When I think of summer in the produce business, one of the fruits I think of is grapes. August is the time of year when grapes are at their peak of flavor.
Interestingly, there are two “new” grape varieties you may not be familiar with, that will be appearing in markets soon.
The first are Muscadine Grapes. Completely different from Muscat Grapes, Muscadines are native to the Southern United States. I tasted my first Muscadine a few weeks ago when growers from Georgia sent us samples.
As it turns out, Muscadines are a rare grape variety grown in the “hot, harsh and unyielding climate of the Southeastern U.S.” and are one of only four native North American grape varieties. In New York, they are referred to as “Swamp Grapes,” and most growers consider them berries, so you may find them on the berry table in your produce department. You can read more about them here.
Muscadines naturally develop an extra chromosome, which helps the grapes defend themselves from the difficult growing conditions they are put in. They proactively pass those fighting, defensive capabilities on to the person eating the grapes in the form of antioxidants. A serving of Muscadines has more fiber than a serving of oats, and their skins and seeds are often used in nutraceutical products. They are believed to have more antioxidants than other super fruits, like Açai, Mangosteen, Pomegranates and Goji Berries!
Oh, and they taste great, too! The grape-like flesh is flavorful, sweet and filled with grapey goodness. The skins are edible, and some of the fruits may contain small seeds.
Another interesting new grape variety is the conventionally bred Cotton Candy Grape. My longtime family friends, the Pandol Family of Delano, California, have a breeding program focused on developing high-flavor grape varieties. Two years ago, I had the opportunity to visit their test vineyard for Cotton Candy grapes.
A few weeks ago, you may have seen a short segment on Good Morning America, where my friends Jim Beagle and Jack Pandol talked about this new variety. You can watch the segment here. And here is a recent article in the New York Times about them as well.
And, to answer your question: Yes, these grapes really do taste like Cotton Candy. I did not believe it until I tasted them myself. I will admit they are super expensive. I saw one pound for sale at $7.99 recently, but they appear to be flying off the shelves! As more of the Cotton Candy variety is produced in the coming years, I imagine the price will come down.
Who knew you could find such diversity in new grape varieties in your supermarket? It’s just not the same old green, red and black grapes anymore. Be sure to go into your local supermarket and give them a try. Can’t find them? Ask your produce manager to order some from their produce supplier.