Gastronomy 101, a blog about food and Los Angeles restaurants

INFO: Sultana Grapes 101

Trying to figure out what to buy from the market right now? Grapes, particularly Thompson seedless grapes, are hitting their stride right now.

Grapes grow almost everywhere and are native to three continents: Europe, Asia, and North America. There are thousands of grape varieties in existence right now. Most of the winemaking varieties come from Europe, while most of the ones for eating for raisin-production come from western Asia. What's the difference? Wine grapes grow in small clusters and are acidic, which helps control fermentation. Table grapes come in large clusters and are sweeter. Raisin grapes have thin skin, high sugar content and come in loose clusters, which facilitates drying.

The green fellows that you see above are most common table and raisin grape in the U.S.--the Thompson seedless, or sultana. These grapes are a variation of an ancient Middle Eastern variety of grape, the Kishmish, which probably originated in Persia. Their Middle East origins gave rise to the name "Sultana." The Thompson appellation comes from William Thompson, an early grower of the grape near Yuba City. These, to your senses are not very exciting. They have only the barest aroma. Give one to a dog. It won't know what to do with it because it does not smell like food, nor does it have any flavor if you don't penetrate the skin. These grapes have been developed to be seedless, crisp, tart, and sweet with a long storage life. If these grapes are picked in the cool of the morning and treated with sulfur dioxide, they can keep for up to two months at 32 degrees Fahrenheit.

According to Russ Parsons, Thompsons are best when they are a golden, almost amber color, at which point their flavor becomes floral and can be very sophisticated. At one time these were the number one table, wine and raisin grape in California. Now they are mostly used for raisins as other varieties of grape catch on in popularity, and the wine they make is not the classiest--these grapes are used in cheap jug wines made by bulk producers. They are still the number one most grown grape in California, even more so than Chardonnay grapes. Most of these are grown in Fresno county, the raisin capital of California. These grapes are also grown in Arizona, as they need climates that are hot in August/September for harvesting. These should be hitting their peak right about now.

So what's the best way to eat these grapes? In my opinion, the best way to eat these grapes is frozen. No recipe needed, just wash the grapes, throw them in a bowl and stick them in the freezer for a while. You will then have something like a snack-sized popsicle for a lazy person. That's me! I am a lazy person, and I say, why go to the trouble of making popsicles when you can have little bite-sized ones that are already made for you? Plus they are healthier than most popsicles that you would buy in a store.

Info from:

Harold McGee, "On Food and Cooking."
Russ Parsons, "FARMER's MARKET: Savor this golden moment," Los Angeles Times, August 23, 2006
Appellation America. Thompson seedless.

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love the grapesies. i got a bagful of thomsons in my fridge right now and i shall try them frozen, per your always sage advice.

said by Milla at 1:52 PM Delete

Thanks! I hope you like them ... I really do. But you should just freeze some and see if you like it, because once you freeze them, you are committed to it. You can't let them thaw out again or they will get mushy.


said by KT at 2:13 PM Delete

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