Something grown from the ground made to taste like a nearly synthetic kind of carnival treat seems like it must involve Igor and Dr. Victor Frankenstein's meddling with nature in a most unnatural way, and not a fruit we might eat as a healthy snack. As it turns out a cotton candy grape is not genetically modified.
I tried these recently and as intrigued as I was, I could not shake images of tubes and wires and chemicals flowing through a mad scientist's lab plumping up these freakish "grapes". Yeah, I know. I'll eat a Cheeto at the drop of a hat. I admit my own hypocrisy, but still, I don't want Frito-Lay's mitts on produce of any kind and this seems like that at first glance.
My purchase was made easier when it clearly had "No-GMO's" emblazoned on the packaging to allay everyone's immediate fears. Still, what makes it continue to be unnerving is they do in fact taste delicious AND like cotton candy. How, without some lunatic using a syringe to fill each grape with liquid sugar, do they make this happen?
Cotton Candy grapes are a product of the time-honored practice of plant breeding, using different varieties of plants to create a new hybrid. These still-rare grapes may seem like designer fruit, but horticulturalist David Cain isn't trying to create something exclusive. His goal is to prioritize taste and give consumers more options when they go to the grocery store and to do it without the use of artificial flavors or genetic engineering.
In a 2013 interview with NPR, Cain noted that growers have been breeding fruit to better handle shipping and storage, which makes for a hardy grape species, but not necessarily a good-tasting one. He also talked about the many varieties of apples found in the store, and how grapes could be like that.
The Cotton Candy grapes are grown in the U.S. by California-based distributor Grapery, who shares a founder with International Fruit Genetics. The grapes have an incredibly short growing season — in 2018, that season is expected to be from August 10 through September 20. The Grapery ships the Cotton Candy grapes to stores all over the country, but as word has spread about the unique cotton candy flavor, they've become hard to keep in stock.
The Cotton Candy grape has about 12 percent more sugar than a regular table grape and almost no tartness. That sweet taste comes from the two plants that make up the hybrid version: Vitis vinifera, which is the most common grapes species you'll find in America (and also happens to be the main grape for wine production), and a Concord-like grape since Concord grapes are known for their flavor, though they're generally used for jams, jellies, and juice.
The process of creating these new hybrid grapevines is intense. There's no genetic modification here (these grapes are non-GMO), only painstaking work to cross-fertilize the plants and then grow them in individual test tubes before the new vines can be planted in a field.
A-HA! 12 percent more sugar?!…Oh, that doesn't really seem like much. BUT, they're grown in individual test tubes?!? See, I was right! An evil scientist is in his/her lair thinking of the next atrocity? Corn dog papayas? Elephant ear lima beans? Anyone remember the Grapple? The apples that tasted like grapes. Where did those go, and why? Ok, I will stop before lending to absurd conspiracy theories. Honestly, cotton candy grapes are delicious if you don't mind the idea of a vineyard and carnival mash-up treat.