One day last week, my boyfriend stopped by the grocery store on his way home from work to pick up some produce. I know, I know—so what? But trust me: This would not be noteworthy if it wasn’t for what he came home with. You see, I when I started helping him unpack the groceries, I found something mixed in amongst the bananas and the peaches and the avocados. Something strange and magical. Something called “cotton candy grapes.”
They didn’t look extraordinary; they looked, in fact, like standard, run-of-the-mill green grapes, except that they were a whopping four dollars for a little plastic container of them—the sort you usually get strawberries in. We were both skeptical, but the curiosity overwhelmed the skepticism as we opened the container and each popped a grape in our mouths.
If we hadn’t been busy chewing, our jaws would have dropped. “Holy cow!” I exclaimed through a mouthful of grape (although it’s possible my language may have been a tiny bit stronger than “holy cow”). “They ACTUALLY TASTE LIKE COTTON CANDY!”
I’m not kidding. They taste EXACTLY like cotton candy, just with the texture and mouthfeel of grapes. Upon making this remarkable discovery, we theorized that the most creative food scientists ever had genetically engineered the grapes in an effort to make kids eat them. Or rather, not just eat them—want to eat them. But it turns out that’s not the case. For one thing, horticulturist David Cain wanted not to make grapes into junk food, but rather to undo the damage made by decades of breeding fruit to withstand shipping and storage (the result of which is grapes that don’t actually taste like grapes anymore); and for another, he’s not engineering them. He’s making them with good old-fashioned plant breeding.
According to NPR, Cain and his team at International Fruit Genetics in Bakersfield, California specialize in hybridizing two different grape species to create new ones with unusual flavors. Apparently they’ve also created grapes that taste like strawberry, pineapple, and mango; they’re still testing them out to see if they’re as commercially viable as their cotton candy grapes are.
Cotton candy grapes are made by crossing the Concord grape—the purple variety used in Welch’s grape juice and jelly—with a species of grape known as Vitis vineferia—which most of us know as your standard table grapes. The Concord grapes have all the neat flavors that help the cotton candy taste emerge, while the Vitis vineferia has the firmness, crispness, and seedlessness most of us look for in the grapes we munch on for snacks.
Not going to lie: I kind of love that Concord grapes are one of the key ingredients for this remarkable feat of tastiness. They were first developed in 1849 by a guy named Ephraim Bull in Concord, Massachusetts—which just so happens to be my hometown. Bull’s old house is still standing, by the way; in fact, my family almost moved into it when I was about five (alas, it fell through and we ended up moving into a different, substantially newer house instead). Hometown pride, yo.
Anyhoo, you’ll probably be able to find cotton candy grapes at your local grocery store if you look hard enough; they’ve been commercially available since 2011, and sales have been so good that The Grapery, which distributes them, just bump up its production from two acres to 100 acres this year, with 200 acres planted for 2014. Yum!
Tell us: Grapes that taste like things other than grapes: Yea or nay?
Lucia Peters is BettyConfidential’s senior editor.