Grapes

Grapes

Grapes are small round or oval berries that feature semi-translucent flesh encased by a smooth skin. Some contain edible seeds while others are seedless. Like blueberries, grapes are covered by a protective, whitish bloom. Grapes that are eaten as is or used in a recipe are called table grapes as opposed to wine grapes (used in viniculture) or raisin grapes (used to make dried fruit). While there are thousands of varieties of grapes, only about 20 constitute the majority of table grapes consumed.

Color, size, taste and physical characteristics differ amongst the varieties. Grapes come in a variety of colors including green, amber, red, blue-black, and purple. In general, whole grapes have a slightly crunchy texture and a dry, sweet and tart taste.

There are three main species of grapes:

European grapes (Vitis vinifera):

Varieties include Thompson (seedless and amber-green in color), Emperor (seeded and purple in color) and Champagne/Black Corinth (tiny in size and purple in color). European varieties feature skins that adhere closely to their flesh.

North American grapes (Vitis labrusca and Vitis rotundifolia):

Varieties include Concord (blue-black in color and large in size), Delaware (pink-red in color with a tender skin) and Niagara (amber colored and less sweet than other varieties). North American varieties feature skins that more easily slip away from their flesh.

French hybrids:

These were developed from the vinifera grapes after the majority of grape varieties were destroyed in Europe in the 19th century

History

Grapes have a long and abundant history. While they've grown wild since prehistoric times, evidence suggests they were cultivated in Asia as early as 5000 BC. The grape also played a role in numerous biblical stories, being referred to as the "fruit of the vine." Grapes were also pictured in hieroglyphics in ancient Egyptian burial tombs.

During the ancient Greek and Roman civilizations, grapes were revered for their use in winemaking. They were planted in the Rhine Valley in Germany, a place of notable wine production, in the 2nd century AD. Around this time, over 90 varieties of grapes were already known.

As European travelers explored the globe, they brought the grape with them. Grapes were first planted in the United States in the early 17th century at a Spanish mission in New Mexico. From there, they quickly spread to the central valley of California where climate, and absence of grape-preying insects, best supported their production.

In the late 19th century, almost all of the vinifera varieties of grapes in France were destroyed by an insect that was unintentionally brought from North America. Fortunately, agriculturists crossbred some of the vinifera variety with the American labrusca variety and were able to continue the cultivation of grapes in this region, one that is famous for its grapes and wine.

Today, as researchers continue to investigate the health-promoting polyphenolic compounds found in grapes, this fruit is gaining even more attention. Currently, Italy, France, Spain, the United States, Mexico and Chile are among the largest commercial producers of grapes.

A Few Quick Serving Ideas:

Serve stewed and spiced grapes with poached chicken breast for a light and healthy entrée.

Grapes are a wonderful addition to any fruit salad. For an enhanced visual effect, consider using a few different varieties of grapes.

Give your curries a fruity punch by including fresh grapes in the recipe.

Add grapes to mixed green salads.

Grapes are great served with cheese as a snack or within a green salad.

Nutritional Profile

Grapes are excellent sources of manganese and good sources of vitamin B6, thiamin (vitamin B1), potassium, and vitamin C. In addition, grapes contain flavonoids: phytochemicals that are antioxidant compounds.


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