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Italian Grapes

    Italy is the world's largest producer of "table grapes" (Vitis vinifera), accounting for 21% of all grapes harvested worldwide. Italian table grape production is concentrated in southern Italy, in the Apulia (65%) and Sicily (25%) regions of the country. Italians consume about 8 pounds per capita per year. The United States imported 1,800 tons of grapes in 2002 from Italy.

    Italia (Muscat)

    Obtained by crossing the Bicane and Hamburg Muscatel grapes, Italia (Muscat) is certainly one of the most popular varieties of table grapes in the world due to its appearance and flavor, as well as its hardiness in withstanding handling and shipping. Italia grapes have large, consistent fruit with a lovely golden-yellow color, and a delicate, pleasant musky flavor.

    Selecting

    Look for plump, smooth grapes with good color. They should be firmly attached to a fresh-looking green stem, with no evidence of wrinkling or withering. There should be a dusty bloom on the skin of the grape itself. Like the dusty bloom on blueberries, it's a naturally occurring substance that helps protect the grapes and is a good indication of freshness. Green or white grapes will have a golden glow when they're ripe; red grapes will be a soft, rich red, and black grapes will have a deep, blue-black color

    Storing

    Grapes don't ripen off the vine, so what you buy is what you get. They're very delicate and need to be handled carefully. Refrigerate them dry in a plastic bag. Never wash them until you're ready to eat - moisture will make them deteriorate very quickly. Grapes will last up to a week properly stored in the refrigerator, but it's best to eat them as soon as possible

    Preparing

    Grapes are ideal as luncheon dessert, snack, wine and cheese complement or garnish.

    Garnish a breakfast plate of waffles or pancakes with grapes dipped in cinnamon sugar.

    Freeze grapes and serve as a dessert.

    To frost grapes, beat an egg white until frothy, dip grapes in beaten egg white, then roll in granulated sugar. Place on a wire rack to dry - about 13 to 20 minutes. To peel grapes, start at the stem end and separate the skin from the pulp using a knife or fingernail. For easy skin removal, dip grapes in boiling water for 30 seconds, then place in cold water.

    History and Background

    Grapes are one of the most recognizable of all fruits - and the oldest cultivated plant - throughout the world. Compared to many other fruits, grapes do not continue to ripen after they have been harvested. Grapes can be found in three basic colors - green (called yellow in Italy and sometimes known as white in the United States), red or ruby and blue-black. There are hundreds of varieties in production around the world, with each variety boasting its own distinct color, taste, texture and history. The Italia (Muscat) grape is derived from a variety of the Hamburg Muscatel.

    Nutritional Information

    Grapes are about 80 percent water but also contain various nutrients, including 270 milligrams of potassium and 25% of the daily value for vitamin C (in a 1-cup serving). Grapes also add fiber to the diet, and some experts believe that other compounds found in some or all varieties of grapes offer additional benefits: Red grapes are rich in quercetin, a newly discovered anti-cancer agent that studies have shown can suppress malignant cells before they form tumors (University of California). The mineral "boron" (found in grapes and grape juice, in addition to raisins and apples) may retard bone loss in women after menopause. Also, boron helps women on estrogen replacement therapy keep the estrogen in their blood longer. Antioxidants in red grapes can help prevent "bad" LDL cholesterol from oxidizing and clogging arteries (University of California at Davis). Grapes with deeper pigments (black, red and purple) are more antioxidnet-rich than green (yellow or white). Also, chemicals in red grapes seem to dilate and relax blood vessels, which may reduce blood pressure and vascular spasms, the triggers of heart attacks. Grape-seed extract may benefit post-menopausal women by reducing salt-sensitive hypertension (American Physiological Society), and the OPC antioxidants (ogligomeric proanthocyanidins) in grape seed extract any help prevent heart disease and other chronic diseases (State University of New York at Buffalo).

    Grape Seeds - To Eat or Not to Eat?

    Italy is the world's largest producer of "table grapes" (Vitis vinifera), accounting for 21% of all grapes harvested worldwide. Italians consume approximately 19 pounds per capita of grapes each year, whereas Americans consume about 8 pounds per capita each year. Is there someting the Italians know about grapes that Americans don't? Following may be some of the reasons Italians are so passionate about grapes (seeds and all!):

    The first grapes ever grown were seeded. Therefore, seedless grapes are not actually "authentic", they are hybrids and may not be as flavorful as seeded grapes. Seeded grapes are thought by some to be firmer and more flavorful than the seedless varieties. Italian table grapes varieties with seeds include Italia (Muscat), Vittoria and Red Globe. Grape seeds are said to be the "sex" of the fruit - by removing the seeds, you remove the sexiness, the romanticism and the true nature of the grape. There are two ways to eat seeded grapes. Some people like to chew the seeds because their distinctive flavor complements the sweet taste of the grape itself. Others like to swallow the seeds whole. Grapes are about 80% water but also contain various nutrients, some of which are present in the seeds, including 270 milligrams of potassium and 25% of the daily value for vitamin C (in a 1-cup serving). Grapes also add fiber to the diet, and some experts believe that other compounds found in some or all varieties of grapes offer additional benefits. Grape seed extract may benefit post-menopausal women by reducing salt-sensitive hypertension (American Physiological Society), and the OPC antioxidants (ogligomeric proanthocyanidins) in grape seed extract may help prevent heatrt disease and other chronic diseases (State University of New York at Buffalo). Grape seed extract has even been found to be a more effective antioxidant and free-radical scavenger than either vitamin C, vitiman E or beta-carotene in some studies (Vibrant Life, Craig J. Winston, 7/1/03). Red wine has long been thought to be a good source of antioxidants because of the grapes it is made with. The latest studies show that you can get almost all the same benefits from grape juice when it comes to protecting the blood vessels. Beware, eating seedless table grapes won't provide as much protection because the juice is made by crushing the whole grape, seeds and all, not just the skin and the flesh, and the grape seeds are especially rich in OPC's (Austin Chronicle, 8/22/03). Grape seed oil can boost "good" HDL cholesterol. Mild tasting, it can be used as a salad oil. Grape seeds have also been used for their liver protective effects, to improve circulation (including conditions such as varicose veins, bruising, swelling and decreased vision), and skin tone and elasticity.

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