Foods Indigenous to the Western Hemisphere


By Scott Sheu

Called “the grape for the millions” by Horace Greeley, the Concord grape is a relatively new but extremely popular member of the American botanic scene (Gladwin 20).  Chances are that you've tasted this common grape, whether it's appeared in a peanut butter and jelly sandwich or in a cool glass of grape juice. 

Origin and Distribution

North America has the widest variety of wild grapes in the world, with around 20 native species that are found nowhere else in the world (Kennedy).  Though American Indians had long enjoyed the fruits, they were not considered particularly enjoyable by early colonists.  It wasn't until the 1850s, when American grapes began to be hybridized with European varieties, that they became more widely grown and consumed.

The Concord grape was one of the first and continues to be one of the most popular hybrids in the United States.  The Concord grape originated right outside of its namesake town of Concord, Massachusetts in 1849.  Legend has it that amateur farmer Ephraim Wales Bull serendipitously cultivated it from the native Vitis labrusca.  The Concord grape quickly spread throughout the country and became one of the most popular variety of grapes due to its hardiness and ability to withstand cold climates.  The grape is now widely grown in Washington, New York, and what has become known as the “Concord Grape Belt” of  eastern Lake Erie.  While the first Concord vine is still alive and growing today, its descendants have produced the most commonly-used grape in American commercial production.


The Concord grape was cultivated primarily from the Vitis labrusca, which is native to the Eastern United States and Canada, ranging from Ontario down to Georgia.  The Vitis labrusca is also the originator of several other cultivated varieties of grapes. 

As with other grape vines, the Vitis labrusca plant is composed of long and thin vines with broad, greenish leaves.  The fruit of the Concord grape vine has a dark purple-bluish color and a large, rotund shape.

Food Usage

Though the Concord grape is still consumed as a table grape, this usage has diminished partly because of the American preference for seedless grapes.  Instead, the Concord is the most popularly used grape for commercial products including jellies and candies.  Originally often grown for wine, this variety of grape has become less popular due to its intense sweetness, though Kosher wines continue to use it.  Most notably, the Concord grape continues to be dominant grape for grape juices because of its bright color and sweet taste.  The grape is also used to make the famous Grape Pie which originated in Naples, New York.



C. T. Kennedy. "Grapes".  The Oxford Encyclopedia of Food and Drink in America. Ed. Gordon Campbell. Oxford University Press, 2003.

Davidson, Alan. The Oxford Companion to Food. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999.

Gladwin, Fred Elmer.  “A History of Grape Growing in the Eastern United States”.  Web. <>.

Kromchal, Arnold and W. Grierson.  “Brief History of Grape Growing in the United States”.  Economic Botany 5.2 (1961). Web. <>.

Pinney, Thomas.  A History of Wine in America: From Prohibition to the Present. Berkeley, CA.  University of California, 2005.