Grapes may not make as many headlines like blueberries and cranberries, but studies continue to show they rank high when it comes to health and nutrition.
The nutritional benefits of grapes stem from their exceptional polyphenol content, natural chemicals found in plants that act as antioxidants. This natural cocktail of antioxidants found in the skins, stems and seeds of grapes have been shown to offer protection against heart disease, cancer, even Alzheimer's disease.
Resveratrol, one of the polyphenols found in the skins of red grapes, has been making waves recently after studies have revealed it's anti-aging properties. It's been shown to extend the life of some organisms, including yeast, worms and fruit flies by dramatically slowing the aging process.
Both red and green grapes deliver antioxidants. The Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity (ORAC), a measure of antioxidant activity, is similar for both red and green grapes. Grapes have roughly the same antioxidant capacity as olive oil, green tea, apricots and mangos and about one-fifth of the antioxidant capacity of blueberries.
Grapes are roughly 80 percent water which makes them a lower calorie fruit. One Food Guide serving of grapes, about 20 grapes or ¾ cup (175 ml), contains 69 calories.
Nutrient information per 20 grapes (about ¾ cup/175 ml):
Source: Canadian Nutrient File, 2007b
While often thought of a fruit grown south of the border, Canada is actually home to countless vineyards. Some of the more famous grape-growing areas of Canada include the Okanagan and Fraser Valley in BC, the Lower Laurentials in Quebec and the Niagara Peninsula and Pelee Island in Ontario. Almost 95 percent of grapes grown in Canada are used for wine and juice.
There are more than 8,000 varieties of grapes grown worldwide, including those that are grown specifically for wine, juice, jams and jellies as well as raisins and currants.
The most common grape varieties include those that are smooth skinned and may or may not contain seeds. Most American varieties (i.e. Concord) of grapes have skins that easily slip off the berries, while European varieties (i.e. Thompson) have skin that is securely attached to the fruit.
The most popular varieties of grapes for eating include Thompson Seedless, characterized by their medium-oval shape and light green colour; Red Globe, characterized by large round shape, deep purple colour and large seeds; Flame Seedless, which have a dark red purple colour, firm flesh and slightly tart taste and Concord which are blue-black in colour and large in size.
Fresh grapes are available in supermarkets year round, however the local growing season in Canada is late summer, usually August and September.
When buying fresh grapes, look for those that are plump, evenly coloured, smooth and firmly attached to their stems. Stems should be moist and flexible, not brittle.
Avoid grapes that are bruised, soft or show signs of aging or improper storage such as visible mold on the grape or stem or punctured skins.
Unwashed grapes can be stored in the refrigerator for up to a week. They maintain their freshness when they are loosely wrapped in plastic or stored in an airtight container.
Because grapes are a thin-skinned fruit, it's best to keep them away from sources of contamination in the fridge such as raw meat, fish or poultry. A good rule of thumb is to store food that will be eaten fresh (such as grapes or lettuce) on the top shelf of the fridge and foods that need to be cooked on the bottom shelf. This prevents uncooked foods from contaminating other foods that will be eaten raw.
Wash grapes just prior to eating them. Washing them too far in advance can decrease their shelf life. Washing grapes not only helps remove dust and dirt, it also rinses off some of the pesticide residues.
The most effective way to wash grapes is to fill a large bowl with cool water, immerse grapes and gently rub them to remove any dirt or dust. Drain grapes in a colander over the sink, then pat dry with a paper towel.
Some grape connoisseurs recommend removing grapes from the fridge about 30 minutes before you plan to eat them in order to get them to their ideal temperature of about 15°C.
If you're using grapes in a recipe that calls for peeled grapes, you're best bet is to opt for American varieties since their skin can easily be removed. However, you need to decide if it's really worth the effort since grape skins contains many of the fruit's nutrients and antioxidants.
Though usually eaten raw, grapes are equally delicious in hot dishes. They're an easy addition to salads, both fruit and vegetable-based, they pair well with cheese and can be stewed and spiced and served as a sauce for fish or chicken.
You can also find grapes in many products, from jam to juice, jelly, vinegar, wine, raisins and grape seed oil.
Healthy ways to enjoy:
- Enjoy a seasonal berry salad made with fresh grapes, blueberries and gooseberries. Serve over low-fat yogurt, garnish with mint.
- Add a handful of sliced red grapes to your morning cereal for a boost of antioxidants.
- Skip the croutons; add crunchy red grapes to a salad instead. They taste great when paired with spinach, toasted almonds and tangy vinaigrette.
- Looking for a hot-weather midday meal? Skip the sandwich; instead enjoy grape and cucumber salsa with a grilled chicken breast. To make the salsa combine one cup each red grapes, green grapes and chopped cucumber; toss with ¼ cup chopped onion, and 1 tablespoon each limejuice, chopped cilantro and olive oil.
- Serve up a whole roasted chicken with grapes. Drizzle grapes and chicken with olive oil, fresh thyme sea salt and pepper; bake at 375°F (190°C) for 1 -1/2 hours or until chicken is cooked through and grapes are shriveled.
- Serve a traditional Italian Grape Foccacia, bread topped with grapes and fresh rosemary. Click here for the recipe.
- Surprise your dinner guests with a homemade pizza topped with sliced red grapes, pesto, shredded chicken breast, garlic and green onions. Click here for the recipe.
- Grapes make a great grab-and-go snack. Simply portion out servings into individual re-sealable containers and store in the fridge for a quick and healthy snack.
- Frozen grapes make a delicious snack on warm summer days and double as nutrient-packed ice cubes. They're also a great way to curb late night sweet cravings!
Did you know?
- Move over peanuts! Some major league baseball parks have started serving fresh grapes in addition to traditional fare like peanuts and hot dogs. LA Dodger’s Stadium and Toronto Blue Jays’ Rogers Centre are among the parks serving them. Go Jays go!
- Ontario is the grape capital of Canada! Ontario produces three-quarters of the grapes grown in Canada, followed by BC (24%), Quebec (1%) and Nova Scotia (1%).