By: Alison Sacks, RD at Capitol Nutrition Group and Rebecca Scritchfield Media, LLC
This week I had the exciting opportunity to travel to Richland, Washington to participate in the Welch’s Vineyard Tour and Harvest Event to discover all the goodness of Concord grapes and how grape juice is made! This unique region of Washington, located in the Yakama Valley is one of the top producers of Concord grapes and is absolutely beautiful! The experience was wonderful to see the harvesting process during peak season and get to know the farmers behind the Welch’s brand.
Welch’s dates back to 140 years ago, when Thomas Bramwell Welch decided to serve Concord grape juice instead of wine at his church. He later went on to bottle the first pasteurized juice using Concord grapes that has become a common household name to so many of us. The oldest Welch’s grape vine dates back to 1849 in Concord, MA and to this day is still producing berries. (Now that’s sustainability!)
Welch’s grower explaining the unique seed of the Concord grape that contains 77% of the polyphenols.
Family Famers: The Heart of Welch’s
At the heart of Welch’s are 1,000 family farmers who know that quality starts in the fields. For many of these farmers, it’s where their families and livelihoods have grown for generations. We spent the afternoon with Farmer Tim Grow whose first Welch’s memories date back to his childhood helping his grandfather on the family vineyard, where today his own two daughters lend a helping hand on the same family vineyard.
Concords are sweet, tangy, bold purple grapes that need a special climate to grow – specifically, chilly areas.
What Makes a Concord Grape Great
For starts Concord grapes are berries! What makes them distinct from most table or wine grapes are its bigger berries and seeds and deep purple slip-skin. Purple is a cue that fruits and vegetables have plant nutrients called polyphenols that can help promote health, especially heart health (the darker the purple, the more polyphenols).
Berry polyphenols act as antioxidants, helping to protect our healthy cells from the damaging effects of oxidative stress. The majority of polyphenols are found in the thick skins and seeds of the Concords that are usually discarded when eating, which is why pressing Concords into juice helps to concentrate and preserve the heart healthy polyphenols.
Concord grapes are also an important ingredient in heart health. Decades of research has shown when 100% Concord grape juice is drunk consistently it helps support healthy blood vessels by increasing the flexibility of arteries for healthy blood flow. Studies also show Concords may also provide an anti-clotting effect similar to red wine and may help manage the effects of LDL or “bad,” cholesterol by keeping arteries free and clear of excess plaque build-up.
Check out this neat infographic on different ways you can pump up the purple in your diet.
Delivering the Fruit to the Glass
The treat tank where heat and enzymes are added to help extract the heart healthy polyphenols from the skin and seeds of the Concords.
A glimpse inside the belly of the grape harvester.
The Concord grape harvest is short and sweet, lasting only about 30 days between September and October. Due to climate variables, no two years of grape growing are alike but what makes Welch’s unique is their ability to blend grapes from multiple growing regions to deliver that consistent field-fresh flavor.
100% grape juice is made with nothing but whole Concord grapes-seeds, skin and all. From the time the Concords are picked in the fields they are inspected, washed and pressed into juice within 8 hours. During the pressing process the Concords are treated with heat and enzymes, which extracts the heart-healthy polyphenols from the grape seeds and skins and is releases into the juice.
Translating the Grape Science
Sampling a taste of the day’s harvest! Delicious!
We know less than 50% of Americans meet their daily fruit needs so adding 100% fruit juice can be a delicious and convenient way to help fill this gap. Including ½ cup of 100% fruit juice as part of a meal or snack is a simple way to help get in an extra serving of fruit and support a healthy heart. While fresh fruit contains more fiber per serving, consuming fruit in any form still delivers that same health promoting vitamins and minerals. Health experts agree that when 100% fruit juice is added as a compliment to whole fruit intake, consumption can actually double or triple.
8 ounces of 100% Concord grape juice provides 250 mg of polyphenols and contains more than 40 grapes. Its equal to 2 servings of fruit and high in immune boosting vitamin C and a good source of potassium-a key mineral important in regulating blood pressure.
One Juice-So Many Uses
Adding 100% fruit juice to your diet is an affordable and convenient way to help support a healthy lifestyle. Its year-round-availability and flavor variety makes it an easy way to sip sensibly or add to dishes. Look for labels that contain “100% fruit juice” or “No added sugar” and read ingredient labels to make sure they do not contain any added sweeteners or artificial ingredients. Looking for other ways to get creative with Concord grape juice?
- Add it to your grains! Make oatmeal or quinoa with 100% grape juice instead of water.
- Add a splash of 100% juice to seltzer water for a tad of sweetness.
- Make ice pops in the summertime or freeze into ice cubes to add to beverages.
- Dress up your favorite greens with a homemade salad dressing using 2 parts heart-healthy oil, 1 part of your favorite vinegar, and a splash of 100% grape juice.
- Cook with 100% grape juice instead of red wine.
Thirsty for More?
What are some of your favorite ways to use 100% juice? Feel free to share your favorite recipes by leaving a comment below. You can also follow the hashtag #DiscoverConcordGrapes and visit Welch’s Heart Healthy Recipe site for more flavorful ways to use 100% Concord grape juice.
Disclosure: My attendance at the Welch’s Vineyard Tour and Harvest Event was sponsored by Welch’s but I was not compensated to write this blog.