Grape: nutrition facts and health benefits

Grape

Grape is the fruit of the vine. It’s a climbing plant that grows in all continents in regions where the climate is warm enough. It provides berries grouped in cluster and composed of light or dark color skin which protects a very juicy flesh containing seeds. There are two major species of vine: one that produces grapes for wine and another which provides table grapes.

History of grape

Small wild grapes (Vitis vinifera var. sylvestris) were highly consumed by our ancestor’s hunter-gatherers. This fruit came from Central Asia or Minor Asia, and was spread to the West millions of years before the appearance of Homo Sapiens on Earth. Our ancestors enjoyed grapes and collected large quantities of them. What was not consumed immediately was pressed and the juice was kept in earthenware jars.

However, experts believe that the impetus to domesticate the wild vine (about 6,000 years ago) and select varieties giving bigger and sweeter fruits would have come from the discovery of the fermentation process leading to the transformation of the juice into wine. That discovery was due to chance and the fact that grapes contain natural yeasts that promote its fermentation. One fine morning, somewhere between the Black Sea and the Persian Gulf, someone probably found a jar left in the corner of a cave and tasted the fermented juice it contained. A juice that would keep well, which tasted good and had special effects… The good news spread quickly, and it took little time before both the process of winemaking and viticulture was mastered.

The cultivation of the vine was already established in the region of the Tigris and Euphrates 4,000 years before our era. A thousand years later, it had reached a high degree of sophistication in Mesopotamia, Syria, Phoenicia, and in the Egyptian delta. Many varieties existed already at the time, which shows a long period of development. Among the Greeks of Homer’s time, the wine was the drink of every day; men, women and children drank wine. The Romans, lovers of wine also, and also excellent farmers, spread the cultivation of the vine in the Empire.

Among the 50 or 60 species of vines in the world, it is essentially the Vitis vinifera species that is cultivated commercially. Introduced in America by the Spaniards during the Conquest, it was cultivated in all missions, the wine being essential for the celebration of the mass. Two species have been the object of selection work. V. labrusca produced among others the famous Concord grapes for fresh consumption and making juice. V. rotundifolia produces the vineyard of muscadine especially cultivated in the South of the United States for the production of wine and wine fortified port wine type. Other native species have not been changed. Their fruits have remained unchanged since the advent of the Vitis genus on the planet approximately 70 million years ago, and interests mainly birds and bears.

Table grapes

The Egyptians and the Romans ate table grapes fresh and dry. Since the Renaissance, cultivation focused to the improvement and the selection of varieties of vines intended for production. Nevertheless, this fruit will remain a relative rarity in the human diet until the turn of the 20th century. It is the need to find new markets for the products of viticulture that will lead to promote it among the general public. As for raisin, for which California is the largest producer in the world, it enters today in many food preparations, whether in bakery and pastry, or mixtures of muesli or granola type.

Grape health profile

The grape is a fruit of flavor. It is a great ally of cardiovascular health. It is also a source of many vitamins and minerals, essentiel for the proper functioning of the body.

The benefits of the grape

Cardiovascular health. Several studies among humans have shown a positive effect of the consumption of juice of red grapes on the prevention of cardiovascular disease. The observed effects include improving the endothelial function, blood vessel elasticity (or capacity of the wall of blood vessels to dilate and contract) and the increase in the antioxidant capacity of the blood. In different studies, consumption of grape juice brought also reduced oxidation of LDL (‘bad’) cholesterol  and blood clots two factors that can contribute to improve cardiovascular health. Red grape juice consumption could also decrease the bad cholesterol and increase the ‘good’ one (HDL). Finally, consumption of grape juice has also been associated with a decrease in blood pressure, which has a cardioprotector effect.

Although some researchers have found that consumption of grape juice could bring a slight increase in blood triglycerides (undesirable effect), other studies found no effect. The amount of sugar in the juice could be one of the factors impacting on blood triglycerides, hence the recommendation to consume the juice of grapes without exaggeration.

Cancer. The consumption of grape juice would have a protective effect against cancer. A study among rats showed a reduction in the proliferation of cancer cells of the mammary gland and a decrease in the weight of the tumors based on the dose of administered grape juice. Moreover, three studies in vitro have shown a protective effect of red grape versus other juice in colon cancer and cancers of the white blood cells (leukemia and lymphoma, for example). Other studies must be conducted to determine to what extent these effects could also be manifest among humans.

On the other hand, patients treated by chemotherapy found that consumption of grape juice reduced the frequency of nausea. However, further studies are needed to validate this effect.

Cognitive functions. Several animal studies have shown a beneficial effect of the consumption of grape juice on the memory and motor skills, which suggests an improvement of cognitive functions. Research studies among humans are in their early stages. A recent study has shown that the addition of 500 ml (2 cups) of grape juice to the diet of people with loss of memory (without dementia) improved their cognitive functions. These results are interesting in the context of prevention of Alzheimer’s disease.

 

Flavonoids. The grape contains many flavonoids, like the quercetine, myricetine, kaempferol, catechins, the epicatechines, the proanthocyanidins and anthocyanins. These phenolic compounds are powerful antioxidants that can neutralize free radicals in the body and thus prevent the onset of cardiovascular disease, and some malignancies and various chronic diseases. Some flavonoids, contained in grape juice, could inhibit the activity of an enzyme necessary for the survival of cancerous cells. In addition, research in vitro showed several grape flavonoids work synergistically against cancerous cells.

Resveratrol. Present mainly in the skin of grapes (so also in grape juice), resveratrol revealed in vitro a cardioprotector effect, among other things by its anti-platelet and antioxydant properties. The preventive effect of grape in cancer would also be due in part to the resveratrol. However, studies are needed to determine the bioavailability of resveratrol in food and its effect on humains.

For the heart: red wine or grape juice?

The consumption of red wine or grape juice may be a protective factor against cardiovascular disorders. Just like grapes, the cardioprotector effect of consumption of red wine is due to its content in phenolic compounds, including the flavonoides. According to some authors, the cardioprotective effects of red wine would be higher than those of the raisin juice. Several authors observed an effect relatively equivalent of the two beverages. Whatever it is, most researchers agree to recommend a simultaneous and moderate consumption of grape juice and red wine, at the same time with a diet including at least 5 servings of fruits and vegetables per day.

Selection and conservation

Choose

The grapes must be firm and ripe, as they will continue to ripen once picked. The stem should be firm, without any traces of mold. Note that the white film that covers the surface of the grapes has nothing to worry about. Instead, it is sign that the fruit is fresh and that it wasn’t object to excessive handling.

Keep

Refrigerator. A few days in the central part. First blot the moisture of the fruit with paper towels, then place in a perforated bag. Rinse before consuming.

Freezer. Drop the fruit whole, peeled or not, on a plate. When they are frozen, lock them in a freezer bag.

Raisins. In an airtight container, keep in a cool, dry and dark place.

Grapeseed oil. Once the bottle has been started, keep it in the refrigerator, because the oil oxidizes quickly.

Organic gardening

The culture of the vine whose fruit is intended to be eaten fresh is not the same as that of the vine for wine making. In the latter case, fertilize less and don’t irrigate.

pH: 5.0 to 6.0. The vine is indifferent to the nature of the soil. However, the latter must drip to avoid root rot, and various other diseases caused by fungi. Ideally, vines will be planted on a slope.

In cold climates, unless you are prepared to protect the plants from freezing in the fall, it is better to plant European and the muscadine varieties of V. labrusca species, more resistant to cold than other species.

Prepare the soil by adding a good decomposed manure or compost. Subsequent years, we’ll settle foliar fertilizer and a few shovelfuls of compost at the foot of each of the plants in the spring.

At the plantation, prune the roots and fold the rod keeping only two buds. The size of maintenance varies according to the varieties and the producers. Ask at the nursery. It must also include staking the plants in a way that will vary according to the type of size that we practice.

More and more present in the gardens of cold climate countries, the Japanese beetle can defoliate a plant vine in record time. Limit the damage by applying on the ground disease spores (to control the larvae) or protecting with a tissue. You need to pick up adult plants early in the morning and destroy them. In case of severe infestation, proceed with rotenone.

You can prevent and treat the majority of diseases of the vine by applying sulfur or copper sulfate, two supported products in organic farming. Make a good air circulation by eliminating weeds and pruning so that sunlight penetrates to the heart of the plants.

If cultivating the vines for the production of dried fruits, grapes should be harvested as late as possible, when the fruit is ripe. Its water content will be lower and it will be sweeter.

Ecology and environment

Two major environmental events have marked the history of the European vine towards the end of the 19th century. So far having been relatively free from insects and disease, it was attacked by an imported insect of America, of the vine phylloxera. It caused considerable damage, so much so that the wine industry has curled the disaster and risked ruin. Europeans then searched for the insect-resistant varieties. They found them in the original habitat of the vine, the United States. Various species of wild grapes coexisted there with the insect for thousands of years. Since then, the majority of European vines are grafted on feet owned by American individuals, V. rupestris, V. and V. berlandieri species or hybrids of these species.

While growers were recovering from the first crisis, the vines were again affected around 1878. This time, by late blight, a disease caused by fungi, and imported from North America. Once again, the wine industry was threatened, and more imminent this time because there were no resistant varieties to the disease.

The solution to the problem will be discovered by chance. Looking at the region of Médoc vines, a teacher by the name of Alexis Millardet discovered that some of them were not affected by the disease. The Commission also notes that, on these plants, the grapes are covered with a greenish grayish substance, copper sulfate, a product with a strong purgative action. He learned that the vineyard owners apply it on the plants at the edge of the paths to deter potential thieves of grapes. From this, in 1885, Millardet created the Bordeaux mixture that contains also slaked lime (calcium hydroxide), which reduces the aggressiveness of copper sulfate.

This mixture has fungicide properties that will widely be used subsequently. Thanks to this, European vineyards escaped bankruptcy and, for nearly a century, it will be the only treatment to be used to prevent disease.

Unlike the new fungicides developed over the past decades, the Bordeaux mixture is accepted in organic agriculture. However, its use is controversial within the certification authorities. The French national Institute for agronomic research has published studies showing that the copper in this goop accumulated in the soil. In high doses, even though it is relatively harmless for animals and humans, it can be toxic to plants and soil microflora.

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