What is a grape?
As your teeth push through the skin of a perfectly ripe grape, nothing beats the ‘pop’ as the sweet juice gushes onto your taste buds. While fresh, vibrant purple and green table grapes have long been favourites, sultanas (dried grapes) have also been a lunch box essential for generations of schoolchildren. Grapes can also add subtle, sweet flavours to many dishes.
Grapes have been used for centuries. The varieties we know today are descended from a vine that grew wild in the Caucasus and was first cultivated around 5000 BC. Evidence of the cultivation of purple grapes has been recorded in Egyptian hieroglyphics. The ancient Greeks, Phoenicians and Romans grew purple grapes for eating and for making wine.
In 1788, Captain Arthur Phillip brought cuttings of grapevines to Australia that became the foundation of the wine industry in this country. Grapevines can now be found shading many suburban gardens during hot summers, providing home gardeners with a ready supply of grapes and grapevine leaves for use in many dishes.
In Australia, table grapes (those we eat fresh) are sold by variety. Grapes differ in colour, shape, sweetness, flavour and size. There are also grapes with seeds and others that are seedless. Wine grape varieties are generally not used for eating.
One of the most popular grapes available is the Thompson seedless (or sultana) variety. This grape is light green, medium-sized and oval-shaped. It is sweet and juicy and does not have any seeds. The Menindee seedless grape has a subtly tart flavour and is similar to the Thompson, although it is available earlier in the grape season. The Waltham Cross variety is a larger, firm, golden green grape with juicy sweet flesh.
Other varieties include the Muscat and the Black Muscat, which are blue-black, sweet, juicy grapes; and the Red Globe, a very sweet big red grape with large seeds. Seedless varieties include the Crimson (or Ruby) seedless, a light red grape; and the Flame seedless, a medium-sized, slightly tart, crunchy red grape.
Small, green, seedless grapes (such as the Thompson) are dried and used to make sultanas, whereas black grapes are dried to make raisins.
Why grapes are good to eat
- Grapes are a good source of vitamins C (needed for the growth and repair of tissues in the body) and K (important for helping your blood to clot) and contain some vitamin A.
- They also contain minerals such as potassium (which helps to regulate blood pressure).
- Grapes contain dietary fibre, which is important for a healthy bowel.
- Energy – 100 g of grapes (depending on the variety) supplies about 290 kJ.
How are they grown and harvested?
Grapevines grow best when they have access to full sun. The vines are usually grown from cuttings taken from other grapevines. Grapevines are climbing plants and can grow to 25 m if they are not pruned. They require some type of support such as a trellis, pergola, fence or wall. Tendrils grow from the vine and twist around structures, which helps the parent plant to develop and grow.
Vines can live for more than 100 years, although, on average, they usually only produce fruit for 25 to 50 years. Grapevines lose their large, green leaves (which look a little like maple leaves) in winter. Small, green fragrant flowers grow in clusters on the vine and once these are fertilised they develop into bunches of grapes.
Table grapes are hand-picked to reduce the chance of the fruit being damaged, although wine grapes and grapes for drying can be commercially harvested using machinery.
Choose bunches of grapes that are plump and firm. The fruit should be firmly attached to the green stems. Avoid bunches that have soft, broken, sticky or wrinkled fruit and those with grapes that are brown around the stem.
How to store and keep grapes
Store unwashed grapes in an airtight container or a sealed plastic bag in the crisper section of your fridge. Wash grapes just before eating, as moisture causes them to become mouldy. Use your grapes within two or three days of buying.
How to use
- Serve chicken with grapes – toss red and green grapes with salt and pepper, sprigs of rosemary and olive oil, then place a chicken breast stuffed with feta cheese on top, drizzle with oil and bake.
- Try a rustic vegetable dish – sauté asparagus with chopped bacon (or pancetta), then transfer to a platter and add red grapes, shavings of parmesan cheese and a drizzle of balsamic vinegar and olive oil.
- Enjoy a fresh fish salad – combine yoghurt, red grapes and chopped walnuts, then add flaked baked fish (tuna works well), a squeeze of lemon and serve on butter lettuce leaves.
This page has been produced in consultation with and approved by:
Better Health Channel
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