Do you and your family enjoy eating grapes? What are your favorite varieties? Basically, grapes can be classified as either table grapes or wine grapes. In other words, most grape varieties lend themselves to being better as table grapes, which are eaten fresh, or to winemaking. Some grape varieties, like muscadines, are used for both eating raw and for winemaking. Of course, there are other uses for the fruits, too. They’re made into juices, jellies, jams, brandy, and vinegar. Grapes are also dried to make raisins, currants, and sultanas. The seeds are pressed to produce grape seed oil. We enjoy eating grapes as snacks, and I also like to add them to green salads, to chicken salad, to fruit salads, and to desserts. When we used to grow our own grapes, I often made grape jelly, and occasionally, I’d make picked grapes. My grandfather used to make wine from his grapes. Later in this article, I’m going to tell you about some absolutely amazing grapes you might not know about yet!
Benefits of Grapes
You probably know something already about the benefits of grapes. They make healthy snacks, and most kids love them because they’re sweet, crunchy, and juicy. They’re also portable and easy to eat. Grapes nutrition is multifaceted. They’re good sources of vitamins C, K, A, and B-complex. They also provide elements like iron, copper, and manganese. The berries contain no cholesterol and no fat, and they supply dietary fiber. Even though they’re sweet, the berries have a low glycemic index.
Many of the benefits of grapes are in the skins and seeds, which are loaded with antioxidants, including carotenoids. Carotenoids are pigments that give most fruits and vegetables their bright colors. One of the carotenoids at work in grapes is beta-carotene. An organic compound, beta-carotene can help make your immune system stronger, reduce the presence of harmful free radicals, and protect eye health.
Grapes also contain flavanols, like catechins, which provide several health benefits. They help protect your skin from sun damage, and they help protect your DNA to reduce the effects of aging. Catechins also play a role in reducing the risk of diabetes, heart failure, stroke, and cancer. Animal studies show that catechins can reduce plaque buildup in the arteries, too.
The fruit of the vine can also help with inflammation. Studies of grapes as anti-inflammatory foods were done mostly on extracts, seeds, and skins. They contain components that can reduce inflammation by interfering with enzymes and molecules that cause inflammation, like COX 1, COX 2, and interleukin.
Another phytonutrient provided by grapes has garnered a huge amount of attention from doctors, scientists, and consumers. It’s called resveratrol. Read more about it below.
Resveratrol is a type of phytonutrient that’s called a stilbene. Stilbenoids are natural phenols that help plants fight harmful pathogens, and for humans, resveratrol might be extremely beneficial. Studies on humans have really just begun, but it appears that the substance has a positive impact on blood glucose. The studies on animals have been more impressive. Resveratrol actually lengthened the lifespan of worms, fruit flies, and fish. Studies conducted with mice showed that resveratrol was able to reduce many of the negative effects of consuming a diet high in fat. That’s in line with the “French paradox.”
What’s the French Paradox? Doctors and scientists noted that the French, as a whole, suffer from much less heart disease than citizens of other developed nations, even though the typical French diet is high in saturated fats. How can these people consume more cheese, more butter, and more fat than the average American consumes yet have fewer incidences of cardiovascular disease? In a nutshell, that’s the French paradox. Some believe the answer lies in red wine, which contains resveratrol.
In grapes, resveratrol is concentrated in the skins, especially in red grapes. Studies suggest that the substance can help the body fight skin cancers and gastrointestinal tumors, and that it can help prevent mammary tumors. It also helps prevent plaque in the brain that can cause Alzheimer’s disease, it reduces inflammation, and it inhibits several viruses.
Much of the interest in resveratrol is its ability to prevent cardiovascular disease. It, along with other grape components, seem to reduce LDL cholesterol, keep platelets from “sticking together,” help regulate blood pressure, and help make blood vessels more elastic.
To get this healthy potion, many americans are now drinking more red wine. They're also taking resveratrol supplements and buying the ready-to-drink resveratrol juice. I drink the juice sometimes, and it's delicious!
Table grapes are usually larger than wine grapes, and they’re often seedless. The skins of table grapes are usually thinner, too, and the flesh isn’t as sweet as the flesh of wine grapes. Most popular table grapes have a pleasant combination of tart and sweet flavors that appeal to consumers. Where do we Americans get our table grapes? Stroll through the produce department at your local supermarket and look at the labels on grapes. You’ll probably find that most come from California, but others might come from Mexico or Chile. We also import some of our raisins from the same two countries, while most of our imported grape juice comes from Argentina.
There are three main types or colors of table grapes: red grapes, black grapes, and white grapes, which are sometimes referred to as green grapes. Some grape varieties, like the muscadine, also have vines that produce bronze berries. Berries refer to the individual fruits of the grapevine.
Red grapes range in color from a pinkish-red to bright red to dark red. Sometimes a single berry will exhibit red and golden colors. Red grapes might be seedless or seeded, depending on the variety. The juice from red grapes is usually clear and light in or lacking color.
Some of the most popular red grapes in the United States that function mostly as table grapes are Flame seedless, red globe, and Cardinal. Red globe grapes are very large and round, and they have seeds. Cardinal red grapes are bright red, like the bird of the same name. They’re large, seeded, and very sweet. Varieties of red grapes grown on smaller scales in the U.S. include the Emperor, the Scarlet Royal, the Sweet Scarlet, the Ruby Seedless, the Canadice, the Vanessa, the Einset seedless, the Swenson red, the Reliance, and the Crimson Seedless.
Red Flame Seedless Grapes
Red flame seedless grapes, or Flame seedless, were developed from Thompson seedless grapes and other cultivars, especially Cardinal grapes. The berries are round, plump, and of medium size. The color ranges from bright red to purplish-red. The flesh is sweet, with just a little tartness, and the texture is firm and crunchy. The clusters are heavily set with fruit. In the United States, these grapes are second in popularity only to Thompson seedless grapes. Flame seedless grapes ripen early. In the Southeast, the grapes are usually ready to pick and eat in late July or early August. Because of imports, the fruit is usually available year round in supermarkets. Flame seedless grapes are also popular with home gardeners.
Not all so-called black grapes actually have black skins. Some do, but others in this group might have dark blue or purple skins. Some of the most popular black table grapes in America are the Concord and the Thomcord, a cross between the Concord grape and the Thompson seedless grape. Black grapes that are popular with small commercial producers and home gardeners include the Autumn Royal, the Fredonia, the Summer Royal, the Black Emerald, the Mars, the Jupiter, the Lynden Blue, the Price, the Beauty seedless, the Fantasy seedless, the Ribier, the Venus, the Van Buren, the Glenora, the America, and the Black Monukka.
Concord grapes were developed in Concord, Massachusetts, from wild grapes. They’re sometimes eaten fresh, but they’re extremely popular for making jelly, jam, and grape juice. Occasionally, they’re also used to make wine. The grapes have a very sweet musky flavor, and the berries are purple and contain seeds. The skin slips easily off the flesh. The juice form the grapes is notorious for staining clothing and fingers, so don’t wear your best clothing when you’re enjoying a bunch.
White Grapes – Green Grapes
White grapes range from a very pale whitish-green to a vibrant light green, so they’re often called green grapes. The most popular white grapes in the U.S. are Thompson seedless grapes, hands down. White grape juice is often made from Niagara grapes and Diamond grapes. White grapes that are popular with home gardeners and small vineyards in the United States include Marquis, Perlette, Edelweiss, Sugraone, Princess, Swenson white, Himrod, Neptune, white Ladyfinger seedless, Lake Emerald, Lakemont, Interlaken, and Autumn King.
Thompson Seedless Grapes
Thompson seedless grapes, or sultana grapes, are one of the most popular table grapes in the United States. These berries are eaten fresh, they’re made into raisins, and they’re used in winemaking. Wine made from Thompson seedless grapes is sometimes called American Chablis. The variety originated in Turkey, and the American moniker gets its name from William Thompson, a grape grower who introduced the variety to California. More Thompson seedless grapes are grown in California than any other variety of grapes.
Obviously, these grapes are seedless, and they’re pale green in color and oval in shape. They have a mild, sweet flavor and are very popular with American consumers. The berries range in size from medium to large. Grapes grown in the U.S. are usually available from June through September. Most American raisins, whether they’re brown or golden, are made from Thompson seedless grapes.
Muscadine grapes are native to the South, and we used to grow two types – the bronze and the black. Muscadines don’t need cool weather like most other grape varieties do, so they do well in the hot southern climate. The skin of these grapes is usually a lot tougher than that of other grapes, so most people don’t eat the skins, or hulls.
In my opinion, muscadine grapes have a stronger, more pronounced flavor that most other grapes you find in supermarkets, and this is especially noticeable in the darker varieties. The bronze grapes are usually milder in flavor. Many people like eating muscadines fresh, but they’re also used to make wine, jam, jelly, and syrup.
Muscadine grapes can be found all over the Southeast, and many farmers and homeowners grow them on trellises. They can often be found growing wild in the woods, too, but the wild grapes are usually green and are almost always smaller.
Champagne grapes are becoming more and more popular in the United States – partly because of their flavor, and partly because of their diminutive size. The tiny grapes make excellent garnishes for other food dishes. The grapes are actually Corinth grapes, usually black Corinth. Sometimes red varieties can be found. Raisins made from the dried grapes are sometimes called Zante currants, although they aren’t actually currants.
Champagne grapes are seedless, and the flesh is sweet and crunchy. They have the tiniest berries of all seedless grape varieties. By the way, these grapes aren’t used to make champagne. Their name comes from a photo shoot where a bunch of the berries appeared beside a champagne glass. I sampled some of these little berries for the first time today, and I found them delightful!
Wild Grape Varieties
In the U.S., there are several wild grape varieties that grow untended. They’re safe to eat, but you probably won’t like their flavor as table grapes. They don’t taste like cultivated berries. Some of the species you might find are Vitis labrusca, Vitis riparia, Vitis rotundifolia, Vitis rupestris, Vitis aestivalis, and Vitis mustangensis. These species were and still are often used as rootstock in developing sweeter cultivated varieties.
Commonly, these species might be known locally as skunk, sand, river bank, July, summer, fox, frost, mustang, or mountain grape. In my neck of the woods, the Deep South, muscadines growing wild are often called bullaces, scuppernongs, or scufadines. Wild grapes might be green, black, purple, or bronze, depending on the species. They’re safe to eat, but more often, they’re used to make wine, jellies, and jams. Some wild grapes, however, might cause minor skin irritation.
If you find grapes growing wild while you’re on a trek through the woods, before eating them, make sure they’re actually grapes. Some wild berries look like grapes but might be poisonous or toxic. Be sure the berries are growing on vines and that the leaves have toothed edges. One plant sometimes mistaken for wild Vitis is moonseed. It bears purple berries that grow on vines, and the leaves are similar – except that the edges are smooth. Examine the seeds, too – they look like crescent moons. Moonseed berries are poisonous!
How To Identify Wild Grapes:
Most wine grapes have small berries that are seeded and very sweet. The fruits usually have thick skins, which are beneficial in the winemaking process. Most varieties of wine grapes are grown in Europe, especially in France, Italy, Germany, Greece, Portugal, Armenia, and Spain. On a smaller scale, they’re also grown in Bulgaria, Georgia, Austria, Croatia, Russia, Switzerland, Serbia, Turkey, Hungary, Ukraine, and Romania. Outside Europe, grapes for winemaking are cultivated in China, Iran, Australia, South Africa, Lebanon, Chile, and Argentina. In the United States, California is by far the leading grape producer, but every state in the Union has its own wineries, including Alaska.
Cotton Candy Grapes: A New Grape That’s Unbelievable!
If you like sweet grapes, you have to try Cotton Candy Grapes! They really are cotton candy flavored grapes, believe it or not. How did we discover this new fruit sensation? Hubby went to our local Publix Supermarket three nights ago, for some Puppy Chow. The store’s just a block from our house, and it’s new, large, and attractive. The produce manager grabbed the old man as he walked by and asked hubby to taste a new grape they had. He came home and told me all about it. This was the conversation:
“Have you ever tried cotton candy grapes?”
“You mean grape-flavored cotton candy?”
“No. I mean cotton candy-flavored grapes.”
“Really? What are they called?”
“Cotton candy grapes. They’re the sweetest grapes I’ve ever tasted!”
“Did you buy some?”
“Well, why not?”
“Because they were $3.99 a pound.”
Okay – I was intrigued. For my husband to get excited about a food that’s even remotely healthy is extremely unusual. The next night, we both stopped in the store to buy milk. Hubby led me to the produce department and presented me with a large green grape.
“Taste this,” he said. I did, and it was unbelievable. When I had to make a pit stop at Publix last night, I just had to buy a bag of the grapes.
I just had to do some research on this new grape. I figured it was some sort of weird genetically engineered food, but it’s not. Cotton Candy was developed in 2003 by a former USDA scientist, David Cain. The candy-like fruit took years of breeding and crossing different grape varieties. And although the fruits have been around for several years, they’re just now catching on in some parts of the country.
If you like sweet, tasty grapes, I feel pretty sure you’ll love the cotton candy variety. We consumed almost all the find in one sitting, but I managed to sneak a few out for the grandkids – I really wanted to get their reaction. Just as I figured, they love the grapes. I’m sure this variety is probably higher in sugar than most other grape varieties, but when compared to other typical snack foods, these grapes are a definite improvement. The cotton candy berries are also more expensive than most other varieties of grapes. I thought $3.99 a pound was a little steep, but evidently, that’s a real bargain. In most places, they’re at least $5 a pound, and in some places, they’re almost $10 a pound. Still, they’re nice for a change. If you can find these grapes in your local stores, please give them a try to let me know what you think!
Lanita Woods from United States on June 23, 2015:
I grew up on muscadine grapes. Love them, although as kids we called them "bullet grapes".
Rose Clearfield from Milwaukee, Wisconsin on August 27, 2013:
What what a comprehensive overview! I love grapes and always enjoy trying new varieties of them and recipes for them. Thanks for all of the detailed information. I learned a lot.
Holle Abee (author) from Georgia on August 25, 2013:
Hi, Doc! We love grapes, too. I sure hope you find the Cotton Candy grapes. I'm interested in your reaction.
drbj and sherry from south Florida on August 25, 2013:
Grapes are my favorite fruit, Holle, so I'm almost out the door to buy the cotton candy version. Your sweet description is almost too good to be true, m'dear. Will keep you posted if I find them.