Ah – champagne grapes! That’s precisely the type of exclamation I would have made when I came across these, except that I’d never heard of champagne grapes before and had no concept of what they were. Well, that might be a bit disingenuous, I suspected they might be grapes – but why so small, why so many, and why the evocative and memorable name?
The champagne grape wins some sort of award for being the most confusingly named grape. For starters, our little champagne grapes have nothing to do with the manufacture of champagne. Champagne is, of course, made from grapes – but those grapes are either Chardonnay or Pinot Noir grapes, larger, thicker-skinned brutes. The pseudonym “champagne grape” allegedly owes its existence to one Mr. Allin Corrin – a grape producer from Reedly, Califronia. According to lore Mr. Corrin arranged to have this variety of tiny grape featured in Sunset Magazine next to a flute of champagne and the blurb “champagne grapes”. Supposedly, that single image in Sunset Magazine had a strong enough national reach to indelibly brand the grape with that name forever more. I would like to believe this story as much as I’d like to believe the story about gyoza and Chinese ears, but there seems to be little evidence to back up the claim beyond a passel of unsourced Yahoo Answer results.
Prior to being called champagne grapes, these little guys were known as Black Corrinth grapes, due to their origin in that region of Greece – still the primary produce of the grapes to this day. Of course, like all grapes, Black Corinth grapes undergo that magical change when they’re dried – a magical change that transforms their name. While most grapes become raisins, the champagne grape actually becomes a currant.
Wow, you might be thinking, so that’s where currants come from! Well, no – not really. In all likelihood the currant you’re thinking of is the blackcurrant or redcurrant, two very similar berries in taste and appearance that just happen to be totally unrelated to grapes. The full name of the dried champagne grape is the “Zante currant”, but the “Zante” part is commonly dropped, adding to the whole confusion.
Long and complicated name history aside, you may well be wondering how the Champagne grape actually tastes. The answer is, quite delicious! Each tiny grape is incredibly sweet and flavorful, not to mention seedless. The taste is like that of a larger grape, but concentrated into a smaller space, like a Jelly Belly compared to a Jelly Bean. The little grapes are sweet all the way through – never tart or harsh.
Of course, being so tiny and numerous, you might well be asking yourself what to do with them. Well, for starts there’s nothing wrong with just casually snacking on them – much as a recumbent Pharaoh may be want do. One of the perks of the diminutive size of the grapes is that the stems are nearly thread-thin and supple enough to eat. You can simply snack down on the little grape without bothering to stop and pluck out each tiny stem.
If you’re looking for something a little grander to justify your champagne grape purchase, they can easily be substituted into any recipe that call for any other sort of table grape – just be sure to account for the extra sweetness they bring. It’s easy enough to scatter a handful of these over your salad, (to be paired with a nice vinaigrette perhapss). If you’re feeling even more adventurous, you can try the grilled cheese and champagne grape receipe below:
Recipe – “Crying over my Champagne” Grilled Cheese Sandwich
- A couple slices of bread
- Softened butter (enough for bread and sautéing)
- Some sliced cheese – cheddar is nice.
- Very thin slices of red onion
- About 2 tablespoons worth of champagne grapes
- Heat a skillet to medium heat.
- Add the rest of the butter to the pan and sautee your red onions. (Cook for 5 to 7 minutes or until tender, stirring frequently).
- Butter each slice of bread on one side.
- Lay a slice of bread, butter side down, on a plate and add the cheese slices.
- Add the sautéed onion, followed by the champagne grapes. Try to spread everything evenly.
- Place the other slice of bread on top, buttered side out. (Press down slightly to keep it all together).
- Cook over medium heat for about a minute to a minute and a half on each side, until nice and melted.
- Cut the sandwich in half (diagonally!) and serve.
The red onion is such a strong taste, that it can overpower the gentle sweetness of the champagne grapes. Sauteeing them makes the onions milder, but if you like your sandwich to have bite you can skip this step.
All in all, these grapes are a perfectly nice way to fill your fruit bowl with something a little out of the ordinary. If you’re a fan of grapes, or sweet fruit in general, you’ll want to give these a shot.
Would I Recommend Them: Yes, these are very nice for snacking on.
Would I Buy Them Again: Sure, I like to have a varied fruit bowl.
Final Synopsis: As Jelly Bellys are to Jelly Beans, so are Champagne grapes to regular table grapes.
Before I bought these, I stood in the aisle for a few moments staring at the bag and trying to contemplate exactly what freeze dried grapes would be like. Not raisins, I was sure of that. Raisins are, of course, not freeze dried but slowly dehydrated over a period time by heat –generally laid out in the sun by red-bonneted Andalusian girls, if the iconography of Sun-Maid is to be believed. So I knew they wouldn’t look like raisins – but what would they be? For the life of me, I couldn’t image how you could both dry out a grape, and have it not look like a raisin. This irresolvable thought it my head became compulsion enough to pick up the bag and take it to the check out.
Probably a lot of you won’t be surprised to hear that a freeze-dried grape looks almost exactly like an ordinary grape in size, shape and color. The freeze drying process, a process by which the temperature of the grape is dropped to -100 degrees Fahrenheit, then a near total vacuum is created around it causing the frozen water inside to vaporize directly into a gas (all done in a hefty piece of machinery unimaginatively called “freeze dryers”), simply removes the water from the grape, while leaving its form and structure intact. The big difference is that instead of being plump and juicy, the grape is now hard and crunchy. Overall, the texture is very similar to that of a malted milk ball. It’s beyond my knowledge to tell you how a juicy grape, which is more than 81% water, manages to stay the same size after all the water has been whisked out of it, but I can tell you that it makes for a tasty, if very odd snack.
Why freeze-dry grapes? Beyond the novelty of doing so, I’m not sure there’s a good answer. They do taste sweet – but, not particularly sweeter than grapes or raisins. On the other hand, as a result of the freeze drying process they are considerably harder to eat. The freeze dried grapes are sticky and tacky to the touch, due to extruded sugars crystallizing on the skin, making them hard to eat by hand. The actual eating is difficult as well – crunching down on a freeze dried grape pulverizes it into a sweet, crunchy dust (again, similar to malted milk balls) but unlike malted milkballs the sugar fuses quickly with your natural saliva to cement itself to your teeth. Despite the sweetness, and the novelty of the format, after three or four of the grapes I found myself entirely able to put them away and move on to something else.
It’s not these freeze-dried grapes are bad or unpleasant in any way – both the tackiness and binding nature of the fruit are forgivable sins, they just seem to be unnecessary. Grapes are easy to store, transport and eat, as are raisins. Both also lack the tendency of freeze-dried grapes to grow soft and soggy if left out of an airtight container for more than a few hours. This same quality makes it hard to imagine using the grapes in cooking or baking, apart from perhaps, grinding them up and using them as a replacement for sweetener or a topping of some sort. The obvious route might be to try adding them to a bowl of cereal, but in such a circumstance I can’t help that feel that I’d rather just add some raisins, or have some regular grapes on the side.
A final quibble is that for three bucks, you’d hope to get more than 1.2 ounces of product. If they were priced to compete with their cousin the raisin these would be a reasonable alternative, but as they stand Trader Joe’s would be better off positioning freeze-dried grapes as novelty products instead of simply sticking them on the dried fruit shelf.
Would I Recommend It: Only to the shopper who craves novelty.
Would I Buy It Again: If I can think of a reason to, sure.
Final Synopsis: An interesting, but not compelling, crunchy grape snack.