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Grapes: The Most Fascinating Food on Earth

By Edited Oct 15, 2015 3 4

Grapes: The Most Fascinating Food on the Planet

 

grapes

 By: J. Marlando

Introduction

My dad always kept a grape arbor in our back yard that looked much like this one:

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  As a kid I loved going outside and picking a handful of those big, luscious, purple grapes and snacking on them but my Dad grew them mostly so he could make his “famous” homemade wine. I say famous because I recall friends and neighbors always coming to our house saying that my dad made the best “Dago Red” they had ever tasted. (Now before some readers get squirrely about the use of the word “dago,” my Dad was as Italian as Italian can be and he proudly labeled his own wine, “Freeman’s Dago Red.” This was long before so-called political politeness and the rather silly sensitivity that people have harvested today). Anyway, lots of people raved about my dad’s wine 
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and I grew up eating a whole lot of healthy grapes right off the vine. I still love grapes and that is a major reason why I am tackling this article. I want the reader to love them too.

Grapes are truly a fascinating fruit with an incredible history stretching back to prehistoric times. And, as the reader will also see, grapes are indeed one of the healthiest foods to eat or drink. In fact, when I was a kid (and even though we grew our own grapes) my mom always kept a bottle of Welch’s grape juice in the fridge 

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for the entire family. We were a healthy family and I think much of that was because of our consuming so many grapes and their juices.

As for this article, it is my intention to share the wonderful journey of grapes, from the most ancient wild to the bowl on the most modern table, in this narrative and my hope is that the readers enjoys the trip as much as I have.

Grapes in History

 

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Certainly wild grapes were eaten by our most prehistoric ancestors and have been a known favorite food since the dawning of civilization. For one thing they are native to Western Asia and Central Europe so we can safely assume that they were a favorite treat for Cro-Magnons 

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as well as Neanderthals
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 Some say that the history of harvesting grapes actually begins between 6,000 and 8,000 years ago at a Neolithic village in Georgia.

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Approximately 5000 years later, wild varieties such as vitis labrusca (fox grapes) were found on the eastern seaside of North America by the Viking

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who were first to explore the “New World.” That was around 500 years before Columbus.  And, speaking of the New World, when the British began to colonize they brought cuttings from grapevines to plant. The British grapes, however, did not take well to the cold winters of the regions and so the British planters began striving to improve and cultivate the indigenous species. That effort would result in the popular Concord.
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The Phoenicians from Asia introduced ancient Greece to growing grapes. We will soon be talking about Greece’s fascination with grapes Anyway, the Romans cultivated and ate grapes too. After all, grapes were probably the most popular snack food in ancient times—and they made both grape juice and wine out of the grape varieties that they grew or picked wild. The Romans also used grape juice and wine for medicinal purposes since grapes do have many health and healing properties as we will see later.

Returning to America, the European explorers often referred to the “new land” as Vinland because it was so rich in wild grapes

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A problem was that the settlers did not care for the taste of wine that the indigenous grapes made so they began trying to grow their own variety. This occurred in 1629 in the area of present day town of San Antonio, New Mexico. The first vineyard was not planted until 1662 by Franciscan priests in Texas.

It wasn’t really until 1802 that the discovery of Catawba grapes

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began successful American wine-making. This occurred in Ohio. By 1942 when Nick Longworth

GRAPE
grew 1,200 acres of Catawba grapes and began making the country’s first sparkling wine over a dozen years later. Some said the American sparkling wine was better than French Champagne and the London News wrote that the flavor was better that the fine wines of the Rhine. The success story did not last however. A fungus ruined the Ohio crop.

A successful American wine-making industry unfolded fairly rapidly in the 1860s and by the 1900s select wines from the U.S. were winning prizes in European tastings.

Wine made from grapes, however, goes back in our human history much further than the pyramids so we’ll be talking about the aspects of wine next.

The Nectar of the Gods

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The Egyptians are actually thought to be the first to make wine but this is speculation. For one thing they called wine “jrp” which may be the first name given to the drink and begun as an Egyptian import. However, even if this is so, the Egyptians were quick to begin making their own wine. Wine, by and large, was a rich man’s luxury in ancient Egypt drank by the pharaohs 

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and other elite of the land. Nevertheless, there were “holy” days when ritual permitted all the people to indulge.

Certainly wine has served in a number of religious rituals and still does. In early Catholicism both the clergy and laity received the consecrated wine

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drinking from the chalice. Wine, in fact, becomes so important to the ancient world that Jesus is said to have turned water into wine.
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Kosher wines have a history dating back to biblical times for the Jews. On especially Passover Seder, all participating drink wine and on the Shabbat there are blessings over filled cups of kosher wine

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that are drunk.

The Midrash, an intellectual text that strives to explain the values and meanings in Biblical literature teaches that the forbidden fruit that Eve gave Adam was a grape. This is quite a departure from the Christian Apple. Of course it could just as well been an

grapes
  orange…couldn’t it?

 

Muslims do not indulge in anything alcoholic on the planet but the Quran promises baths 

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of wine in the hereafter!

 

Mormons like to believe that Jesus drank grape juice at the last supper:

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Going back to ancient Greece for a moment, Dionysus the god of the grape harvest, winemaking and wine has a story that resembles the story of the Christian Jesus: Like Jesus he is a god of epiphany, born of a mortal mother on December 25th. The ancient Romans gave him the name of Bacchus. Bacchus is known as being the liberator through his wine, music and dance.

It should be remembered, however, that all wine-making, as we think of it today, began in Egypt. Some historians, however, say that the practice of wine-making began in Crete, where the symbolism of a drinking cup called rhyta 

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merges the sacred bull with wine. Certainly during the Mycenaean period (1600 B.C.—1100 B.C.) the Mycenaean’s traded wine throughout the world to such faraway places as Egypt, Palestine, Sicily and Italy. The grape was so important to Greek culture by then that their calendar was based on the vintner’s year. This is easy to understand since grapes were at the roots of the Greek economy.  There was a time, for example, that the Greeks were transporting and selling around 10 million liters of wine to Gaul each year.

Before leaving the ancient Greeks, however, we may be surprised that they diluted their wine with water before drinking it. They believed that wine not diluted could lead to crude and cruel human action.

As a quick aside, one other point of interest: The Greeks are also known for cooking and eating stuffed grape leaves 

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It is believed that this practice originated on Mount Olympus and combined minced lamb, rice and spices wrapped in soaked grape leaves
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Today the United States is the world’s leading wine market in retail sales with consumption into the billions of bottles per year. Yes…billions! Surprisingly, it appears that China is now amidst the top five wine-consuming nations worldwide.  France and Italy have actually dropped a little according to some statistics but we remain a wine-loving world nevertheless. For those who are interested here’s a select list of favored grapes that are turned into our favorite wines:

Cabernet Sauvignon

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This is a grape grown most virtually worldwide and has abundant tannins. Wine connoisseurs agree that wines rich in tannins are the best wines. (While I am an enthusiastic wine drinker, I do not like strong tannins so I would probably be accused of having poor taste in wines. Indeed, I prefer Chianti or Merlot over Cabernet Sauvignon and Zinfandel in certain years. When deep colored Zinfandel is good…it is absolutely “zeeee” best).

Gamay

 

   

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Gamay is grown in France and delivers a friendly tasting red wine that is also low in tannins.

Merlot

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Ironically, Merlot grapes are grown in the Bordeaux region with Cabernet Sauvignon but unlike “Cab” it is low in tannins and a wonderful texture.

Pinot Noir

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Pinot Noir is probably my third favorite wine but is deemed most favored by a great many wine drinkers…worldwide! Indeed, the grape is grown in a dozen countries—in France, Pinot Noir is grown primarily in the Bourgogne region and in the U.S., California and Oregon are the major growing areas for this grape. When it is aged in oak barrels it can acquire a richer tannin quality than it would ordinarily have. Thus, a “good” Pinot Noir can become a wine-taster’s delight.

Zinfandel

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Again, when this wine is produced in a good year it is my all-time favorite. Zinfandel is one of the oldest grapes grown in the California but is also grown in many places around the world. In France, the grape grows in the Loire Valley. As for tasting, you’ll want a really good Zinfandel to linger in your mouth; it is an experience that no other wine delivers.

Riesling

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Riesling delivers a wonderful white wine and is mostly grown in Germany. Riesling drinkers are devoted to this rather light wine that is made either sweet or dry.

While the process is more complex than this, at bottom line a “sweet” wine has lots of sugar and a “dry” wine does not.

Sauvignon Blanc

 

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 I am not ordinarily a white wine drinker but when I do consume it, my favorite is Sauvignon Blanc

Grapes and Good Health

More than 72 million tons of grapes are grown worldwide on 25 million acres. Grapes after all are the second most popular fruit after oranges.

 

grapee

We not only eat grapes as a healthy snack but put them in salads

 

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grape

They are simply good….and good for us. Indeed, Red grapes for example are extremely high in anthocyanins (anthocyanins, at root level, are pigments) and are a class of polyphenol with compounds that work as anti-oxidants, anti-allergic, anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer activity. White and green varieties also contain health protective functions.

We are told that grapes produce resveratrol which is a substance produced by many plants when they are under attack pathogens such as fungi or bacteria.  Research has shown that resveratrol can actually improve the dilation of blood cells thus greatly reducing heart attack risks. And, good news for those in radiation treatment: resveratrol is known to protect the body from radiation treatment and more, resveratrol protects the skin for getting cancer in the first place.

In addition to all this, grapes are a rich source of minerals like copper, iron, manganese, zinc, copper, calcium and the vital electrolyte potassium. It is also said that grapes can reduce or even cure asthma while delivering a healthy punch of Vitamin A, C, E, and K. The seeds are even more potent!

Yes, that’s right, you can eat grape seeds and they carry a wallop of vitamins and minerals. They also carry health boosters like resveratrol, talked about in the above and strong antioxidants. Some scientific investigations are saying that the antioxidants found in grapes and their seeds protect against such devastating diseases such as Alzheimer’s and, as said before, cancer,

I have eaten grape seeds before

grape
  but truthfully I found it to be a bitter experience. There are healthy alternatives though such as buying tablets or liquid extract at your local health food store.

These days, at least in the U.S. where I live grapes are plentiful just about all year long at the supermarkets PIX but if you want to add some real joy and beauty in your life, you might want to grow your own. We’ll talk about that next.

Growing Grapes

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The reader will recall I started this article talking about my dad growing grapes in our back yard. Once his plants matured, it seemed people never tired of talking about “his grape vines” in terms of their charm and beauty. Yes, even in the winter:

gra[es

The way to get started is to purchase some grape vines for planting. The good news is that grapes can grow just about any place. They are especially happy California and in the Mediterranean countries because they actually prefer dry, rocky soil with little rainfall. On the other hand they’ll grow from coast to coast depending on what variety you choose to plant. The best thing to do is ask your local nurseryperson what the best grape to plant in your area is and how to prepare your ground.  

For sure your grapes will need lots of sun!

 

Grapes must have something to cling onto but you can easily build an arbor or you can buy one readymade 

grape
or just use an existing fence
grape
or some other structure:
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That’s basically all there is too it, once a grape vine is trained to weave itself onto a fence or arbor, they almost take care of themselves. However, as a “new” grape grower you must be patient because it can take a few years for the plants to become established enough to bear fruit. One they begin growing grapes however they’ll deliver in abundance year after year. This is especially true if you do lots of conscientious pruning. Grape vines love being cut back! Well, only after the leaves are off in the Fall.

grape

 

                                                                  SUMMARY

I call grapes “the planet’s most fascinating plant” for a great many reasons starting with its prehistoric beginnings to its extreme popularity of modern times; for its ties to religious rituals going back to the Egyptians, ancient Israel, Greece and later Rome and Catholicism. There are other religions making wine spiritually symbolic too. This includes the Eastern Orthodox Church, the Church of England and in America, the Episcopal Church.

The health benefits fascinating. And speaking of health benefits I am convinced that how healthy we eat, especially as kids, the healthier we grow up. And, with reduced risks of coming down with serious diseases!

While talking about our good health, grape leaves PIC are extremely good for us—they first of all add to our intake of needed roughage and they provide a wealth of fiber. In fact, if you happen to be overeating, eating a few grape leaves will reduce your appetite as they are quite filling.

Leaves

grape
from the grape wine are also packed with vitamins, calcium and iron. The iron in grape leaves promotes great circulation and assists your blood to supply your body with oxygen.

While the Greeks are best known for making grape leaves part of their diet, they are also a common part of the Vietnamese, Turkish and Romanian cuisines.

Especially young grape leaves also make “fascinating” salads like the brown rice, grape leaf salad as pictured here:

grape

Only a cup of grape leaves contains around 77% of your daily value of vitamin A and 120mg’s of omega 3 fatty acids; lots of other nutritional values too! Just remember to wash thoroughly especially if you’ve used pesticides.

Indeed, when we think about it

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grapes are truly a gift from nature that is extremely good and healthy for us and, most virtually, one of the most beloved and enjoyed fruit around the globe.

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A Must Have for any Wine/Grape Enthusiast

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Comments

May 25, 2013 6:29am
askformore
Thank you for a very 'tasty' article. Thumbs up!
I love that you give 'reviews' of the different types of grapes. I believe it is more important to know which 'type of grape' the wine is made of, rather than where it is produced.
May 25, 2013 6:29am
askformore
Thank you for a very 'tasty' article. Thumbs up!
I love that you give 'reviews' of the different types of grapes. I believe it is more important to know which 'type of grape' the wine is made of, rather than where it is produced.
Jun 1, 2013 7:50am
Januarius
Hi Marlando,This is a thoroughly researched and interesting article on grapes.Our tropical climate does not support the cultivation of grapes,that notwithstanding,I love the red wine made from grapes and imported from Italy. Thumbs up for the detailed article.
Jun 1, 2013 7:51am
Januarius
Hi Marlando,This is a thoroughly researched and interesting article on grapes.Our tropical climate does not support the cultivation of grapes,that notwithstanding,I love the red wine made from grapes and imported from Italy. Thumbs up for the detailed article.
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