Origin of Grapes
Wild grapes were first gathered by some of the earliest civilizations during the Neolithic era from 6,000 to 6,500 BC. According to the book, “Grapes,” cultivation of the fruit likely began in Southern Caucasia, known today as northwest Turkey and northern Iraq. Circa 4,000 BC, these early societies took Vitis vinifera vines en route to trade them with Palestine, Syria, Egypt, Mesopotamia and the Mediterranean.
By the 3rd century BC, the Romans and Greeks were ardent grape—and consequently, wine—growers. Roman mythology is replete with references of an effeminate young boy, Bacchus, also known as Dionysus to the Greeks. This figure was the “god of grapes,” also ruling over the causally related fields of wine, debauchery, revelry, festivity, fertility, and madness. Indeed, both civilizations had great reverence for the grape: Greek intellectual gatherings often included a glass of wine, and drinking the fermented fruit in moderate quantities was perceived as a spiritual practice. Even today, Roman Catholics take communion by drinking a small amount of red wine to represent the blood of Christ. By the 16th century, grapes had spread throughout Europe and up north to Britain.
Grapes first appeared in India in 1300 AD when Persian invaders brought them to Maharashtra. Though it’s likely that grapes reached the South before this time, Christian missionaries credit themselves with grape’s introduction to Madras circa 1800s.
Today, The UN’s Food and Agricultural Organization lists the top grape producers as China, Italy, the US, France, and Spain. India ranks 15th, accounting for 1.8 percent of the global share with its production of 1.24 million metric tons.
Availability of Grapes in India
India has several diverse grape growing regions. Maharashtra is India’s top producer, accounting for nearly 84 percent of the country’s grapes. Karnataka is a distant second, growing 11 percent. Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Mizoram, Punjab, and Jammu & Kashmir account for the rest of India’s grape production.
India grows over 20 varieties of grapes, with the Thompson seedless being the most popular cultivar. The country also produces a few local strains, including the interestingly named “Bangalore Blue,” “Arka Krishna, and “Anab-e-Shahi.”
India’s grape season lasts from January through October, with different varieties rolling in and out of these months. Export season is from January to April.
|Table from UN's Food and Agriculture Organization|
Table from Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN
Where to find Grapes in India
Grapes are easy to find in India. Pushcarts, produce stalls, and markets large and small carry them them. That said, sweet grapes are not always available. Always taste a grape beforehand to ensure they’re sweet and fresh.
Grapes—especially imported ones—are not always cheap. Globe grapes and sweet, seedless varieties imported from Australia or the US cost the same as kiwi, dragon fruit, and Thai guavas. Local grapes cost a tenth of the price, and are often more flavorful and fresher than their imported counterparts.
Three or four raisin varieties are available at any fruit and nut store, from Kashmiri to Thompson.
How to Select the Best Grapes
Picking grapes is an art, one that’s usually performed by the farmer well before the grapes reach the market. For green grapes, look for a vibrant lime-green or golden hue and consume them at their ripest when they’re a golden amber color. Some purple globe grapes have firm taut skin with a thin flesh, while a minority taste best when its flesh is pliable and yields to the touch.
The variability in color, shape, and texture between grapes makes it impossible to declare hard and fast rules regarding the perfect grape. The best indicator is its taste, which is why it bears repeating to eat a fruit before purchasing. Some of the brightest grapes may be sour, whereas underwhelming purple grapes may taste honey sweet.
When choosing grapes, inspect the entire bunch to avoid picking a cluster with mold and rot building near the bottom of the bag. Steer clear of bruised, crushed, spotted, and molding fruits. Also avoid bags with sticky, leaking juice of crushed grapes. Ideal bags have smooth grapes sans wrinkles that are firmly held by the stem, and the color of all of the grapes should be uniform.
|India sells all 9 of these varieties... and others!|
Taste of Grapes
Grapes are juicy, sweet, refreshing, and at times, have a puckering brightness. Others—particularly the darker grapes—have rich, musky, floral notes. A widely held difference between the purple and green grapes is thus: purple types are sweeter and spicier, whereas green grapes are more delicate yet tart. With over 600 varieties of grapes in the Vitis genus, no single flavor profile for the grape exists.
The grape’s skin resembles a plum in its tart, tangy flavor. Like plums, grape skins are also packed with nutrients. If the grapes have large seeds, they tend to taste bitter and astringent. Though today’s growers attempt to standardize the taste of grapes by cultivating sweet-skinned seedless grapes, wilder grapes with seeds have a much more complex, multifaceted flavor.
Wine grapes are smaller with thicker skins, whereas table grapes have thinner skin, smaller seeds, and have higher sugar.
Nutritional Value of Grapes
The nutritional value of grapes (100g of edible flesh) is…
18.1g Carbs (14% RDI)
.9g Fiber (4% RDI)
.2g Fat (negligible)
.7g Protein (2% RDI)
.1mg B1/Thiamine (6% RDI)
.1mg B2/Riboflavin (6% RDI)
.1mg B6/Pyridoxine (7% RDI)
3.2mg Vitamin C (4% RDI)
14.6ug Vitamin K (16% RDI)
.1mg Copper (14% RDI)
.4mg Iron (2% RDI)
7mg Magnesium (2% RDI)
.1mg Manganese (4% RDI)
20mg Phosphorous (3% RDI)
191mg Potassium (4% RDI)
Health Benefits of Grapes
Grapes have exceptional health benefits. They low in fat, as well as high in fiber, B1, B2, B6, Vitamin K and Potassium. The fruits also possess two other powerhouse compounds: resveratrol and polyphenols. As a general note, the darker-skinned grapes have the highest levels of antioxidants.
Fresh grapes also offer more benefits than grape juice. This is because juice is often pasteurized, a heating process by which the nutrient availability becomes reduced. Furthermore, the juicing process removes the nutrient-rich skin. With grapes and health benefits, the mantra rings true: Fresh is best.
--According to a 2009 study published in Vascular Pharmacology, modest grape intake yielded positive blood vessel function. Additionally, human subjects who consumed grapes with a high-fat meal had no damaging impact as measured by reduction in blood flow.
--A 2006 study published in the American College of Nutrition reveals that grape consumption prevented oxidative stress after eating a meal, and increased blood antioxidant capacity.
--Eating grapes also reduces the risk of coronary heart disease. According to a 2005 study published in the Journal of Nutrition, pre and post-menopausal women who ate grapes had a marked decrease in blood triglyceride levels, LDL cholesterol levels, and reduced inflammation. Another 2005 study published in the Journal of Nutrition illustrates that grape consumption in rats prevented development of atherosclerotic lesions. It also reduced the accumulation of cholesterol.
--Grape consumption also lowers blood pressure. A 2008 study published in Journal Gerontology reveals that the rats consuming grapes had lower blood pressure, improved heart function, and fewer signs of heart muscle damage.
--Grapes also fight against cancers. A 2007 study published in Integrative Oncology shows that grape consumption was linked to a 47 percent reduction in the target gene’s expression that promotes colon tumor growth.
--According to a 2007 study published in Toxicology and Applied Pharmacology, resveratrol has chemopreventive and chemotherapeutic effects at all three stages of skin cancer in the cells of mice and humans.
--A 2013 study published in Toxicology and Applied Pharmacology illustrates that an analog of resveratrol inhibits breast cancer cell invasiveness. Another study published in Cancer Cell International found that resveratrol increased the cytotoxic activity of doxorubicin, an anticancer agent. In tandem, resveratrol and DOX reduced the growth of human breast cancer cells.
--A 2013 study published in Investigational New Drugs reveals that one resveratrol analog inhibits the growth of human pancreatic cancer cells.
--A 2009 and 2010 study conducted by Dr. Feng Liu at the Barshop Institute of Longevity and Aging Studies found that resveratrol has anti-obesity, anti-insulin resistance and anti-aging properties. This is because the compound stimulates adiponectin, a hormone linked to the body’s ability to manufacture and store of fat.
--A 2007 presentation at the Society for Neuroscience Annual Meeting reports that mice that ate grapes increased the expression of genes responsible for blocking Alzheimer’s and decreasing brain inflammation.
--A 1999 study published in Experimental Neurology indicates that resveratrol shielded Parkinson’s-like nerve cells from oxidative damage.
Grape juice may not be beneficial for those with low iron or have GERD and other forms of acid reflux.
How to Prepare Grapes:
Use scissors to cut the stem off the bunch. Avoid pulling grapes off individually, as this will result in the stem drying out; in turn, the rest of the grapes will spoil faster.
Also, thoroughly disinfect grapes with fruit soap, colloidal silver, or food grade hydrogen peroxide. Grapes repeatedly appear on the list of fruits with the highest toxic pesticides. In fact, the EU banned Indian grapes for this very reason, as this country’s grapes contain more than usual. Ideally, buy organic grapes.
Keep grapes in the refrigerator, ideally in a perforated plastic bag. The best temperature for storing grapes is near-freezing in relative humidity. Also, keep the fruits as spread out to avoid crushing and bruising. Be mindful of the other fruits placed next to grapes: High-ethylene fruits like apples, kiwis and pears will hasten the grape’s decay.
Use a paper towel to pat-dry grapes once disinfected, and only wash grapes directly before consumption. Otherwise, water promotes growth of mold and mildew.
Grapes freeze exceptionally well, and make for a treat similar to a popsicle.
Grape Recipe Ideas and Uses:
--Grapes go well in smoothies: add with other berries, cherries, and apple. Grapes are also ideal for green vegetable smoothies, as their sweetness cuts the astringency and bitterness common in leafy greens.
--Add to salads: grapes go well with berries, pecans, walnuts, almonds, soya cheeses, and tofu. As is the case with juicing, grape’s sweetness offsets the more bitter greens such as arugula, spinach and rocket.
--Preserve by making grape jam. Add rum to the concoction if desired.
--Add grapes to nondairy yogurt and parfaits
--Freeze grapes for a long-lasting, low calorie snack. Or, blend with berries and freeze into popsicles.
--Add to fruit skewers
--Include a handful of grapes in rice, quinoa, orzo, cous cous or lentil salads and add pistachio or walnuts, some garlic, olive oil, salt, pepper and lemon juice.
--Small, robust champagne grapes are ideal for tarts. Gently simmer the fruits for ten minutes, along with red wine and sugar to infuse the flavors. Smear the pastry shell with hazelnut chocolate spread or almond butter, and place the grapes over lined shells. Cook in the oven until the crust is golden brown.
--Roast black grapes: prick each grape with a toothpick, and then toss the fruits in a bowl with olive oil, balsamic vinegar, salt, pepper, and orange juice. When coated, spread on a baking sheet and roast for 10-15 minutes. Sprinkle the roasted fruits with rosemary or thyme, and serve with crackers.
--Grape leaves are common in Lebanese and Greek cuisines, as they’re used to make “dolmades,” a small finger food made by wrapping the soaked leaves in a concoction of rice and herbs.
Fruits: Pomegranate, plum, cherry, jamun, cranberry, mulberry, strawberry, raspberry, bignay, goji berry, peach, apricot, date, fig, watermelon, dragon fruit, kiwi, lychee, mangosteen, nungu
Vegetables: Pearl onion, caramelized onion, artichoke, Brussels sprout,
Herbs, spices, and oil: Rosemary, thyme, oregano, bay leaf, sea salt, black pepper, red onion, olive oil, balsamic vinegar, lemon juice, dried figs, walnut, pecan, hazelnut, pistachio, mint, Kalamata olives
Grapes have 80 percent water content; raisins have 15 percent.
Italy alone has over 3,000 varieties of grape. There are also grapes classified as blac, white, golden, and even blue.