By Dawn M. Swidorski
A grape is an edible fruit in the buckthorn family and botanically considered a true berry. They grow on a woody vine that bears fruit each year (perennial). Grapes have grown wild since pre-historic times and are one of three fruits native to North America.
Grapes are round or oval shaped berries with a juicy semi-translucent flesh covered with a very thin smooth skin. They grow in clusters of 6 to 300, and can be amber, crimson, black, dark blue, yellow, green and pink. Like blueberries, they have a protective whitish residue or “bloom” on the skin. Some varieties contain seeds which are edible. In general, whole grapes have a slightly crunchy texture and a dry, sweet and tart taste.
Frequently mentioned in the old and new testaments of the bible, archeological evidence shows they were cultivated as early as 5000 BC. Historians believe that ancient Greeks, Phoenicians and Romans grew them for eating and wine production. By 1000 BC, cultivation spread to Europe and North Africa. Though they grew wild in North America, cultivation didn’t begin in earnest until the late 1700’s when Spanish missionaries brought them to California.
There are three main species: European (Vitis vinifera), North American (Vitis labrusca and Vitis rotundifolia) and French hybrids. While there are thousands of varieties of grapes, only about 20 make up the majority of table grapes consumed.
Varieties are ultimately determined by their final use. Table grapes must be low in both acidity and sugar content and must conform to definite standards of size, color, and shape. Raisin grapes are preferably seedless, with high sugar content and low acidity. Grapes used to make table wine must have relatively high acidity and moderate sugar content; however, grapes used for dessert wines and other sweet wines, must have high sugar content and moderate acidity.
Grapes can be eaten raw or used for making jam, juice, jelly, vinegar, and wine. They can be dried to make raisins or processed to produce seed extracts and seed oil. Grapes are also used in some kinds of confectionery.
Grapes are a tasty addition to any fruit or mixed green salad and are wonderful in chicken salad and even curries. For an enhanced visual effect, consider using a few different varieties. Grapes are also great paired with cheese.
Frozen grapes are a refreshing and healthy snack for kids on a hot day. To freeze them, rinse and pat dry, arrange in a single layer on a cookie sheet and place in freezer until frozen. Transfer to a heavy plastic bag and return to the freezer.
American’s consume about 8 pounds per person per year and California produces 98% of the fresh grapes grown in the United States.
Unlike many fresh fruits, grapes are harvested fully ripe. Grapes can be easily damaged by rough handling, warm temperatures, moisture and decay-causing organisms, so they are harvested by hand and immediately packed into shipping containers – sometimes right in the field and quickly placed in cold storage facilities until they reach their final market.