Saturday, February 23, 2013

When Bad Produce Happens to Good People - Grapes

Does this picture make the grapes look juicy and inviting? Trickery! Trust me, some of them are withered. There are a few moldy ones. Their moistness suggests dankness, not juiciness. And when I bravely tasted a couple, I found their flavor most unprepossessing.

What to do with grapes like these?

My recommendation: reach for your roasting pan.

I forget how I began roasting grapes.  I think I found a forgotten bag of grapes in the back of the refrigerator while I was using the oven to roast something else. I opted for the roasting pan instead of the garbage.

The results of this low-stakes experiment were good enough to make me buy grapes expressly to roast them.

Here's what to do: 

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

Remove the grapes from the stems, carefully inspecting them for mold and rot. Not every grape graduates! Withered grapes are okay, but moldy grapes still get consigned to the compost bin. I have had the best results with seedless red grapes. Black grapes work well too. Green grapes like Thompson taste good roasted but are not quite as comely as the red grapes - roasting turns them brown. I would definitely roast withered green grapes, but I might hesitate to serve them to company. More for me. Heh heh heh!
The bunch after the buzzards came. A few grapes were too yicchy to advance to the next step

Put the grapes on a baking sheet. I like lining the sheet with foil first, but you could use a silicone mat or parchment or (if you don't mind a messier clean-up) skip the liner entirely.

Over the years I've seen seen a bunch of recipes for roasted fruit. Typically the recipes involve lots of grease (oil or butter) and lots of sugar (sprinkle sugar before baking; add honey/agave/etc.) afterwards. I'm a little mystified by this: who wants greasy grapes? Granted, oily grapes will scurry right off the baking sheet, but that's not a great reason to add grease to your food. The grapes give off a marvelously complex version of grape juice when they roast, so you shouldn't need more liquid (let alone a greasy liquid) to cook them.

As for the added sugar, the whole point of roasting fruit is the caramelization of the fruit's own sugar. Do you remember the advertising slogan (that I assume came from a grape trade group;I like the name "The Center for Grape Affairs" but I admit I'm making this up) - "Grapes: Nature's Candy"? Here's a clue! Grapes are sweet. Some fruit may need the boost, but in my experience grapes don't.

I generally roast the grapes for about 20 minutes. If I have other stuff in the oven, especially cooking at a different temperature, I will adjust the time upward or downward. I should probably stop vilifying my oven for its different climatic zones, so I'll just quickly mention that location within the oven matters too. Sometimes a few grapes end up being burnt so that the others end up roasted sufficiently. Their comrades appreciate their sacrifice. I know I do.

Almost there

Note the caramelization

Remove the grapes from the oven. While these guys cool off, I'll follow up on my sister-in-law's suggestion that I include some interesting nutritional information about the produce I write about. Grapes are now understood to have many health benefits - a far cry from what I was told as a kid, namely that grapes were basically sugar and water. Red grapes have resveratrol, a compound that - at least in mouse and rat experiments - fights cancer and inflammation; lowers blood sugar; and offers cardiovascular benefits. A related compound, piceatannol, which is found in red grapes, red wine and peanuts, blocks the growth of fat cells. The deep color of red grapes, as in purple cabbage, comes from anthocyanins, antioxidants that fight also fight inflammation and cancer.  Grapes are a good source of several vitamins (C, A, K, B-complex) and minerals (copper, iron, potassium and manganese). 

Now that your roasted grapes are done, enjoy!

Here are some serving suggestions:
  • Mix in with Greek yogurt
  • Use as a topping for pancakes or waffles (or pound cake)
  • If you include fig jam, membrillo or guava paste when you serve cheeses, put a dish of roasted grapes instead. Roasted grapes are a fine addition to little bruschetta with ricotta or blue cheese
  • If you include dried cranberries in salads, consider substituting roasted grapes
  • Of course, putting it in a dish and eating it with a spoon is #1 in our house!

You may never look at withered grape the same way again.


  1. Question about roasting grapes. Would it work to stud them with bits of cloves or cinnamon and then remove these bristly bits after they're done?

  2. If you're interested in exploring this spice combination, give it a try. I would recommend first sprinkling a bit of ground cloves - a very little bit, since cloves are so aromatic they can easily overpower other ingredients - and ground cinnamon on regular roasted grapes to see if you like the combination. If you do, you could experiment with adding bits of the whole spices to the roasting process. I prefer my roasted grapes unadorned, but other folks might like some jazzing up. If you're planning to serve them in a savory context (with cheeses, etc.) you might enjoy the addition of spices and herbs.

  3. I just made these! You are awesome! I was afraid I was going to have to toss a half a bag of grapes that the kids didn't get to in time. Now we have an amazing dessert for dinner! Thank you!