Grapes are a delicious bunch of fruit when they’re in season, and incredibly disappointing when they’re not. If you live in Europe, America, and Australia then you’re likely very aware of how steep grape prices can be. It turns out there’s a very good reason for that, actually several reasons.
So let’s take a look, and then look at what are some options, aside from grapes.
Why are grapes so expensive ?
Grapes are expensive because they need a specific soil and weather, usually found in the Mediterranean basin and the Arabian peninsula, and they are a seasonal crop, which hikes the price. Of those grapes only the best are sold as table grapes. On top of everything grapes are a very sensitive fruit, and they squish easily.
In short grapes are not available year-round, and when they are they fetch a high price because only the higher quality ones are sold, and they’re on for a short amount of time. Let’s take a closer look into all of this, shall we ?
1. Grapes are a seasonal crop
The biggest reason grapes fetch such a high price is because they’re a seasonal crop. This means they’re not available all year, and in fact are only around for about 2 months. In large countries like America where climate varies significantly, those 2 months can turn into 4, but they still need to be imported from state to state.
Read also: Why Are Berries So Expensive ?
You may be wondering how they’re a seasonal crop when you always see a plastic box of big, red grapes or big white grapes in the supermarket year-round. Those are grapes grown in artificial conditions, and they always end up less flavorful, less sweet, and significantly tougher than real, seasonal grapes.
2. Grapes spoil quickly, and are sensitive
On top of being seasonal so in limited supply, grapes are also very squishy. They’re fragile, and easily burst open, and they’re always in big bunches. Meaning you always need to take extra care when handling grapes, because you can squish a lot of them (much like eggs).
Some cultivars, like the ones grown in hothouses, have been developed to produce a larger fruit with a tougher flesh. These are much better during transport, but sacrifice a lot of flavor and sweetness.
Because of this, you biggest chance of getting real grapes is from a farmer’s market or a roadside stall, close to a farm. These things don’t transport well, especially over large distances.
All of this adds more to the final price for a pound of grapes.
3. In most markets on the best grade grapes are sold
Even when you find grapes in the market – any market – you will always find the best, most flavorful, most sweet available. This is because people will naturally gravitate towards the best fruit, and leave the lower quality ones untouched.
So this means that a part of the good quality grapes now has to go to the market stalls, and be sold as table grapes. And another part will be turned into wine. The rest of the crop, that is not as sweet or good-looking will end up with grape juice, raisins, grape seed extract, and so on.
But, the wine sells for the most. And farmers have to cover their losses when deciding to sell some of those good grapes as table grapes.
4. Grapes need a specific weather
Grapevines don’t grow just anywhere, or rather they don’t produce good grapes just anywhere. The soil is important, but allows a lot of flexibility. What’s more important is the weather.
Grapes grow best in areas that never go lower than 15 C/59 F and not higher than 40 C/104 F. This rules out a good portion of the planet, instead leaving the part just above and just below the Equator line.
This means the best grapes grow in those areas, and in many cases it means import and taxes for countries far from the Equator (like Scandinavian countries).
5. Grapes are picked by hand, by people
You cannot pick grapes with a machines. The gaps between vines are narrow, and you need more finesse than any machine can allow. So humans harvest grapes, by hand, as they’ve always done. This is a slow, time-consuming process and the workers need to be paid. This reflects in the final price of a bunch of grapes, too.
Why are raisins so cheap compared to grapes ?
When you look at a bunch of grapes and a bunch of raisins, it’s hard to think they’re the same thing. But they are. Still, raisins are so much cheaper than grapes. Why ?
Because lower quality grapes are used for raisins, since they’re meant to dry out anyway. And aside form this raisins keep very well, especially in cold, dry, dark areas. You can keep bags of raisins for years if properly stored. Grapes ? They go bad in a week or so, so they must be sold or used immediately.
Why are Ruby Roman grapes so expensive ?
Ruby Roman grapes are a specific Japanese grape cultivar. These grapes are expensive because they are a premium fruit, with strict guidelines as to which can be sold or not. An adequate, good-for-sale Ruby Roman grape is:
- at least 20 grams per grape
- at least 18% sugar content
Fruits and vegetables in Japan are expensive in general. This is because land is limited, but crops take up land space, so they cost extra. On top of this, there is a gift-giving tradition that nearly everyone follows, and most of the time the gifts are fruit (rarely vegetables).
So any fruit will be expensive, and especially larger, sweeter fruit that would also be great as a gift.
Alright, what if you just don’t want to pay extra for grapes ? You can easily substitute them with different fruit, depending on what you’re looking to achieve. Let’s take a look at some of the best grape substitutes you can use.
Blueberries are very close in size to grapes, and if substituting some black grapes then you’ll definitely enjoy blueberries. Just know that these stain a lot, and may not be as sweet as seasonal grapes, But they still work very well.
Gooseberries are the closest in terms of appearance to grapes, but they might be harder to find outside of America.
If you’re looking to replace grapes in a fruit salad, or in a sweet and savory salad with some nice Gorgonzola, why not try some nice pears ? Juicy, just the right texture, and barely any tartness.