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What are Grape Leaves?

By Celeste Heiter
Updated May 16, 2024
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Grape leaves are the foliage of the fruit-bearing vine from the Vitaceae family, indigenous to the Northern Hemisphere. In addition to their role in the photosynthesis process of the host vine, these leaves are edible. For human consumption, they are usually cooked or pickled to reduce bitterness and tenderize the leafy fibers. For culinary purposes, they are most commonly used as wrappers for rolls filled with various ingredients. Rolled or stuffed grape leaves are common to the cuisines of many countries, especially around the Mediterranean and throughout Eastern Europe, the Middle East and Asia.

All varieties of grape leaves are edible, from vines that bear table grapes to those that bear wine grapes. The most important consideration is whether the vines have been treated with chemical pesticides. The leaves may be picked fresh and boiled or pickled for immediate use or preserved with home canning. They are also available in commercially-packaged jars or cans. Pickled grape leaves are usually rolled and packed in brine that contains preservatives such as salt, citric acid, sodium benzoate and sodium bisulfate.

In contemporary cuisine, especially in Greece, Eastern Europe and the Middle East, the word dolma has become synonymous with stuffed grape leaves. The term, however, actually refers to any stuffed vegetable. Also known as sarma, this dish consists of leaves commonly filled with rice and other grains, ground meats, cheese and legumes. Nuts and fruits and seasonings such as onions, garlic, fresh herbs, and aromatic spices are also often used. This dish is also called koupepia in Cyprus, where the leaves are usually filled with spiced rice.

Dolmas may be braised, boiled or steamed on the stovetop, or baked in the oven. They may be served warm or cold, though when stuffed with meat, they are usually served hot and often include a yogurt-based sauce. In Greece, dolmas are served with a savory tomato sauce or with a lemony, egg-thickened chicken soup called avgolemono. As a cold appetizer, they are often marinated in olive oil and vinegar.

Grape leaves are also used in Vietnamese cuisine, although they are not indigenous to Southeast Asia. The presence of grape vines in Vietnam is due to French Colonial influence. The most common use of them in Vietnamese cuisine is in a dish called thit bo cuon la luop, which is grape leaves rolled with a mixture of ground beef, cilantro, and scallions and seasoned with various spices and fish sauce.

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Discussion Comments
By Drentel — On Dec 05, 2014

@Animandel - I wish had known that grape leaves were thought to help with bone production years ago. My knees are virtually void of cartilage from all of the years I played basketball and football.

I didn't even know people ate grape leaves until I went to a party at a neighbor's house the other week. The neighbors served stuffed grape leaves and they tasted great. So, I could have been eating a delicious food and protecting my knees at the same time. I wish I knew this 30 years ago.

By Animandel — On Dec 04, 2014

@Laotionne - Your grandfather was right about grape leaves being good for his bones. I recently read an article that talked about how the leaves contain manganese which works with a protein in the body to help the body produce strong cartilage and bone.

Many athletes often wear down the cartilage in their joints because of their physical activities, so eating grape leaves could be a good way to help them prevent cartilage and joint problems down the road as they age.

By Laotionne — On Dec 04, 2014

My grandfather had a scuppernong vine at his house. I loved the grapes the vine produced. They were not like the grapes my mama bought at the grocery score. The taste was much different, and the scuppernongs were much better as far as I am concerned. However, my grandfather never ate the grapes. He said he didn't care for any kind of grape.

Though he didn't eat the grapes, Grandpa did chew on the leaves. He walked around chewing on grape leaves quite often in fact. I asked him why, and he told me that the leaves were good for his bones. This was news to me, but my grandpa truly believed the leaves were helping his bones.

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