Why Eat It
Nutrition Chart

Why Eat It

Grapes can grow in almost every type of climate, and while they do particularly well in regions such as the Mediterranean (where they have long been established), they are now cultivated on six continents. They are served as a fresh fruit, preserved or canned in jellies and jams, dried into raisins, and crushed for making juice or wine.

Grapes are not notable for their nutrient content--the table grapes that we eat fresh have only low to moderate amounts of vitamins and minerals. But some varieties are good sources of vitamin C. Their juiciness and natural sweetness, combined with a low calorie count, make them an excellent snack and dessert food.

Resveratrol is found in the skins of red grapes and is, therefore, a component of red wine. It is also found in purple grape juice, berries such as blueberries, cranberries, and raspberries, and in smaller amounts in peanuts. In the 1990s, the compound began to garner scientific attention as a possible explanation for the “French paradox” of a low incidence of heart disease among French people despite a diet high in saturated fats. Resveratrol is often marketed as “the French paradox in a bottle,” though preliminary research indicates the amount of resveratrol found in wine is not sufficient to corroborate these claims.

The grape is one of the oldest cultivated fruits: Fossils indicate that the cultivation, or at least the consumption, of grapes goes back to early times, perhaps to the Neolithic era. Hieroglyphics show that Egyptians were involved in grape and wine production, and the early Romans were known to have developed new varieties. And, of course, the grape is mentioned in the Old Testament as the "fruit of the vine."

Today, although modern equipment is employed in certain aspects of grape growing, much of viticulture (as grape-growing is called) is still done by hand. Grapes grow on woody vines that are not raised from seeds, but are propagated from cuttings or grafted onto existing rootstocks. The vines must be staked or trellised as they grow, to support the heavy bunches of fruit. Leaves and shoots are pruned from the vines and, depending on the variety, the flower clusters or the berries themselves must be thinned by hand to improve the quality of the fruit. Grapes develop sugar as they ripen, but will become no sweeter once picked, so timing the harvest is of the utmost importance. And to ensure that they reach the consumer in full, handsome clusters, table grapes are harvested by hand. Grapes intended for processing can be removed from the vines with mechanical pickers.


There are two basic types of grapes, American and European. Today, both are grown in the United States, but the European grapes are certainly more popular and versatile. Seeded varieties are thought to have better flavor than seedless, but Americans--who tend to eat grapes as a snack rather than as a proper dessert--seem to prefer the convenience of seedless grapes. The list that follows covers the major (and a few minor) varieties of grapes, both seeded and seedless, grown in this country.

Our familiar table grapes are derived from a single European species, Vitis vinifera. Varieties of vinifera grapes were grown by the ancients, and now are made into the world's wines and dried to produce raisins. They have relatively thin skins that adhere closely to their flesh; when seeds are present, they can be slipped out of the pulp quite easily (some varieties are seedless). Spanish missionaries moving north from Mexico established vineyards in California in the late 18th century, and by 1860 commercial cultivation of several varieties was established there.

Today, California produces about 97% of all European varieties of grapes in the United States. Although a large proportion of the California crop is used for winemaking and raisins, the remainder is sufficient to provide a bountiful supply of fresh fruit for American tables during most of the year. The major varieties are harvested in different seasons, and the period of market availability for some types is extended by imported grapes from Chile and Mexico.

Black Beauty (Beauty Seedless): These are the only seedless black grapes. They are spicy and sweet, resembling Concords in flavor. Season: late May to early July

Calmeria: These are pale green oval fruits. They have a mildly sweet flavor, comparatively thick skin, and a few small seeds. The grapes are so elongated that they are sometimes called Lady Finger grapes. Season: January and February

Cardinal: A cross between the Flame Tokay and the Ribier, these large, dark red grapes have a pearly gray finish, a full, fruity flavor, and few seeds. Season: mid-May through mid-August

Champagne (Black Corinth): These grapes are tiny, purple and seedless with a deliciously winy sweetness. Some are dried to produce currants. They are called champagne grapes because the grape clusters resemble champagne bubbles. They are available primarily at gourmet produce markets. Season: September and October

Emperor: Second only to Thompson Seedless in quantity grown, these small-seeded red grapes may vary in color from red-violet to deep purple. Their flavor is mild and somewhat cherrylike (they have a lower sugar content than many table grapes). Thick-skinned Emperors are good shippers and stand up well to consumer handling; their large size and full, round shape make them popular for holiday tables. They also store well, lengthening their period of availability. Season: California-grown Emperors are on the market from August through March; Chilean imports are available in March and April.

Exotic: These blue-black grapes are seeded and firm-fleshed, and resemble the Ribiers. Season: June through August

Flame Seedless: Round, deep red, and seedless, these grapes, a relatively new variety, are sweet-tart and crunchy. Season: mid-June through September; Chilean imports are available from December through April.

Italia (Italia Muscat): This variety has taken the place of the older Muscat varieties, which today are mainly used for making wine. Muscats are large, greenish gold seeded grapes with a winelike sweetness and fragrance; the Italias have a milder flavor than the older varieties. Season: August to November

Perlette Seedless: These round, crisp green grapes, which have a frosty white "bloom" on their surface, are the first arrivals from California each year. They are also imported from Mexico in the early summer. Season: May into early July

Queen: These large, firm grapes are rusty red in color and have a mildly sweet flavor. Season: August and September

Red Globe: These very large red grapes have a crisp texture and large seeds. The flavor is quite delicate. Season: September through January

Red Malaga: Ranging in color from pinkish red to purple, these grapes are crisp and mildly sweet. Their rather thick skins make them good shippers. Season: July through September

Ribier: These large, blue-black grapes, which grow in generous bunches, have tender skins. They are sweeter than the look-alike Exotic, and arrive at market later in the summer. Chilean imports augment the supply during the winter. Season: August through February

Ruby Seedless: These deep red oval grapes are sweet and juicy. Season: late August through January; Chilean imports are available from January through May.

Thompson Seedless: These oval, amber green grapes are the most popular fresh variety grown in the United States (and also the foremost variety used for processing into raisins). Season: June through November; Chilean imports are available from December through April.

Tokay (Flame Tokay): A sweeter version of the Flame Seedless, these grapes have large, elon-gated, crunchy orange-red berries. Season: August through December

Two species native to the United States are Vitis labrusca and Vitis rotundita. Labrusca grapes are the ones that Viking explorer Leif Ericson found growing so abundantly on the east coast of North America, which resulted in his naming the newfound territory "Vinland." Later settlers tried and failed to establish European grapes (for winemaking) in the eastern United States; in the late 18th century Easterners started to domesticate native varieties, which were obviously well suited to the local climate. Today, labrusca are the primary type of American grapes grown.

American varieties are sometimes called slipskin grapes, as their skins separate readily from the flesh; their seeds are tightly embedded in the pulp. The most familiar American variety is the Concord, a typical labrusca grape, with a thick skin and a heady, sweet aroma that surpasses its bland-to-sour flavor. This variety originated in the 1840s near the Massachusetts town whose name it bears. Another fairly well-known American variety is the Catawba, discovered in the 1820s in Maryland and used for making wine.

Although they can be grown in many parts of the country, commercial production of American varieties is still concentrated in the East: New York State is the major grower. Pennsylvania, Michigan, Arkansas, and the state of Washington also produce some American grapes. Nearly all of the crop is processed into jam, jelly, juice, wine, and other food products; cream of tartar, an ingredient in some types of baking powder, is made from Concord grapes. A small quantity of these grapes reach the market as table grapes, but since they do not ship well, they are generally sold locally.

All American grape varieties ripen in the fall and are available only in September and October.

Concord: The major variety of American grape, large, round Concord grapes are blue-black with a powdery bloom, sweet-tart flavor, and perfumed fragrance. They are most commonly used in grape preserves and juice.

Delaware: These small, pinkish-red grapes have a more tender skin than other American varieties. They are sweet and juicy.

Niagara: These large, amber-colored grapes have a grayish bloom. Niagaras may be either round or egg-shaped. They are somewhat coarse-fleshed, and are less sweet than most other American varieties.

Steuben: These blue-black grapes are similar to the Concord, but have less of a wine-like flavor.


Red and green grapes are available year round.


Grapes are thin-skinned and easily damaged. They should be displayed no more than two bunches deep, and under refrigeration. The bunches may be wrapped in tissue paper, or enclosed in perforated plastic bags. Loose bunches are easiest to evaluate, but the wrapped grapes are better protected from damage caused by customer handling.

Grapes are not picked and shipped until ripe, so unripe grapes are not usually a problem for the consumer. You can, however, use color as a guide to the sweetest fruit. Green grapes should tend toward a translucent yellow-green rather than an opaque grass green; all fruit on a bunch of red grapes should be predominantly crimson; and blue grapes should be darkly hued, almost black. Once they have been picked, grapes will not ripen further: If you spot a bunch with many underdeveloped, very green fruits, leave it in the store.

A bunch of grapes in the market should look as inviting as those in a still-life painting: plump fruit with a silvery white "bloom," tightly attached to moist, flexible stems (except Emperor grapes, which should have brown, woody stems). The powdery bloom, more visible on dark-colored grapes than on pale ones, is an important sign of freshness; it fades with time and handling. Avoid wrinkled, sticky, or discolored grapes on withered, brown, limp, or brittle stems.


Before storing grapes at home, remove any spoiled fruit. Place unwashed grapes in a plastic bag and store them in the refrigerator. They should keep for about a week.


Wash grapes under cold water just before serving and remove any damaged fruit. Leave the bunch whole, or divide it into smaller branches for serving. (This is easily done with a pair of shears).

If your recipe requires peeled grapes, you'll find that American (slipskin) varieties readily slip out of their skins. European grapes are easier to peel if you drop them into boiling water for a few seconds; immediately drain and cool them in ice water. However, unless you find grape skins objectionable, most recipes that call for peeled grapes can be done with unpeeled grapes. If seeding is required, halve each grape and pick out the seeds with the tip of the knife, or for ease of preparation, choose seedless grapes.

Nutrition Chart

Seedless Grapes/1 cup

Total fat (g)
Saturated fat (g)
Monounsaturated fat (g)
Polyunsaturated fat (g)
Dietary fiber (g)
Carbohydrate (g)
Cholesterol (mg)
Sodium (mg)
Vitamin C (mg)



Date Published: 07/17/2005
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