raisin (French), mahats (Basque), Traube (German), uva (Italian/Portuguese/Spanish), druif (Dutch), drue/vindrue (Danish), drue (Norwegian), vin/druva (Swedish), viinirypäle (Finnish), vinograd (Russian), winogrona (Polish), grozda (Serbo-Croat), boaba de strugare (Romanian), grozde (Bulgarian), stafyli (Greek), üzüm (Turkish), ‘enav (Hebrew), ‘inab (Arabic), angur (Persian), a-ngung (Thai), pu tao (Chinese), budo (Japanese)
Grapes are among the oldest cultivated fruits. Vitis vinifera has some 10,000 varieties, and is the general term designating various Old World grapes of Europe and the Near East, while Vitis rotundifolia is used to indicate major New World species.
The first is an outstanding grapevine indigenous to the area stretching from the southeast coast of the Black Sea around the south of the Caspian Sean to Afghanistan, and can still be found in these regions.
Like its cultivated successors, the wild vine is a climbing plant and requires support during its growth. Vikings who were exploring the eastern seaboard of North America long before the time of Columbus, evidentally found at least one of the New World types of grape, probably V. labrusca, the fox grape.
Another was likely the muscadine or scuppernong grape (V. rotundifolia),
found in the North American southeast. These finds caused them to the name the New World “Vinland”.
After European colonization in the New World, grape cultivation began in earnest, but cuttings from V. vinnifera could not survive the harsh winters of the northern US. Thus, native species were cultivated and improved upon which eventually led to the now popular
Concord grape which is a variety of V. labrusca.
The Concord is a bluish-black American hybrid from V. labrusca. Some are seedless, while others have seeds. Resistant to cold, it grows well in the northeastern part of the US. The large fruits have a strong flavour.
Sometimes eaten as table grapes, they are more often used for juice, jelly, and wine. Their curiously bright purple juice causes Europeans to think that it may be synthetic; but it is, in fact, a natural product of this variety.
The sea-faring Phoenicians were responsible for taking the grape vine from Asia to Greece around 1000 BCE. Since it flourished in the Mediterranean climate, it quickly spread throughout the classical world.
While the Spanish and Portuguese were establishing the European grape in the Americas, the Dutch took it to the Cape of Good Hope in 1655 where the V. capensis became a native grape of fair quality; but the V. vinifera is still dominant.
Grapes were introduced to South Australia in 1813 and have successfully grown there ever since. They are also becoming a popular crop in South America. V. vinifera had spread around the globe, but was virtually wiped out in Europe during a crisis in 1860.
An aphid, Phylloxera vastatrix,
had somehow been accidentally introduced into France, and within a few years had ravaged all European vineyards. It normally lives in the roots of some native American vines without doing any great harm, but once they get into the root system of V. vinifera, it soon kills the plant.
It was soon noticed that the few American vines found growing in Europe as exotics were not affected, and grafting quickly began except in a few places where it had been possible to maintain plots of ungrafted vines, thus saving the species.
Wild grapes were already established in the Caucasus in the Stone Age, and it was not long after that man learned how to ferment them into wine.
It is certain that the ancient Egyptians made wine, although they used it for temple rituals rather than social drinking.
The ancient Greeks and Romans, however, were more inclined toward social drinking and planted huge numbers of vineyards. They also learned the technique of drying the fruit.
The Greeks and Romans not only used the grape for wine and eating fresh, but also for other products. Because sugar was virtually unknown, grape syrups were made to add to food. Pliny eludes to more than one kind as sapa was more concentrated than defrutum and was boiled down to one-third the original volume.
Defrutum was reduced to half its original volume and used in savoury dishes. Passum was made from raisins, must, or wine and used as a sweetener. Grape syrup is still made in the Levant, where it is called Dibs, or pekmez, in Turkey.
Verjuice is another product, of ancient origin, made from unripened grapes, or sometimes from other fruits. It was used as a souring agent until vinegar came along. Good vinegar was also a grape product until cheaper forms were invented, using other means than the grape.
In the 19th century England, the Victorians were very enthusiastic about grapes, and cultivated magnificent specimens in hothouses. At the same time, the French uvarium or grape spa offered medicinal and slimming cures consisting entirely of grapes.
Grape cultivation was introduced into California by the Spanish in the 1700s; and, since then, many different types of grapes have been developed. California now grows over 90% of the total crop in the US.
Grapes are also grown in British Columbia and eastern parts of Canada. However, toxic chemicals used in their production have led consumers to demand more of the organically-grown types, which have a more juicy and flavourful taste, along with being chemical-free.
Grapes are very nutritious, containing natural sugars, potassium, iron, and dietary fiber. Most grapes are sold under-ripe, but the best way to judge is to taste one. This is not a generally an accepted practice in many shops though.
The skins, stems, and seeds contain tannins, which are astringent chemicals that coagulate proteins in the mucous membranes of the mouth, causing it to “pucker”.
Many of the tannins, including the pigments (anthocyanins) that make the grapes the red colour, are found in the skin. Grapes also contain malic acid, which makes them taste sour when unripe. As they ripen, the malic acid content declines, and the sugar content rises.
Since grapes have no stored starches that can be converted to sugar, grapes do not get sweeter after they are picked. This is the reason for the “taste test” to determine if grapes are ready for picking.
Grapeseed oil is made by pressing the seeds, which are very rich in polyunsaturated fats. It is the perfect oil for making mayonnaise because it has such a mild flavour, and it never separates.
Grapes are the best known of the vine fruits, growing in pendulous bunches on a stalk. The skins can be green, pale yellow, purple, bluish, or red; but green grapes can also be called “white” and purple ones “black”. Some grapes have a bloom, while others have a waxy skin.
The pulp is usually translucent, with some varieties containing seeds while others do not. Seedless varieties contain less tannin than the seeded fruit, making them easier to eat. Some varieties are grown as dessert or table grapes, while others are cultivated exclusively for wine-making.
Other varieties are grown for drying into raisins, currants, and sultanas. Generally speaking, table grapes are not used for wine-making, or vice versa; but there are a few dual-purpose varieties.
is a term general applied to a dried grape. However, it is not from just any grape, and only certain varieties are suited to and grown for such a purpose.
Raisins are often distinguished by the kind of grape used (eg. Muscatel) or by the place or origin (eg. Malaga and Alicante, both in Spain). The main raisin producers are the US, Turkey, Greece, and Australia.
Although seedless raisins are the most popular, it is the ones with seeds that have the most flavour. The best dried grapes are the raisins made from Muscat grapes that come from California or Spain. They are a large, dark fruit and are tender and sweet when eaten on their own.
are small, pale golden in colour, seedless, sweet, and popular. They were known as Smyrna raisins because most of them were shipped from Smyrna in Turkey.
are small golden dried fruit made from seedless white grapes. They are deliciously moist, with a tender texture and a delicate flavour.
are small seedless, dried black grapes, traditionally best from the region of Corinth in Greece, although good ones also come from Turkey.
The term “raisins of the sun” is often encountered in old English recipes of the 17th and 18th centuries, being used to distinguish ordinary raisins from currants, although all were sun-dried.
Grape leaves, vine leaves are the leaves of the grape plant that are harvested when young and found in virtually every market in Greece and Turkey. They are stuffed and made into packets with meat and rice fillings.
These leaves are difficult to find in countries where grapes are not grown, but preserved leaves are widely available. The grape leaf is an everyday, food in the Middle East and several Mediterranean countries.
Of the many thousands of varieties that are available, fewer than fifty are of any commercial importance, and most of these are produced for the wine industry. The countries which have the right climate and grow the most grapes are Italy, France, Bulgaria, the Soviet Union, the USA, Australia, and South Africa. However, Belgium has become a leading contender by producing hothouse grapes of exceptional quality.
Some notable varieties include the following:
is a black grape from France, but also grown in California and elsewhere.
is a white grape of medium to large size, with a mild flavour, and is a good keeper, grown in Spain and the US.
is a large, round, black grape that has seeds and a firm, crisp pulp, and growing in compact bunches.
is an amber-coloured Italian eating grape that has a good flavour, but not very sweet.
is considered a white grape, but is a light green in colour and elongated, available during the winter.
is a dark red and purple, oval grape with firm, fleshy pulp which can sometimes lack flavour. They grow in large, unevenly shaped bunches.
is a large purplish red grape which has a distinctive flavour, and sometimes used as a table grape; but is now grown mainly for wine and juice. It is an American hybrid of the native fox grape (V. labrusca), and which has been cultivated in Kentucky since 1802.
is a yellow French table grape of superior quality. It exists in several forms and may be the oldest known cultivated variety, as judged by Egyptian tomb paintings at Luxor.
is a small, dark pink, soft-skinned, sweet-flavoured grape grown in Brazil and popular in Japan. It is an American variety (V. aestivalis x vinifera x V. labrusca cross). It is used as a table grape and for wine.
is a large, thick-skinned, red grape with seeds, and the second most widely sold table grape in the US. It is popular mainly for its keeping qualities and durability in transport rather than for its eating quality.
is a large, dark red grape, smallish and seedless. It has a think skin, but is very sweet and juicy. It is grown mostly in Chile and available through the summer.
is a black grape from which beaujolais is made. Usually grown for the wine industry, it is also excellent for eating fresh.
is a very sweet, meaty Muscat of Alexandria, grown in South Africa and often exported. It is an ancient variety known as a table or raisin grape rather than a wine-maker.
considered a white grape, has greenish-yellow skin and is the closest, inexpensive alternative to Muscat grapes. The grapes are round with seeds, but very large and juicy, having a pleasantly musky flavour. Very popular in Italy, which also exports it to other European countries, it is also grown in the US.
is a Thompson seedless grape.
is a white Spanish grape of the same type as Almeria, which was also imported from Malaga, a term used in America for this grape. However, there is also an American-grown large pink or red grape called the Red Malaga. It is crisp, but lacking in acidity.
is a general term for a group of table varieties that can be seeded or seedless. All are large and range in colour from pale yellow to deep, black with thick skins. They are sweet and aromatic and the finest by far, earning them the title of the “king of grapes”. They have a wonderfully perfumed flavour that is almost like a nectar. The very best are hothouse grown and are displayed cocooned in padded paper to preserve their beautiful bloom. All Muscats are large, with the white varieties being a paler green or golden. The black Muscats can be either red or black. The best of all is the white Chasselas, whose skin turns almost bronze when ripe. Muscat grapes are generally used for making dessert wines and the large, flat “muscatel” raisins.
is a large, thick, dark purple-skinned grape that has a heavy white bloom. The flesh is particularly sweet, although not very juicy.
is a large, pale yellowish-green grape, a hybrid of the Concord and Cassady from V. labrusca stock. It is the main white table grape in America of that type, although less popular than the white grapes from V. vinifera. It has a slight tangy flavour.
is a very early white, seedless table grape that grows in tight clusters. A product of California, it has thin skins but firm, crisp, juicy flesh, with a pleasingly tart flavour.
Queen is a large bright to dark red, seeded grape available in the summer.
Regina is an amber grape, elongated, sweet, and crisp. It is a popular table grape in Italy. Similar varieties can be found in Greece (Rozaki) and Bulgaria (Bolgar).
Ribier is a large, round, bluish purple-black grape that is of a neutral flavour, but also lacking in acidity. It is a European variety grown in the US, coming on the market late in the summer through the winter.
is considered a white variety, but have a green to light gold skin. Widely grown in the US and Australia, it is the leading American table grape, but is also grown for making sultanas, the light-coloured, seedless raisins. It grows in compact conical bunches and is firm, yet tender, and has a pleasantly sweet, clean, and refreshing taste. The varieties of Perlette and Thompson are both hybrids of Sultana.
Tokay/Pinot Gris is an oval red fruit with a firm texture, tough skin, and a mild flavour. It is grown for both table use and making white wine. In California, the grape is called “Flame Tokay” and grown for eating fresh placing second in popularity to the Thompson seedless.
is a reddish-black grape grown in California both for eating fresh and for making wine.
Cream of tartar (potassium tartrate/dipotassium L-(+)-tartrate) is an acid salt derived from grape juice or wine and is used as a natural leavening agent. It is usually made by purifying tartar, the whitish crystals which precipitate out of the grape juice. This is also a source of tartaric acid, which is an alternative constituent of baking powder. This white crystalline powder, C4H5KO6, is used both in the home and commercially for its buffering and emulsifying action and for its antioxidant effect.
Cream of tartar is more suitable than baking soda for hypertensive people on low sodium diets because it contains potassium and not sodium. It is also non-irritating and better tolerated by people with weak digestion or low gastric secretions. Baking soda is known to cause such symptoms in sensitive people as heartburn and dyspepsia.
Baking powder can be worse since, in addition to sodium bicarbonate, sodium pyrophosphate is often added. It takes smaller amounts of cream of tartar than either of the other two leavening agents. For better leavening though, sometimes one part sodium bicarbonate is added to two parts cream of tartar.