Grapes are a special fruit in my opinion. Even the most regular “table grapes” are sweet and satisfying enough to seem like a dessert. When they are in season, we also enjoy some of the smaller grapes, such as our favorite, Reliant grapes, which have a full-flavored sweetness with a bit of a tang. 

Because we love grapes so much, I found it interesting to learn that a new breed was making its way to stores. This grape has an interesting claim: it tastes a bit like cotton candy! I wasn’t sure what to make of the idea. Is that a way to encourage children to eat grapes? Are we saying older breeds of grapes aren’t good enough? 

In an NPR interview, David Cain, the horticulturist who developed this grape, says the opposite is true. He doesn’t want to move away from traditional grapes; he wants to bring them back! In recent years, grapes have been bred not for flavor, but for transportation needs. This practice has meant a significant loss of flavor in grapes over time. 

We've seen a revival of other produce items – such as the many types of apples and tomatoes now available. I always appreciate when I see the less beautiful, but so flavorful heirloom tomatoes available, for example. Cain is wants to do the same with grapes — without genetically modifying them or using other artificial means — by simply using the old practice of plant breeding. 

Grape breeders have developed varieties that have hints of melon, strawberry, pineapple and mango. But the Cotton Candy grape variety is the first one to hit the market, and it has been so successful at stores that the fruit’s distributor is doubling the planted acreage for the grape this year. 

Cotton Candy Grapes

Photo: Marlon E/Flickr 

And the reason these grapes taste so sweet? Most of the tartness of the grape has been bred out, creating a super sweet grape. Vanilla is the flavor associated with cotton candy, so breeders have used older breeds of grapes that contain the flavor profile to add a special touch. They also took some of the characteristics of the Concord grape, while leaving behind that grape's propensity for skin that falls off and seeds. 

It wasn’t an easy process, and took over 100,000 test tube plants before the breeders stumbled across the right flavor profile, but the grape seems to be doing well so far. 

Personally? I’d love to try this grape soon, but I think the tang of grapes is part of the pleasure of eating grapes, so for my family, this will probably remain more of a novelty item. 

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