Top 5 Foods With Surprising Qualities: Grapes

Grown in Asia Minor since ancient times, grapes are one of the world's most cultivated fruits. They've been a favorite for so long, in fact, according to the Old Testament Noah planted grapes almost immediately after the ark landed (but that's likely because he'd been without a good drink of wine for 40 days and 40 nights...). Today, they can be enjoyed in a variety of ways. Not only do grapes make delicious snacks, they also add a pleasant sweetness to salads. Their nutrition profile, which includes vitamin C, makes them invaluable partners to good health.

Nutritional Perks

One cup of grapes is an excellent source of the antioxidant vitamin C and contains almost 30 percent of its recommended Daily Value. Antioxidants are known to help stop the cellular damage caused by free radicals, which have been shown to contribute to cancer, cataracts and heart disease. Vitamin C is also an effective immune system enhancer, hence its popularity among cold sufferers.

Grapes contain an abundance of phytonutrients. Among them is the well-known resveratrol, an effective anti-inflammatory. Initial laboratory studies report that resveratrol shows promise as a powerful agent against prostate, breast, lung and gastrointestinal cancers. Grapes also contain the flavonoids quercetin, catechins, anthocyanins and proanthocyanidins. Flavonoids are noted for their antioxidant and blood-thinning actions as well as their ability to enhance memory.

Generally, European varieties of grapes are more nutritious than American varieties. European varieties are most readily available at the supermarket and are characterized by skin that adheres tightly to the fruit. American varieties are referred to as slip-skin grapes because the skin is thicker and comes off the fruit easily.

Selecting Grapes

The ideal grape should be plump, smooth and have good color. The fruit should be firmly attached to a green stem. Avoid wrinkled or withered grapes. One of the best indicators of freshness is a thin white dusting over the grape, called bloom. Bloom is a naturally occurring substance that protects grapes from the sun. It is safe to eat.

For the sweetest flavor, look for a golden glow when selecting green or white grapes. Red grapes should be a rich, soft red, while black grapes are best when a deep, full blue-black color.

Grapes are available year-round but make sure that they are in good condition before purchasing.

Storage and Handling

Unlike some other fruit, grapes don't continue to ripen once they are removed from the vine, so purchase them when they're ripe. They're very delicate, so handle them with care.

Never wash grapes until you're ready to eat them as the moisture will cause quick softening. For best results, always refrigerate grapes in a dry plastic bag. If properly stored, you can expect to snack on grapes for up to 1 week after purchase.

Preparation Pointers

Wash and serve fresh grapes alone or with accompaniments such as cheese, crackers or other fruit. Grapes may be juiced, dried or made into jelly. They also work well in desserts and salads.

Fresh grapes make a fine addition to chicken and fish dishes. Be sure to remove any seeds before cooking, and although I prefer my grapes seedless, even a dyed in the wool grape seed hater like me has to admit that the seeded varieties taste better!

Continued In Top 5 Foods With Surprising Qualities: Apples

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