Today’s Expert: The California Table Grape Commission

Welcome to the 17th edition of our featured series, titled “Ask the Produce Expert.”  In this series, we feature an expert in the agriculture world and ask them industry-related questions.  If you have a question that you want answered by an industry expert – it’s as easy as tweeting us or posting your question on The Produce Mom Facebook page!  The Produce Mom Family of Partners is here to answer your questions!

Grapes from CaliforniaCalifornia Table Grape Commission: Growing grapes in California is a family tradition, with know-how passed generation to generation.  Today, California produces 99% of the commercially grown grapes in the U.S.   From May through January, grapes from California can be found in supermarkets across the country.   In fact, California’s table grape growers produce and ship over 110 million boxes of grapes to markets around the world each season.  This amounts to over 7 billion ¾ cup servings of grapes!

The California Table Grape Commission’s mandate is to maintain and expand markets for fresh California grapes in the U.S. and abroad and to create new markets.

In this edition of Ask the Produce Expert, Courtney Romano, RDN, is our featured expert.  Courtney is a food-loving registered Courtney Romano, RDNdietitian who has worked with the commission over the years to help educate consumers and food professionals on the many ways to enjoy fresh grapes in snacks and meals.  She also helps direct the commission’s health research program, which is
dedicated to uncovering the health benefits of eating grapes through high-quality scientific research conducted at some of the country’s most prestigious universities.

Courtney is here to share her knowledge and expertise on California grapes and how they can make healthful eating during the holiday season delicious and stress-free.

Welcome, Courtney! 

Are California grapes available during the holidays?

Yes, California grapes can be found in supermarkets all over the U.S. from May through January.  Look for “Product of USA” to be sure they are from California.   There are actually over 85 varieties of grapes grown in California and they come in three colors: red, green and black.  California actually produces 99% of the commercially grown grapes in the U.S., so in fact, California grapes are your grapes, no matter what state you live in.

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What makes grapes from California a healthy choice?

Fresh grapes are a heart-healthy food that may also play a role in healthy aging.  Grapes have no fat, no cholesterol and are very low in sodium.  They are also a natural source of beneficial antioxidants and other polyphenols, which can help support a healthy heart.  California grapes contain just 90 calories in a 3/4 cup serving and since they are about 82% water, they are hydrating too!

The holidays are upon us – how can I enjoy all the parties without overindulging?

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Planning ahead with a strategy to be mindful about your food choices is the key to success. Here are 7 tips for surviving the holiday party food scene:

  1. Engage with people first, food second. Embrace the chance to relax with friends and family in a festive atmosphere and try to make the buffet secondary.
  2. Be picky! Make sure that the indulgences you DO choose are truly special – because not everything is.  Is it a time-honored, delicious family recipe?  Is it a seasonal specialty that isn’t available the rest of the year?  Go for it.  On the other hand, if it is something that is available year-round, but dressed up in holiday red and green foil wrappers, skip
    it.  Whatever you choose, if it isn’t fabulous, don’t finish it.
  3. Have a healthy snack before the party, so you don’t arrive hungry. Fresh grapes and a handful of nuts are a great pre-party combo.
  4. Alternate your party beverage with a glass of water to keep hydrated and to naturally pace yourself.
  5. Contribute a simple, healthy item to the holiday table. Fresh grapes are an easy choice: they are lovely to look at and so good to eat!
  6. Maintain healthy eating day-to-day throughout the season with lots of fruits and veggies.
  7. Select the smallest plate available to naturally control portions. If large plates are all that is offered, create some “white space” on the plate – it doesn’t have to be completely covered.

And do enjoy the season…it comes but once a year!

What are your favorite holiday hacks with grapes from California?

Grapes for the Holidays

Grapes make a lovely garnish for almost any holiday entrée.  A turkey platter garnished with small clusters of grapes delivers a classic, colorful and fresh touch.

You can also “frost” grapes by brushing small clusters of grapes with liquid pasteurized egg whites and then sprinkling them with granulated sugar.  Let them dry, then adorn your cookie and dessert platters for added dimension and sparkle.

For a mini-sweet treat, you can create delectable “Tuxedo Bites” by dipping California grapes in melted chocolate or caramel and then rolling in nuts.

What are some easy ways to enjoy grapes as a snack? 

grapes_to_goGrapes really are a great snack!  They are so easy – ripe and ready to eat when you buy them and with just a quick rinse, they are ready to enjoy: no peeling or coring necessary.

Grapes are very portable, and a good choice for an on-the-go snack.  Just put them in a reusable container, tuck them into your tote, backpack or purse and they’ll be there when you need a quick pick-me-up.

Toss grapes into yogurt to make a quick, satisfying snack.  A favorite combo of mine is mBento Boxixing cinnamon into vanilla yogurt and adding grapes.

Grapes and cheese; grapes with hummus and crackers; grapes and nut butters…it’s fun to experiment.

Frozen grapes are another great way to snack on grapes – they are just like a mini-sorbet!  Always great in the summer, of course, but for those of us who enjoy frozen treats anytime, frozen grapes provide a satisfying, healthy alternative to ice cream.  They are easy to make – just rinse, pat dry and pop them in the freezer.  In about two hours they are ready to enjoy – a cool, sweet treat.

Can grapes be used as an ingredient?  Are grapes ever cooked?

Grapes can definitely be used as a fresh ingredient.  Their crisp, juicy texture, delicate sweetness, and vibrant colors can really enhance a recipe.  From smoothies to salads to entrees to dessert, grapes work in many recipes.

Grape Smoothie

 

Many people enjoy them in salads because they pair well with just about any other salad ingredient you can think of.  Most people have had grapes in fruit salads, but grapes also go well with lettuce, spinach, kale, broccoli, candied nuts, and salad dressings of all sorts!   Chicken salad with grapes is actually a classic combination too.

Grapes and Salads

Yes, grapes can be cooked!  You can roast, grill, saute grapes and more!  In fact, in recent years, roasting grapes is a go-to method used by chefs, because it caramelizes the grape sugars and intensifies the flavor in a wonderful way.  It is easy to do at home too:  just toss the grapes in olive oil and perhaps a little balsamic vinegar, add some salt, then place on a baking tray in a 400 F oven for 10-15 minutes.  You can enjoy them fresh from the oven; add them to a cheese plate; use them to top baked chicken or fish or add them to a salad.

Check out the Grapes from California website for an amazing collection of 200+ recipes.

How do I select and store my grapes and how long will they last?

Grapes

Look for grape bunches with plump berries.  The natural, powdery coating on grapes is called the “bloom” and it’s good – it helps to protect the grapes from moisture loss and decay.

Grapes can keep for up to two weeks when stored and handled properly. Follow a few simple steps to help keep your California grapes at their best:

  • Grapes should always be refrigerated to maximize shelf life.
  • Store grapes unwashed and dry; rinse just before serving or adding to a recipe.
  • Store grapes so that the bunch is not squeezed or compressed as this can damage the berries.

Check out this short video for more grape inspiration:

 

Inspiring Ideas with California Grapes

That concludes the 17th edition of our Ask the Produce Expert series! A big thank you to Courtney Romano for sharing her expertise and insight! To learn more about the California Table Grape Commission visit their website.

 

 

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