Concord grapes are a cultivar derived from the grape species Vitis labrusca (also called fox grape) that are used as table grapes, wine grapes and juice grapes. They are often used to make grape jelly, grape juice, grape pies, grape-flavored soft drinks, and candy. The grape is sometimes used to make wine, particularly kosher wine. Traditionally, most commercially produced Concord grape wines have been finished sweet, but dry versions are possible if adequate fruit ripeness is achieved. It is named after the town in Massachusetts where it was developed.
Grape juice and grape jellies and jams are long-time favorites of children and adults alike. America’s favorite grape juice and grape jelly come from Concord grapes. Now, let’s explore how the Concord grape, and both grape juice and grape jelly, first came to be.
Although commercial grape production dates back to the year 1000 B.C., it was not until 1854 that the Concord variety made its debut, appropriately named after the Massachusetts village of Concord where the first of its variety was grown. The Concord grape is a robust and aromatic grape whose ancestors were wild native species found growing in the rugged New England soil.
Experimenting with seeds from some of the native species, Boston-born Ephraim Wales Bull developed the Concord grape in 1849. On his farm outside Concord, down the road from the Emerson, Thoreau, Hawthorne and Alcott homesteads, he planted some 22,000 seedlings in all, before he had produced the ideal grape. Early ripening, to escape the killing northern frosts, but with a rich, full-bodied flavor, the hardy Concord grape thrives where European cuttings had failed to survive.
The first unfermented grape juice known to be processed in the United States was by a Vineland, New Jersey dentist, Dr. Thomas Welch in 1869. Dr. Welch, his wife and 17-year old son, Charles, gathered 40 pounds of Concord grapes from the trellis in front of their house. In their kitchen, they cooked the grapes for a few minutes, squeezed the juice out through cloth bags, and poured the world’s first processed fresh fruit juice into twelve quart bottles on the kitchen table.
In the century following the introduction of Concord grapes, more of these purple slip-skin grapes were sold than all other species combined. Today, growers harvest more than 336,000 tons in the U.S. Washington State grows the largest number, followed by New York, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Ohio and Missouri.
Concord grapes can grow in a wide variety of New England soils, and once established, require minimal care. Grape vines are very resistant to pests and most plant diseases, are self-pollinating, and don’t require regular watering.
For the best results, choose hardy, medium-sized grape vine plants that are at least one year old. Purchasing from a knowledgeable and reputable local nursery or garden center is recommended.
Grapes do best in fertile, well-drained soil that receives full sun exposure and is safe from strong wind gusts and extreme winter cold pockets. Grape vines require a trellis or other climbing surface, the sturdier the better, since the fruit can be heavy. The best time to plant grapes in New England is very early in the spring after frost leaves the ground, although any time before summer will work.
1) For each plant, dig a hole deep enough to secure the roots of the vine.
2) Place the plant in the hole and fill in around it with the compost mixture.
3) Pack lightly and water.
4) Mulch around the base of the plants.
5) Take the strongest, longest vine of each plant and guide it to an area toward the top of the trellis, being careful not to overextend. Loosely secure with twine. Use twine to support other areas as needed.
6) Water lightly just after planting, then water periodically until the plants are established. When watering, avoid wetting the foliage, so as to discourage fungal diseases. Never allow the soil to get too soggy.
Growing Concord grapes takes a little effort and even less room and can produce fruit reliably for as long as 75 years. Let taste, not change of color, be your guide to know when to harvest. When the grapes are sweet and bursting with juice, cut off, do not pull, the entire cluster. Vines begin to bear fruit two to three years after planting.
Concord grapes have a slightly tart, strong musky flavor and are not as sweet as green and red grapes. This variety of grape is best suited for jams, jellies and juice and less so for wine. When harvesting grapes, the taste test goes a long way in knowing when to pick; the grape is at its sweetest at peak harvesting time. Developed on the east coast and named after the town of Concord, Massachusetts, this variety of grape is cold hardy and grown throughout the United States. While knowing when to harvest Concord grapes is more about taste than color, Concord grapes will turn a telltale darker shade two to three weeks before peak harvest. The color can vary depending on where it is grown, with the standard deep blue-purple color slightly lighter in colder areas and darker in warmer climates.
The color of the vine also indicates when to harvest Concord grapes. Throughout the growing season, the vine and stems are a light to medium green. When the vine and stems begin to turn to a light then medium brown, it means the grapes are ripening and ready to harvest. When the vine and stems are a deep-dark brown to black, the window for harvesting is likely passed and the fruit has over-ripened. A mainstay for grape juice, the Concord is often grown commercially because it is easy to grow, has a short growing season, is cold hardy and a “slip-skin” variety, meaning the skin is easy to remove. Commercial growers use color, taste, firmness, vine color and even weight to determine the best time to pick Concord grapes.
In the United States 417,800 tons were produced in 2011. The major growing areas are the Finger Lakes District of New York, Lake Erie, Lake Ontario, Southwestern Michigan, and the Yakima Valley in Washington.
Nutrition facts of Concord grapes
For a Serving Size of 8 oz. (224g)
Calories from Fat: 0
Total Fat: 0g
Net carbs: 40g
Vitamins and minerals
Vitamin A: 0μg
Vitamin C: 0mg
1) Decrease blood pressure with concord grapes
Concord grapes contain many flavonoids, including resveratrol, which can help decrease blood pressure by improving the fluidity of the blood. Resveratrol also relaxes the arterial walls to allow adequate circulation and decrease the pressure in the arteries.
2) Concord grapes are anti-inflammatory
Concord grapes contain a variety of polyphenols that can reduce the inflammatory response in the body. These grapes also have the antioxidant ability to mop up free radicals in the body and keep you looking younger, longer.
3) Eat grapes to stay sharp
Many degenerative diseases, including Alzheimer’s and dementia, begin with the accumulation of certain proteins and foreign bodies in the brain. Concord grapes have been shown to prevent the accumulation of these potentially harmful substances. This helps keep your brain sharp and your nervous system healthy.
4) Boost your immunity with concord grapes
Concord grapes have been shown to increase the production of the cells in our body that fight off disease and foreign invaders. Boosting these natural killer cells and T-cells will keep your immune system in tip-top shape during cold and flu season.
5) Concord grapes maintain healthy breast tissue
Concord grapes contain resveratrol, which protects the DNA in our cells against mutations that occur. Studies show that resveratrol is specifically beneficial in protecting breast tissue from the mutations that can take place in certain breast cancers.
Concord grapes are often used to make grape jelly and are only occasionally available as table grapes, especially in New England. They are the usual grapes used in the jelly for the traditional peanut butter and jelly sandwich, and Concord grape jelly is a staple product in U.S. supermarkets. Concord grapes are used for grape juice, and their distinctive purple color has led to grape-flavored soft drinks and candy being artificially colored purple while methyl anthranilate, a chemical present in Concord grapes, is used to give “grape” flavor. The dark colored Concord juice is used in some churches as a non-alcoholic alternative to wine in the service of communion. Concord grapes have been used to make Kosher wine and sacramental wine.
Research has found that drinking 100% juice made with Concord grapes in moderation can be part of a balanced diet while maintaining a healthy weight. Specifically, while more research is necessary, early studies have shown that daily, moderate consumption of grape juice does not significantly impact weight.
One study of healthy, overweight men and women ages 18-50 years found that, after 12 weeks, Concord grape juice drinkers consuming about 2 cups per day had no significant changes in appetite or weight, and showed a significant decrease in waist circumference (one of the five determinants of metabolic syndrome). Other markers of metabolic syndrome, including cholesterol, triglyceride, and fasting glucose levels, were maintained within normal limits throughout the study. The group that drank a sugar-sweetened beverage in place of the Concord grape juice felt less full, experienced moderate weight gain, and did not experience a significant decrease in waist circumference. A recent pilot study also found that daily Concord grape juice consumption had no negative impact on body weight or waist circumference.
According to a recent analysis using the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES), children and adults who consumed 100% grape juice showed no significant differences in weight or BMI compared to non-drinkers. These findings support other observational studies, which discovered that children and teens who drank 100% juice tended to consume more nutritious diets and were no more likely to be overweight than non-juice drinkers.