Most of these are trademarked cultivars.
In a home garden, grapes can be grown on the vine by placing the plant next to a fence, trellis or anything solid to support the vine. Make sure to source cultivars that grow best in your region; some like a lot of sun and hot days, while other cultivars prefer cooler temps. The soil, too, is important when growing grapes.
How To Cook With Grapes
One of the best ways to eat table grapes is raw, either as a simple snack or in salads. Grapes are also good mixed with nuts, chopped Brussels sprouts, broccoli, and kale. Creamy and sweet ambrosia salad and green salads are other dishes that feature grapes. Frozen grapes will add a bit of color and sweet coolness to a drink and they make a great hot-weather snack for kids.
Grapes can also be cooked. Concord grapes, for example, cook well in a pie. This type and others are also a good berry to turn into jams and jellies. Grapes can be cooked with meat dishes as well. High-sugar cultivars are dehydrated to make raisins, which can be used in granola, cookies, muffins, bread, curry, savory sauces and eaten plain and whole.
What Do Grapes Taste Like?
Most grapes have a sugary flesh that's firm, yet pliable. The main difference in flavors come through the skin. Some skins are thick and have a chalky, bitter, and sharp tannin essence. The color of the skin can make a difference too, with darker skins having more tannins and lighter skins being milder. Other skins, namely those of table grapes, are more palatable and offer a nice crunch to go with the sweet inside. Not matter the color of the skin, the insides of most grapes have a pale, green-yellow flesh.
There are many ways to enjoy this ancient berry. Eat grapes plain or try them in a dessert, salad or savory dish.
Where To Buy Grapes
Grapes can be found all over the world in the produce aisles of grocery stores and markets. The largest harvest season for North American-grown grapes is mid-summer to mid-fall. This is also the time when you'll see the widest variety of cultivars for sale. Newer, novelty cultivars of grapes, such as Moon Drop and Cotton Candy, are only available in select stores between August and September, since they grow solely in California. But of course we import grapes from other countries, so they are available year-round. When shopping for grapes, look for ones that are firm, without browning around the stem.
Fresh grapes last longer if kept in the refrigerator, but they can be stored in a fruit basket on the counter as long as the room isn't too hot. Cut grapes should be in a sealed container and kept cool. If grapes start getting fruit flies around them or the area around the stem gets brown and mushy, they have passed their prime. While slightly old grapes are still okay to eat, old grapes will loose the firm crunchiness the fresher ones have.
Nutrition and Benefits
The Department of Agriculture states that one cup of most grapes have around 104 calories, 27.33 grams of carbohydrates, 23.37 grams of sugar, 1.4 grams dietary fiber, around 4.8 milligrams of vitamin C, and 22 micrograms of vitamin K.
One thing to note when it comes to grapes and pet health is that while grapes are great for humans, they seem to be highly toxic to dogs. In fact, even a small dose of grapes or raisins can make a pup very sick, even kill the animal.
When it comes to grapes, "varieties" refer to naturally occurring grape plants while "cultivars" refer to the thousands of cross-hybrids cultivated by humans, from wine grapes to table grapes to grapes grown for dehydrating. Grapes can be black-blue, dark purple, light red, green, white, green-red and indigo. The size can range from the largest grape, the deep purple Japanese Kyoho, which is about as big as a ping pong ball; to the smallest grape, the Champagne grape, which is about as big as three peas put together, green-white in color, and famously used to make wine. Most grapes are hybrids, and farmers and scientists have been experimenting with different types of grapes for centuries in order to select for disease resistance, tolerance for hotter and/or cooler climates, and shorter growing seasons.
READ NEXT: Italian Wine Guide for Beginners
Terral, Jean-Frédéric, et al. “Evolution and History of Grapevine (Vitis Vinifera) under Domestication: New Morphometric Perspectives to Understand Seed Domestication Syndrome and Reveal Origins of Ancient European Cultivars.” Annals of Botany, vol. 105, no. 3, Mar. 2010, pp. 443–55. PubMed Central, https://doi.org/10.1093/aob/mcp298.
Britannica, The Editors of Encyclopaedia. "Grape". Encyclopedia Britannica, 26 Feb. 2020, https://www.britannica.com/plant/grape. Accessed 19 August 2021.
Boyd, Vicky. "A dozen varieties lead California table grape market". The Packer. Retrieved 5 July 2016.
U.S. Department of Agriculture; Food Data Center
May 17 EM, May 17 2018 | 2 Minutes, Minutes 2018 | 2. Can dogs eat grapes? American Kennel Club.