What is Grapeseed Oil and How to Use It? Benefits, Uses, and History of Grapeseed Oil
A light, gentle oil that comes from the tiny seeds in grapes, one of the most cultivated plants in the world.
Plant name (Latin): Vitis vinifera
Plant family: Vitaceae
Native region: Mediterranean region, central Europe and southwest Asia
Growing habit: Woody vines grow over other trees in the wild, or are supported by fences, trellises or wires when cultivated
Parts used: Fruit (food and wine), leaves (food), seeds (oil for consumption and skin care)
Essential oil extraction method: Cold pressing of the seeds
About Grapeseed Oil
For thousands of years, humans have gathered grapes for food and wine. Today, over 10,000 varieties of grapes are now grown around world, on every continent but Antartica. Grapeseed oil, cold-pressed from the seeds leftover from winemaking, is a light, moisturizing oil, perfect for blending with essential oils.
Why Use Grapeseed Oil
A light and gentle oil that is thin in consistency and well suited for massage.
How and Where Grapes Grow
The Vitis vinifera plant, more commonly known as grape vines, are native to the Mediterranean region, central Europe and southwest Asia. Today are grown throughout the world, on every continent except Antarctica. Grapes, which are the fruit of the grapevine and are technically a berry, are cultivated for food (both fresh and dried as raisins) or pressed and fermented into wine. Nutrient-rich, moisturizing grapeseed oil is made from grape seeds, which was originally a byproduct of the wine industry.
Grapevines are classified as lianas, a botanical term for woody, long-stemmed vines that root in the ground and use trees and any other available vertical support to climb upwards towards the sun. The appearance of grapevines will vary by variety, but they all require support to grow. The length of grapevines also varies by variety, but they can grow up to 32 metres (35 yards).
Grape leaves are long and broad, and grow in an alternating pattern. Grapes grow in characteristic clusters or bunches. Wild grapes are small, typically 6mm (0.24 inches) in diameter, and are dark purple to blackish with a pale wax bloom when ripe. Cultivated grape varieties are usually much larger, up to 3cm (1.2 inches) in diameter, and can be green, red, or purple to purplish black.
Interestingly, there are no wild white grapes. In 2007, Australian scientists used genetic analysis to trace all white grape varieties to a single parent plant that (luckily for white wine lovers) happened to have two very specific and rare mutations that suppress the production of anthocyanin, which is the pigment that gives most grapes their color. It’s not known exactly when this mutation occured, but ancient Roman writings document the cultivation and production of white wine.
In the wild, grape plants require pollination to produce flowers because they are dioecious, where male and female flowers grow on separate plants. Cultivated grapes have hermaphrodite (male and female) flowers, which makes for reliable fruit production.
Most of the world’s wine producing regions are between the 30th and 50th parallels, in both hemispheres. Some grapes grow beyond this range, and wine is produced in some odd pockets around the world. Generally, wine grapes grow in climate zones classified as Mediterranean (like Tuscany), Maritime (such as Bordeaux), or Continental (like Washington State’s Columbia Valley).
Grapeseed Oil in All Its Forms
Grapes are very versatile can be eaten fresh or dried, crushed into juice, and fermented into wine. Grape leaves are enjoyed in mediterranean cuisines, and nutrient-rich grapeseed oil can be used for skincare and as a culinary oil.
Grapes: fresh, dried (raisins) and juiced
Grapes are technically berries, and are an excellent part of a healthy, balanced diet. Grapes are good sources of vitamin C, vitamin A, vitamin K, B-complex vitamins, and variety of minerals including copper, iron and manganese. They are rich in antioxidants, including resveratrol, anthocyanin, and catechins.
In addition to eating them fresh, grapes can also be made into jams and jellies, dried into raisins, or pressed into juice. Enjoy a fresh bunch of grapes as is, or try packing some raisins on your next hike or ride as a tasty, portable source of whole food energy.
Grape leaves are a popular ingredient in Mediterranean and Middle Eastern cuisines. The leaves are picked fresh, stuffed with rice, spices and other ingredients, then cooked.
Grapeseed oil in cooking
Grapeseed oil has a clean, light taste that makes it an excellent choice for salad dressings. It’s low in saturated fat, high in polyunsaturated fats like omega 6 and omega 9, an essential fatty acid, and contains important nutrients like vitamin E.
It has a moderately high smoke point of 216 °C (421 °F), so it’s best to keep this oil out of high heat situations. Sometimes, it is sprayed on raisins to help them retain their flavour.
Grapeseed oil for skin
Grapeseed oil is cold-pressed from grape seeds left over from the winemaking process. Grapeseed oil is rich in linoleic acid, an essential fatty acid naturally found in the skin, and also contains vitamin E and phenols, making it a beneficial addition to moisturizing skincare. Its light texture also lends itself well to massage.
The Use of Grapeseed Oil in Ayurveda
Grapeseed oil is a light, easily absorbed oil that is said to pacify kapha and vata, and enhance pitta dosha. In Ayurveda, it’s recommended as a topical treatment for skin and hair.
The Symbolism of Grapes and Grapevines
Humanity’s relationship with the grape stretches back to prehistoric times, and grapes and grapevines have come to carry deeply symbolic meanings. The ancient Greeks worshipped Dionysus, the god of wine. In Roman mythology, Dionysus was called Bacchus, and both gods were represented by bunches of grapes and vines. In Ancient Egypt, wine was considered sacred, and was reserved for priests and the higher classes only.
Grapes and grapevines are also important in the Judeo-Christian tradition and grapes are often referred to in Biblical stories. In the Old Testament story of Noah and the Flood, the first thing Noah does after the water subsides is plant a vineyard. Grapes and vines are mentioned repeatedly throughout the Old Testament, as well as the New Testament. The meaning varies, but they often symbolize charity and abundance. At one point, Jesus says of himself, “I am the vine”.
Wine is an important feature of the Seder, a special meal Jews eat during Passover to remember their journey out of slavery. During the Seder, four cups of wine (or grape juice) are drunk, to remember the four times God promised to lead them to freedom in the book of Exodus.
In the Christian tradition, wine is part of the Eucharist (also known as Holy Communion), where wine or grape juice and bread symbolize the blood and flesh of Christ.
Because of the importance of grapes in ancient Greek and Roman mythology as well as in the Christian tradition, grapes, grapevines and wine are often used symbolically in Western art and literature. For example, the Battle Hymn of the Republic, a traditional American patriotic song says, “Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord; He is trampling out the vintage where the grapes of wrath are stored”. This is a reference to a passage in Revelations: “And the angel thrust in his sickle into the earth, and gathered the vine of the earth, and cast it into the great winepress of the wrath of God.”
In turn, the Battle Hymn of the Republic inspired the title of John Steinbeck’s novel The Grapes of Wrath, in which the Joad family travel to California during the Great Depression. While in California, they find that perfectly good food is being destroyed to keep prices high. Written in 1939, this Pulitzer-Prize winning novel became the basis for the 1940 drama film directed by John Ford of the same name.
The History of Grapes
For thousands of years, humans have cultivated grapes, and gathered, ate and (probably) fermented wild grapes for thousands of years before that. Today, more than 75,000 square kilometers of the world are dedicated to producing grapes: around 71% of all grape production is used for wine, 27% for fresh fruit, and 2% for dried fruit.
In 2017, scientists published a study showing that 8,000 years ago, in Neolithic Georgia, early peoples were already making and preserving wine in pottery jars. This study provides the earliest documented evidence of winemaking, but scientists think that humans may made wine long before that, preserving it in leather bags which have long since biodegraded, leaving no definitive proof.
In Armenia, archaeologists have found evidence of a winery dating to around 4,000 BCE, complete with a wine press and vessels for fermentation and storage. It looks like these early winemakers made their vintage by stomping on the grapes.
Scientists don’t know when humans began to cultivate grapes, as opposed to simply gathering wild grapes, but by 3000 BCE, humans in the Caucasus region had domesticated the grape (marked by changes to the genetic code of domestic grapes versus wild grapes). From there, the cultivation of domesticated grapes gradually spread around Europe, Asia and the Middle East during the prehistoric and early historic periods.
The earliest written mention of wine can be found in the Epic of Gilgamesh, a Sumerian text from the 3rd millennium BCE. In the poem, the hero Gilgamesh literally offers to wine and dine Princess Ishtar, if only she will consider marrying him. Ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics contain illustrations of grape cultivation. Around 700 BCE, the Greek poet Hesiod wrote about grapes and wine making, as did Homer.
The ancient Romans loved wine and advanced grape-growing techniques (also known as viniculture). But when the Roman empire fell apart in the 3th and 4th centuries CE, this activity declined in Europe. Religious orders across Europe kept European winemaking alive for several centuries, until the rising economy of the late middle ages and into the Renaissance made winemaking an economically viable—and prestigious—industry again.
While wild grapes have always grown around the world, domesticated grapes were brought to the Americas, Africa and Australia by Europeans starting in the 17th century. By the mid-1800s, botanists had brought samples of North American grape species back to Europe, and, in the process, they nearly wiped out the European wine industry.
Phylloxera is a tiny insect that feeds on—and destroys—grapevines. They are native to North America and most North American grape species have natural defenses against them. European vines don’t. Phylloxera devastated the European wine industry by the late 1800s, and to this day, there is no effective treatment for it. Fortunately for grape-lovers, botanists were able to create phylloxera-resistant crosses by combining North American and European grapes, thus saving the wine industry, which has continued to flourish through the 20th and 21st centuries.
The History of Grapeseed Oil
The popularity of wine does come with some industrial challenges. Because the wine industry only uses the juice from grapes, it leaves behind tons of leftover pulp and seeds which still contain some of the amazing health benefits of the grape. For a long time, scientists have looked for ways to harness the value of this leftover grape mass, in order to both eliminate the environmental waste of this biomass, and to harness its nutrition. Enter: grapeseed oil.
It has always been known that grape seeds yield oil, but until modern improvements in manufacturing, it has been hard to produce grapeseed oil at scale. Just imagine how small grape seeds are; crushing them for oil is quite the task. In 100 kilograms of leftover pulp, there are only 10 to 12 kilograms of seeds, and oil makes up just 7 to 20% of each seed. By the 1930s, grapeseed oil was being produced in Germany, France and Italy, and has slowly become known around the world for its nutritional value and skin-soothing benefits.
Today, there are over 10,000 varieties of grapes grown around the world, and annual grape production equals 75 million metric tons per year. Italy, France and the United States are the world’s top grape-growing countries, closely followed by Spain and China. Whether you enjoy grapes fresh, dried, as wine or as grapeseed oil for cooking or skin care, you are following an ancient tradition.
The Science of Grapeseed Oil
Grapeseed oil contains around 70% linoleic acid (omega 6 unsaturated fat), 16% oleic acid (omega 9 unsaturated fat), 7% palmitic acid (saturated fat) and 4% stearic acid (saturated fat).
It also contains small amounts of other compounds, including 0.8 to 1.5% unsaponifiables (literally, oil compounds that can’t be turned into soap and are therefore beneficial moisturizers). Grapeseed oil is rich in phenols (specifically tocopherol, also known as vitamin E) and sterols.