Plump, sweet and delicious, the grape is a delight to the senses—and nothing is more seductive than the sight of clusters of luscious grapes hanging heavily from the vine.
Small, round or oval in shape; red, dark purple or green in color, grapes cultivated in sunny vineyards reach their peak at the end of summer. After the harvest, either they arrive at our tables for the enjoyment of our taste buds, or they begin the complex journey that eventually transforms them into that most noble of beverages – wine.
Grapes originated even before humans. They have been closely woven into human history and culture, especially agriculture and cuisine. The Bible relates that the scouts Moses sent into the Land of Israel brought back grapes, along with other fruits, as a symbol of the land’s fertility (Numbers 13:23). The cluster was so enormous that they had to carry it on a pole suspended between two men. Today, the emblem of the Israeli Ministry of Tourism depicts this scene.
History of Grape
Fossil vines, 60-million years old, are the earliest scientific evidence of the existence of grapes, and the oldest written account of wine culture appears in the Old Testament when Noah planted a vineyard and made wine.
Grapes and winemaking were so important in ancient Israel that the vine appears first in the Seven Species with which the Land of Israel is blessed (Deuteronomy 8:8). Coins from the Hasmonean and Bar Kochba periods carry images of grape bunches, further emphasizing the country’s productivity and the central role of the vine.
A thriving royal winemaking industry was established in the Nile Delta in about 3000 BC and winemaking scenes appear on tomb walls with lists that included wine produced in the Delta vineyards.
While the ancient Greeks were among the first to seriously grow grapes and make wine, the Romans brought grape-growing and processing to new heights, developing pruning by knife as well as proper filtering and storage practices. They also discovered the all important role of climate, soil, and pruning in giving the grape its flavor. Grape growing declined together with Roman civilization after 400 AD, and it was only due to the Church that this skill remained alive through medieval times. As understanding of plant biology, grafting, and hybridization increased with time, a new vital culture evolved with almost endless strains of grapes.
Symbolisms of Grape
Wine is an integral part of many religions. In Judaism, it is a vital part of many rituals, including weddings and circumcisions. It is also part of the blessings that sanctify the transitions between the humdrum week and the inspirational Sabbath, and back again. At the Passover Seder, Jews drink four cups of wine to celebrate the transition from exile to redemption, and from slavery to freedom.
In ancient Israel, grapes symbolized joy and eternal life. Grapes vines, clusters, and leaves appeared on ancient coins and oil lamps, evoking the Holy Temple, where Herod affixed a vine of gold to the entrance to the Holy of Holies.
In the New Testament, the wine served in Jesus’ Last Supper signifies a covenant with God through the blood of Jesus, while bunches of grapes represent Jesus hanging on the cross.
The ancient Egypt harbored superstitions about wine, probably because of its resemblance to blood. Plutarch mentions that the ancient kings did not drink wine, “thinking it to be the blood of those who had once battled against the gods."
Health & Nutrition
Grapes can contain up to 85% water, 10-33% sugar, and twenty types of antioxidants. Grapes also have a substance that lowers the risk of heart conditions. The grape’s skin, seeds, and leaves all contain tannic substances and a variety of essential oils and useful acids.
Dark grapes are also rich in iron. They can been used for treating metabolic disorders as well as liver, kidney, and lung diseases and cardiovascular problems. Some doctors recommend a diet that includes grapes for the first stages of tuberculosis.
Eating grapes strengthens the body and assists in recuperation from anemia, gastritis with high acidity, metabolic disorders, chronic insomnia, and constipation. They are considered beneficial in combating nervous exhaustion, hypertension, high blood pressure, bronchitis, and gout.
Traditional medicine uses grapes as a gargle for a sore throat, or for washing the body to fight skin disorders (boil 1 part grape leaves with 10 parts water for 15 min, cool and filter). Eating raisins (dried grapes) is believed to be helpful in treating coughs, flu, mouth ulcers, bladder disorders, and hemorrhoids.
Unlike most other foods and beverages, wine improves with age.
There are about 3,000 different types of grapes worldwide
Cleopatra created her own legend by promising Marc Anthony she would "drink the worth of a province" in one glass of wine, after which she drank a valuable pearl with a glass of wine.
The word wine comes from the Latin vinum (origin of the English “vine” and “vinegar”). The Latin is derived from a pre-Indo-European word that is also the source of the Greek oinos (origin of “oenophile”).