In Season: Grapes
Grapes are in season right now. Get them fresh off the vine and try some of our favorite ways to prepare them.
Grapes (Vitis spp, Vitaceae) are edible berries grown in clusters on small shrubs or vines. They grow best in temperate zones such as Italy, France, Spain, Mexico and Chile. New world settlers found that grapes brought over from Europe didn’t survive the winter cold and were prone to fungal diseases. They developed the hybrid varieties found in America today. Today California is the largest producer of “table grapes” – the kind for snacking.
There are thousands of varieties of grapes. Some are grown for wine production while others are grown to be eaten as-is. Concord grapes are used to produce grape juice, jams and jellies. They’re blue in color, with a thick, chewy skin and contain seeds. They're sold as table grapes along with other varieties like Interlaken, Lakemont, Einset Seedless and Venus. Muscat grapes are turned into raisins while Riesling grapes are used to produce wine. Dana found fun varieties when she scouted her local farmers market including Mars and Juniper grapes.
Grapes are typically round or oval, smooth skinned and juicy. Some varieties contain seeds while others are seedless. Some are “slip skin” where the skin can easily be removed while other varieties have skin that is tough to remove. Grapes are divided into categories by color: white or black (or red). White grapes range in color from pale yellow-green to light green, while black varieties range in color from light red to deep purple. In the U.S., peak season for grapes is August through October.
One cup of grapes contains 62 calories, vitamin K, manganese, potassium and vitamin C. Grapes are packed with a variety of antioxidants. One powerful antioxidant called proanthocyanidin was found to have 20 times greater antioxidant power than vitamin E and 50 times greater antioxidant power than vitamin C.
Don’t count out the skin of grapes. Resveratrol, a phytonutrient found in the skin has been found to help fight inflammation and cancer. Although red wine has been touted as being the healthy choice, both white and black varieties of grapes contain resveratrol. Red grapes specifically contain lycopene, which may help prostate and breast cancer.
Fresh grapes are one fruit my kids go gaga over. To make snacking on grapes more fun, thread them on skewers and dip in chocolate syrup or yogurt. Frozen grapes are a scrumptious summer treat, especially on a hot day.
Grapes make a wonderful jam or jelly and are a fun addition to salads and gazpacho. For a change of pace, toss freshly sliced grapes into your tuna or chicken salad. They can be grilled, roasted or pickled. You can even bake them into muffins, pies or tarts.
Shopping Tip: Look for grapes that are plump, brightly colored and firmly attached to their stems. Store grapes unwashed in a plastic bag in the refrigerator for up to one week. Be sure to wash thoroughly before eating as grapes are typically sprayed with insecticides (especially imported grapes found at the supermarket)—that’s why they’re number 7 on the “dirty dozen” list.
Toby Amidor, MS, RD, CDN, is a registered dietitian and consultant who specializes in food safety and culinary nutrition. See Toby's full bio »