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New grapes showing up at markets

September 2, 2011 |  1:03 pm

Cotton Candy and seedless red muscat grapes 002
What do you get when you cross the rich, fruity flavor of Concord-type grapes with the crisp flesh and thin skin of California table grapes? Improbably, a new fruit with the look and mouth-feel of a conventional green grape, but with a pronounced, very more-ish flavor of cotton candy. The taste comes from a naturally occurring, very high level of furaneol, an aromatic compound derived from sugar.

This is the first of a promising series of hybrids of Eastern and Western grapes to be commercialized, bred by David W. Cain of International Fruit Genetics, in Delano, Calif., using selections licensed from John R. Clark of the University of Arkansas. A farming operation called Grapery planted 100 acres of this appropriately named Cotton Candy variety near Bakersfield in June. Although the first crop from this vineyard won’t be ready until 2013, for just the next few days, a limited supply from a 1-acre test planting will be available at Gelson’s stores in the Los Angeles area.

Concord-type grapes, derived from Vitis labrusca and other species native to the Eastern United States, typically have thick, astringent skins and soft flesh. The vast majority of California table grapes come from the European species V. vinifera and have large, firm, thin-skinned berries, but also a mild flavor described in the trade as “neutral.” Breeders have hybridized the two types for over a century in varieties like Thomcord, but have rarely succeeded in combining the best attributes of both.

Last month, Gelson’s also had Witch Fingers, an outlandish-looking variety with long, thin, tapered red berries, an elongated variation on the old green Lady Finger variety. It’s sweet, but of the standard neutral type. For old-fashioned muscat flavor in a firm-fleshed red seedless grape, try an experimental variety that will be available only at the Century City store the next several days.

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--David Karp

Photo: Cotton Candy and seedless red muscat grapes. Credit: David Karp

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