Grapes are any of thousands of varieties of edible berries that grow in clusters. “Slip-skin” varieties have skins that slip off easily. Table grapes are eaten out-of-hand. Grapes used for wines are highly acid and generally too tart to eat.
A grape is a fruiting berry of the deciduous woody vines of the botanical genus Vitis. Grapes can be eaten raw or they can be used for making wine, jam, juice, jelly, grape seed extract, raisins, vinegar, and grape seed oil. Grapes are a non-climacteric type of fruit, generally occurring in clusters.
Commercially cultivated grapes can usually be classified as either table or wine grapes, based on their intended method of consumption: eaten raw (table grapes) or used to make wine (wine grapes). While almost all of them belong to the same species, Vitis vinifera, table and wine grapes have significant differences, brought about through selective breeding. Table grape cultivars tend to have large, seedless fruit (see below) with relatively thin skin. Wine grapes are smaller, usually seeded, and have relatively thick skins (a desirable characteristic in winemaking, since much of the aroma in wine comes from the skin). Wine grapes also tend to be very sweet: they are harvested at the time when their juice is approximately 24% sugar by weight. By comparison, commercially produced “100% grape juice”, made from table grapes is usually around 15% sugar by weight.
Seedless cultivars now make up the overwhelming majority of table grape plantings. Because grapevines are vegetatively propagated by cuttings, the lack of seeds does not present a problem for reproduction. It is an issue for breeders, who must either use a seeded variety as the female parent or rescue embryos early in development using tissue culture techniques. There are several sources of the seedlessness trait, and essentially all commercial cultivators get it from one of three sources: Thompson Seedless, Russian Seedless, and Black Monukka, all being cultivars of Vitis vinifera. There are currently more than a dozen varieties of seedless grapes. Several, such as Einset Seedless, Benjamin Gunnels’s Prime seedless grapes, Reliance and Venus, have been specifically cultivated for hardiness and quality in the relatively cold climates of northeastern United States and southern Ontario.
An offset to the improved eating quality of seedlessness is the loss of potential health benefits provided by the enriched phytochemical content of grape seeds.
In most of Europe and North America, dried grapes are referred to as “raisins” or the local equivalent. In the UK, three different varieties are recognized, forcing the EU to use the term “Dried vine fruit” in official documents.
A raisin is any dried grape. While raisin is a French loanword, the word in French refers to the fresh fruit; grappe (from which the English grape is derived) refers to the bunch (as in une grappe de raisins).
A currant is a dried Zante Black Corinth grape, the name being a corruption of the French raisin de Corinthe (Corinth grape). Currant has also come to refer to the blackcurrant and redcurrant, two berries unrelated to grapes.
A sultana was originally a raisin made from Sultana grapes of Turkish origin (known as Thompson Seedless in the United States), but the word is now applied to raisins made from either white grapes, or red grapes which are bleached to resemble the traditional sultana.
Grape juice is obtained from crushing and blending grapes into a liquid. The juice is often sold in stores or fermented and made into wine, brandy or vinegar. In the wine industry, grape juice that contains 7–23% of pulp, skins, stems and seeds is often referred to as “must”. In North America, the most common grape juice is purple and made from Concord grapes while white grape juice is commonly made from Niagara grapes, both of which are varieties of native American grapes, a different species from European wine grapes. In California, Sultana (known there as Thompson Seedless) grapes are sometimes diverted from the raisin or table market to produce white juice.
Commercial juice products from Concord grapes have been applied in medical research studies, showing potential benefits against the onset stage of cancer, platelet aggregation and other risk factors of atherosclerosis, loss of physical performance and mental acuity during aging and hypertension in humans.