Beyond beauty and flavor, grapes pack a healthy punch.
Credit: Photo: Teresa Sabga

A little trivia: The Phoenicians brought the first grapevines to Greece soon after 1000 B.C., where they flourished. There are now more than 8,000 varieties of grapes worldwide, including those specifically grown for wine, juice, jams and jellies, and table uses, as well as raisins and currants. Because of its temperate climate, California is the largest grape producer in the United States.

What they look like: Grapes are generally smooth-skinned and juicy, and may or may not contain seeds. Most American varieties have "slip skins," or skins that slip easily off the berries, while those from Europe often have skins that are securely fastened to the fruit. Colorwise, grapes fall into either the "white" or "black" category. "White" grapes actually range in color from pale yellow-green to light green, while "black" grapes range from light red to an extremely deep purple. We'll call them by their more common names, green and red.

Selection tips: Select grapes that are plump, full-colored, and firmly attached to their stems. Look for a slight pale-yellow hue on green grapes, while red grapes should be deeply colored with no sign of green.

Storage tips: Unwashed grapes can be stored in a plastic bag in the refrigerator for up to a week, although their quality diminishes the longer you keep them.

How to eat them: Remove grapes from the refrigerator about 30 minutes before serving to get them to their ideal temperature of 60 degrees Fahrenheit. Before eating, wash them thoroughly (most supermarket grapes have been sprayed with insecticide) and blot dry. Table grapes aren't just meant for eating out of hand; you can use them fresh in salads, pies, or other desserts; or frozen, as a garnish or frosty snack.

Peak growing season: You can buy grapes year-round, although the North American versions (again, mostly from California) are only available from July to December.

Health benefits: Grapes' most potent benefits lie in their phytonutrients, particularly in the compound resveratrol―found within the skin of grapes of all colors―that may help prevent several kinds of cancer and heart disease. They also provide a small amount of vitamin A, along with a variety of minerals.

Nutritional info: One cup of grapes will cost you a mere 58 calories; in return, you'll get 0.9 grams of fiber, 0.6 grams of protein, 0.3 grams of fat (including 0.1 saturated), 2 milligrams of sodium, and no cholesterol.