grapes in sun

Did You Know: Versatile Grapes

As we ring in the New Year, I can’t help but think of sparkling wine and its progenitor: the grape. In fact, while we are on the subject of Champagne and sparkling wines, here are a few “did you know” facts you may find interesting. First, you can make sparkling wines from any grape or fermentable fruit. However, real Champagne only comes from the Champagne region of France. The two major gapes used in making Champagne are Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, while everything else is a sparkling wine. Also, 25% of all sparkling wine sales occur in December, so if you want a good deal, February is a great time to buy!

But enough about Champagne and wine. Let’s move on to grapes and some other “did you know” facts:

  • The average person eats eight pounds of grapes a year.
  • The Red Globe grape, which is the size of a small plum, is peeled with considerable ceremony and eaten with a fork and knife in Japan.
  • Grapes do not continue to ripen after they have been harvested.
  • Grape juice was first made by Dr. Thomas Welch, a prohibitionist who offered it as an alternative to communion wine.

grapes in sun


Have you ever wondered how many varieties of grapes exists? The answer might surprise you, as no one knows (and while researching, I found several different answers). The number is somewhere between 8,000 and 10,000 varieties of grapes in the world. Many of these varieties are new hybrids developed through grafting and other methods. Often, certain types of grapes are popular in certain countries.

Grapes are among the oldest cultivated fruits. Fossil evidence indicates grapes were consumed and possibly cultivated as early as 8,000 years ago near the Black and Caspian Seas.  There are two major categories of grapes: Old World European (Vitis vinifera), mostly used for making wine, and New World, (Vitis labrusca), which are native to America and mostly used for eating. While we know Spanish settlers brought Old World grapes to California, we don’t know how the New World grapes got here. Grapes have a history in every country and in every civilization from the Egyptians to the Romans and Greeks. In fact, both the Romans and the
Greeks worshiped their own God of Wine, Bacchus in Rome and Dionysus in Greece.

Grapes are one of the most versatile fruits on the planet.  They are great when fermented into adult beverages or made into a juice for kids. They can also be used as a natural sweetener and are a great substitute for refined sugar. A lesser known use is that grapes can substitute yeast as a natural starter for bread production. Grapes are delicious in jellies and jams or included in desserts. They enhance savory dishes, are excellent paired with cheese, and are refreshing when blended in a drink. Grapes can be frozen and eaten as a satisfying, healthy snack or just eaten in their fresh, natural state. Even the leaves can be eaten. If you feel adventurous, look up a few recipes for stuffed grape leaves, which are popular in the Middle East and Greece.

Most people go to a supermarket and buy either green or red grapes.  BORING!Especially for those of us who live in California where 97% of the US table grapes are grown. Did I mention there are thousands of varieties? Please go explore new varieties and break the green-and-red-grape-only buying habit. Stop picking grapes by color and instead choose them by name, or go out to local farms and explore different varieties. Just to name a few types of grapes there are Perlette, Thompson Seedless (which are found everywhere), Exotic, Flame Seedless, Ribier, Superior Seedless, Ruby Seedless, Emperor, Red Globe, Christmas Rose, Calmeria, and Concord. Every wine grape variety you can think of, from Chardonnay to Zinfandel, are all delicious to eat fresh as well.

Fresh grapes are not just delicious but also very healthy, containing natural sugars and essential nutrients. The most important nutrient in grapes is Vitamin C. Depending on the variety, ten grapes have approximately 5 mgs of Vitamin C.  Also, grape skins, pulp, and seeds contain the antioxidant flavonoid resveratrol, one of the naturally occurring compounds in wines appears to lower cholesterol levels and reduce the risk of heart disease. Purple grape juice contains more of this antioxidant than red grape juice, which in turn contains more than white grape juice.

To put it simply, let’s celebrate grapes– either in a glass, by the handful, or from a box of raisins.  Here is a recipe to get you started!

Spicy Grape Chutney

– Serves 4-6 –

(Great served with chicken or fish.)


1 Cup Green Seedless Grapes (sliced)

1 Cup Red Grapes (sliced)

1 Cup Black Seedless Grapes (sliced)

1 TBSP Vegetable Oil

1 Dried Chili Pepper

1/8 TSP Cumin Seeds

1/8 TSP Mustard Seeds

1/8 TSP Fennel Seeds

1/8 TSP Caraway Seeds

1/8 TSP Fresh Medium Ground Pepper

1 TSP Finely Minced Ginger

2 TBSP Lemon Juice

1 Cup Water

¼ Cup Agave

½ TSP Salt


  1. In a nonstick sauce pan on medium heat, add vegetable oil.
  2. Add all the dry spices and the ginger to the pan and sauté for about one minute, stirring continuously so that the spices do not burn.
  3. Add all other ingredients, bring the mixture to a boil, stirring occasionally. Reduce the heat to simmer and continue cooking for 15-20 minutes, stirring frequently until the sauce thickens.
  4. Set aside to cool and store covered in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks.



Al Ferrone is the senior director of Food & Beverage at UCLA Housing & Hospitality Services. With extensive years of food and beverage/hotel experience, Al Ferrone manages all areas of F&B for UCLA including Dining Services, Lake Arrowhead Conference Center, the UCLA Meyer & Renee Luskin Conference Center, and UCLA Catering.  Prior to UCLA as the Vice President of Food & Beverage, he played a significant role in the guidance of hotel and F&B strategies at Caesars Entertainment Corporation, Hilton, and Interstate Hotels Corporation. He has worked with a wide-ranging family of hotel and casino brands.  He also developed and independently managed the Hilton Restaurant Group, which consisted of freestanding restaurants with over eight concepts.


Graduate Students at the Forefront of Veteran Food Security

“We truly need to integrate agriculture into our urban systems to tackle food insecurity for the populations that are most underserved.” -Kathleen Chen

Kathleen, a second year graduate student, and Yi Shen, a first year graduate student, are tackling food insecurity for over 50 veterans through an ambitious renovation of the VA (Veterans Affairs) Garden. The duo, both studying chemistry, work through the INFEWS (Innovations at the Nexus of Food, Energy, and Water Systems) program to improve access to nutritious food, create jobs, build community, and aid in therapy for psychological issues veterans often face.


Veterans and Volunteers Planting at the VA Garden. Photo by Tammy Wong.

The Facts on Food Insecurity

The USDA defines food insecurity as a state in which “consistent access to adequate food is limited by a lack of money and other resources at times during the year.” Two terms, low food security and very low food security break the definition down further. Low food security may result in reduced variety, quality, or desirability of diet, while very low food security, formerly known as food insecurity with hunger results in actual reduced food intake.

In America, 1 in 8 people report being in a state of food insecurity, and among veterans, the numbers are much higher. More than 1 in 4 veterans (27%) from Iraq and Afghanistan wars report problems with food security, where 15% of those surveyed reported low food security and 12% reported very low food security.


In 2016, UCLA committed a total of $16.5 million to a partnership with the Department of Veterans Affairs. This money was dedicated to, among other actions, the rejuvenation of the VA garden. This kickstarted the transformation of the area into a space for recreation, leisure, and therapy, as well as an easy way to provide nutritious food to veterans in the area. Yi and Kathleen’s project has been in the works since September 2018, and catalyzes the overall process through four objectives.

Kathleen and Yi’s “Four Specific Aims”

In order to achieve improved food security for veterans in the area, Kathleen and Yi outlined their goals as follows:

  1. Develop a planting guide and schedule for the 16 raised garden beds available. The planting guide includes not only which plants to sow, but also accounts for companion planting: how to combine plants to minimize water usage and support growth. The schedule outlines when to sow seeds, transfer sprouts to beds, water, fertilize, and finally harvest the produce.
  2. Determine which nearby public lands other than the raised beds may have potential to grow more food. Criteria are that the land is affordable to clear, close to a water source, fertile, and uncontaminated. This is done through collaboration with the INFEWS design team and soil testing team.
  3. Create a compost system. Currently, all compost materials are put on trucks and sent to an industrial composting plant, and the garden must purchase fertilizers from outside sources. An ideal system would cycle compost to fertilizer within the garden property, eliminating external processes. Another benefit of a composting system on-site is that it creates tasks for veteran-community engagement.
  4. Identify ways to inspire veterans to interact with the garden. This can be done through direct food distribution; classes on gardening, cooking, and nutrition; and temporary paid jobs, including maintenance of buildings and the garden.

Classes on gardening, cooking, and nutrition can be held in outdoor rooms near the garden. Photo by Yi Shen.

So far, Aims 1, 2, and 4 are close to completion, but the project ends for Kathleen and Yi at the end of Fall Quarter, 2018. Though they will no longer be heading the initiative, Kathleen plans to continue volunteering at the garden, and continue with her research in “soil conditioners to improve water conservation in agriculture.” She feels that the project “was really beneficial for giving context to [her] own research and strengthening [her] motivations.”

The garden restoration continues only with maintained volunteer contribution. Feeding more than 50 veterans through small-scale agriculture is no simple task, but the success of the program thus far signifies a major step towards improving food security for the veteran community as a whole.

To get involved with Kathleen and Yi’s project, either as a volunteer or even a new project manager, email either of them directly at or A volunteer sign-up form can also be found here.

Click here to learn more about the benefits of the VA garden on employment, social well-being, and psychological health.


Patience Olsen is an undergraduate student at UCLA majoring in Civil Engineering. In addition to blogging for the EatWell Pod, she volunteers at the Mildred E. Mathias Botanical Garden on campus, and is a member of the ASCE Environmental Design project.