Grapes are the king of all fruits, with more tons produced around the world each year than any other fruit — around 72 million tons.
And it’s no wonder. The majority of grapes are made into wine, while the rest are dehydrated to make raisins or consumed fresh as juicy table grapes.
Grapes are packed with dozens of vitamins and nutrients, including Vitamin C, which strengthens the immune system and helps shorten the duration of colds, the flu and other common maladies.
They’re also rich in Vitamin K, which plays a role in blood clotting and bone health, and potassium, which helps lower blood pressure and may reduce the risk of strokes and heart attacks.
They’re also loaded with antioxidants, which can protect cells from the damage caused by free radicals and a wide range of oxidative stress-related conditions such as cancer, heart disease, stroke and diabetes.
Grapes are believed to be as old as civilization itself.
Archeological evidence shows that humans were growing grapes way back in the Neolithic period around 10,000 BC.
Viticulture, which is the cultivation of grapes, soon made its way to Asia Minor and throughout the Nile region and Egypt.
In the 1700s BC, King Hammurabi of Babylon is believed to have enacted the world’s first alcohol law when he enacted rules for wine trading and punishments for cheating while trading. His broad collection of rules and laws became known as “The Code of Hammurabi” and they have been studied by scholars for thousands of years.
At the height of the Roman Empire, viticulture and winemaking had become an art. Wine was used in religious ceremonies, and it was also consumed extensively at social gatherings and celebrations.
Some ancient Roman vases so valuable that sometimes they are seized by law enforcement on suspicion that they were stolen. That’s exactly what happened to a 2,300-year-old elaborately painted vase that depicts Dionysus, the god of the grape harvest, riding in a cart. Prosecutors in Manhattan seized the vase in 2017 after evidence surfaced that tomb raiders in Italy had stolen it decades earlier.
So Many Varieties
There are more than 10,000 varieties of grapes in the world, and many of them were created by grafting existing varietals together to form a new one.
Among the most popular for winemaking are Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Tempranillo, Chardonnay, Syrah, Grenache, Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir.
In addition to being an effective way of preserving the juice of the grapes, the alcohol content in wine also helped kill or reduce harmful bacteria and germs that often plagued those who relied on drinking water from community cisterns, rivers and lakes.
In fact, what’s believed to be the world’s oldest unopened bottle of wine was discovered during an archaeological dig in the tomb of a Roman nobleman in the late 1800s near what is now Speyer, Germany.
The green glass bottle with dolphin handles is almost 1,700 years old, and is kept at Germany’s Historical Museum of the Palatinate.
The wine, referred to in historical circles as the Römerwein aus Speyer, was probably made from local grapes and herbs were added to it as a flavoring. It was capped with a layer of olive oil meant to preserve the wine and prevent oxidation, plus a thick wax seal that has slowed the normal evaporation process for almost two millennia.
Alas, the wine is probably not drinkable. It’s mostly a thick mass of dark solids, sediment and olive oil that hardened over the years.
Red grapes, which get their bright color from anthocyanins, have high amounts of antioxidants in their skin and seeds.
The antioxidants remain during and after fermentation, which is why red wine is also high in these beneficial compounds.
One of the antioxidants in grapes is resveratrol, which is a polyphenol that many studies have shown can provide some protection against the development and advancement of certain kinds of cancer and heart disease. Polyphenols may also help lower the blood sugar,
Grapes are also high in resveratrol, which reduces inflammation and acts as an antioxidant that inhibits the multiplication of cancer cells. Some studies in test tubes have shown that grape extracts reduced the metastasizing and spread of colon cancer cells, while others showed effectiveness on breast cancer cell migration and invasion.
The potassium in grapes may help lower blood pressure, which plays a crucial role in heart disease and strokes, and they show a beneficial effect on overall heart health and vascular performance.
Snacking on raisins can also help.
People with hypertension (high blood pressure) or prehypertension (slightly higher than normal blood pressure) who eat raisins three times a day instead of other snacks can see significant improvements in blood pressure, according to the American College of Cardiology.
The naturally occurring compounds in red grapes also appear to work together to help reduce cholesterol by impeding cholesterol absorption.
One study showed that eating three cups of red grapes per day for two months lowered oxidative markers and “bad” LDL cholesterol levels, but green grapes didn’t have the same effect.
Fights Bacteria & Viruses
Grapes can also give your immune system a boost. The high Vitamin C content can help our bodies fight common viruses such as colds and the flu, while also helping reduce the likelihood that we catch those viruses in the first place.
Grape extracts and red wine have also been shown to have antimicrobial properties. Some early clinical trials have shown that grape seeds can be especially effective in inhibiting nasty pathogens such as Escherichia coli (E. coli) and Staphylococcus aureus.
Scientists continue to study how and why grapes work to combat bacteria and other microbes, and they are developing new methods to make grape extracts even more effective.
Heard It Through The Grapevine
Historians believe that raisins were discovered by accident when someone ate withered grapes that had been left on a vine around 2000 BC, and appreciated this new portable delicious snack that had the added benefit of preserving the fruit for consumption weeks or months later.
In more modern times, we can thank an advertising campaign commissioned by the California Raisin Advisory Board (CALRAB) for the ubiquity of raisins in grocery store aisles, lunchboxes, snack baskets and pantries.
In the 1980s, the California Raisin Advisory Board released a claymation commercial featuring “The California Raisins,” a fictitious group of singing raisins who danced with a Motown swagger. The commercial showed a construction worker opening his lunchbox while the raisins sprang into a tune: Marvin Gaye’s hit song “I Heard It Through The Grapevine.”
The ad was an immediate sensation, and raisin sales jumped 20% after the first commercial ran.
The California Raisins rendition of “Grapevine” hit #84 on the Billboard Hot 100 song charts, and the fictional rhythm and blues quartet would go on to release four music albums, two of which went platinum. There was also an animated special that aired on TV and won an Emmy Award, Christmas-themed movies and a Saturday morning cartoon series.
There was also a flood of California Raisins memorabilia that flooded the homes of many families in the 1980s.
There were California Raisins-themed stuffed animals, porcelain banks, lunch boxes, notebooks, T-shirts, bed sheets, keychains, a Halloween costume and even a Nintendo video game.
They were so influential on pop culture in the 1980s that the California Raisins are featured in collections at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of American History.
Moon Drops & Tear Drops
Table grapes continue to grow in popularity, in part because they are rich in vitamins and minerals and their vine clusters and thick skins make them easy to transport or pack in lunchboxes for children.
Grape growers continue to invent clever, creative new varieties of the fruit that appeal to different palates and offer surprising shapes and colors that make them a visual treat.
One recent addition is Moon Drops, a very dark colored elongated table grape that was created a few years ago by The Grapery in Bakersfield, California. Another is Tear Drops, a red grape that is also elongated and tapers to a point on one end.
The Grapery says one of its most successful new grapes in recent years has been the Cotton Candy grape, a green variety that is exceptionally sweet and juicy and tastes similar to the spun sugar treat from festivals and circuses.
National media such as Good Morning America and The Today Show have raved about its taste, and grocery stores can’t keep them in stock.
At NADI, we love grapes in all forms, especially our new NADI Wild Rosehip Grape beverage, which blends the goodness of hand-harvested rosehip berries with the rich jammy flavor of organic grape juice.
Each single-serve bottle has just 90 calories and no added sugar or preservatives, and it is loaded with Vitamin C, B Vitamins, antioxidants, polyphenols and dozens of other healthy minerals and beneficial compounds. You can buy some here.
Here’s a delicious recipe for a sophisticated adult beverage that will impress your friends and family.
NADI Wild Rosehip Grape Margarita
6 ounces blanco tequila
6 ounces NADI Wild Rosehip Grape drink
1 ounce fresh squeezed lime juice
3 tablespoons Smucker’s Concord Grape Jelly
1 cluster of red table grapes, frozen
Salt and slices of lime for garnish
Freeze the cluster of table grapes the day before making this cocktail.
When you are ready to make the cocktails, rub the rim of each glass with the lime and then coat with salt, and fill each glass with several frozen grapes (which serve as ice cubes).
Fill a large cocktail shaker with ice and add the tequila, NADI Wild Rosehip Grape beverage, lime juice and grape jelly. Shake hard until all the jelly has liquified and blended with the rest of the ingredients, about 30 seconds. Strain into glasses. Makes 4 cocktails.