They look and smell just like common table grapes, but pop one into your mouth and the first impression you get is a rush of cotton candy flavor. At least that’s what Spencer Gray, a personal chef in Culver City and blogger at Omnivorous, who has sampled the grapes says.
If you have sweet tooth but want to stay away from unhealthy treats, cotton candy grapes could be a great alternative. They have have about five grams of sugar per ounce, 12 percent more than regular table grapes, but far less than popular candy like Skittles, which have about 20 grams per ounce. Still, to many people, a grape variety that packs this much sugar and is advertised as tasting like cotton candy might seem like a gimmick to turn a natural healthy treat into junk food. But while its creator, California-based fruit breeder David Cain admits new sweeter fruit varieties are competing against candy bars and cookies, nutritionists say that’s not a cause for concern. “You would have to eat about 100 grapes to consume the same amount of calories in a candy bar,” David Heber, director of the UCLA Center for Human Nutrition, told the Los Angeles Times.
Photo: The Shelby Report
So how did Cain create the cotton-candy-flavored grapes? It took him and the team at International Fruit Genetics in Bakersfield 12 years to come up with a viable product, but they did it all through the centuries-old process of hybridisation, taking pollen from one plant and brushing it onto another plant. And since cotton candy basically tastes like sugar with a hint of vanilla, they just removed the fruit’s distinct tartness to make the sweetness more noticeable, and added notes of vanilla by mixing in genes from less common grape species. “”It’s a bit like fishing,” David says. “You never know when you’re going to get the big one.” Cotton candy grapes are not a dead ringer for the popular circus treat, but those who have tried it say it tastes very similar. The sugary grapes have been commercially available in limited quantities since 2011, and the response has been so positive, that this year production has been bumped up from just two acres to 100 acres this year, with 200 acres already planted for 2014.
Ever since the cotton candy grapes caught the attention of the press, at the end of last month, they’ve caused quite the controversy. Some people believe we should stick to classic grape breeds like Concorde or Muscadine that “taste like grapes” instead of creating strange varieties that taste like sugar, while others welcome them as a great way to get kid to eat more fruit instead of junk food. Cain says he and his team are just trying to do for grapes what others have done for apples in the past. “When you go to the supermarket, there’s like 15 kinds of apples — Fuji, Pink Lady, Gala, Braeburn. The list goes on,” he told The Salt. “We want to give consumers the same array of flavors for grapes.” They already have other varieties that taste like gummybears, lollypops, grape soda, Skittles, mango or pineapple.