Wednesday, August 7, 2013


Q: Why Does This Grape Tastes Like Cotton Candy? A: Because It Was Genetically Engineered to Taste Like Cotton Candy

Via NPR:

"When it pops in your mouth, the first impression is a rush of cotton candy flavor," says Spencer Gray, a personal chef in Culver City and blogger at Omnivorous who has sampled the grapes. "The green grapes don't look or smell like cotton candy," he tells The Salt, "but they will remind you of a circus." His son, he says, loves them.

Here's how horticulturist David Cain did it: cross-bred Concord-like grapes with regular grapes until there were 100,000 test tube grapes and one of them tasted like cotton candy (no tartness, lots of vanilla). Circus grapes only have about 12% more sugar than regular grapes, and the Grapery—the farm responsible for these innovations—has expanded its crop land from 2 acres to 200 acres, and offers other exotic varieties like this one, a grape whose looks live alarmingly well up to its name: "Witch Fingers."

"When you go to the supermarket, there's like 15 kinds of apples — Fuji, Pink Lady, Gala, Braeburn. The list goes on," Cain tells The Salt. "We want to give consumers the same array of flavors for grapes."

"We already have other varieties that taste like strawberry, pineapple or mango," he says. "We're still testing those out to see if they're commercial [sic] viable."

How do we feel about this?

62 Comments / Post A Comment

Heat Signature

At first I was all pissy about this, but then I realized, our food supply is already totally fucked, so why NOT cotton candy flavored grapes?


@Heat Signature Well I mean Manischewitz already has distinct cotton candy notes, so it's not like this is all that far of a jump.

Sophia Jacob

A cotton candy machine heats up sugar with an added flavor to high temperatures, which is then spit out of that center cone-like thing as a very thin and light sugar liquid. When it hits the air outside it almost instantly forms crystals as a fiber-like cotton candy you know and love. @me


I recently bought some cotton candy that tastes like grapes. @t

Judith Slutler

NOPE. File this with "glowing trees" under Biochemistry Things About Which I'm Not Enthusiastic.


@Judith Slutler Oh I know it's not good but I can't help but be excited about glowing trees. Have you ever seen the excellent TV show Better Off Ted? They made me fall in love with the idea of light-up leaves.


@sunflowers Oh man a luminescent weeping willow would be amazing.


@sunflowers I miss Better Off Ted!


A hybrid is fine, but I think I'd prefer actual cotton candy to circus grapes. The fun of it is in the texture, having it dissolve on your tongue. And I'll just buy strawberries when I want strawberries rather than strawberry-flavored grapes. Seems silly to me.

Ee Gads

@TheMissus I buy the comparison to apples: more flavors/varieties = yay! Also, I would buy strawberry grapes. My bf likes the flavor of strawberries but for some reason is really sensitive to the teeny tiny "seeds" (?) on the skin. Can't stand the mouth-feel.


@TheMissus Yeah, this is just extreme hybridization, not genetic modification, right?


@franceschances That's the way I understood it, but I like my grapes to taste like, you know, grapes ;)


@franceschances ahha yes i went really literal on the definition of genetic mod to make the hed sound better sorry

Ee Gads

@franceschances The NPR story says, "he's doing it without genetic engineering or artificial flavors". On the company's website, it says they've partnered with International Fruit Genetics. I can't get that company's website to load, so already going down a rabbit hole... using waybackmachine, I found a cached version. Says they don't do genetic engineering. Sounds like what you said, extreme hybridization, often in a laboratory setting.


@j-i-a It technically IS genetic engineering if you select for a trait, though, isn't it?


@Amphora Grape eugenics.


@Amphora das what i was thinking. loosely. haha


There are already hundreds (if not thousands) of grape varietals. It's just that most of them are for drinking.

OMG-- Grapery, we see your endgame here. COTTON CANDY WINE.

Judith Slutler

@cuminafterall More like Qotton Qandy Qwine, am I right ladies???

Ee Gads

@cuminafterall Yeah, I was curious how selecting for very particular tastes in grapes would effect wine making. Cotton candy wine sounds awful, though.


@Ee Gads I think any super-sweet (without corresponding acidity) fruit tends to make really gross wine. C.f. the banana wine I made in high school. Nasty as fuck.


@Ee Gads Cheap gerwurztraminer is pretty much cotton candy wine already...

Ee Gads

@cuminafterall But Witch Finger Wine sounds devilishly delicious.


@Ee Gads Yeah I might actually drink such a wine, based solely on the name.


I want a real grape that's genetically engineered to taste like artificial grape flavor (not really but that would be funny).

fondue with cheddar

@stuffisthings They already have Grapple, so that's entirely possible (I have no idea if they taste like real grapes or artificial grapes, though).


@fondue with cheddar I was super excited about Grapples and thought they were hybrids in some way...but turns out they are just sprayed with flavouring? So when you smell them in the packaging or just after you open the plastic clamshell, they smell really grape-y, but it really dissipates when exposed to air. And so they are just dissapointing. I had higher hopes.


@stuffisthings There is a concord vine that grows near my bus stop, and during harvest, it smells like exactly like Dimatapp, or grape soda or bubblegum. I haven't tried them b/c I do not want to infringe upon other people's gardens, but it's tempting.


@aphrabean TAKE THEM. if they are on the public side of a fence they're FAIR GAME. It is known.


Everything that tastes of cotton candy belongs in my mouth, so I vote yes.

dj pomegranate

I hate cotton candy SO MUCH so my vote is a resounding NO.


About five years ago, "grapples" had a brief popularity in my local supermarkets until the novelty wore off. I'm guessing these will go the same way. In any case, it sounds like these are the result of selective plant crossing and a cutesie name, so they don't weird me out too much.


@TheLetterL They still have then in my grocery store. I'd never seen them before, and I have to say, I was a little appalled. Like, what's wrong with eating an apple or a grape?


@TheLetterL The grapples were "made" by injecting grape flavor into a small growing apple, weren't they? or did I make that up to make myself feel better about eating one?


@Amphora When I first saw this, I automatically thought of Grapples, which are kind of gross. The Grapples website says: "There is nothing but flavor being infused into the apple. A relaxing bathing process prepares our apples for you or your kids. The apple takes on no additional sugars or calories. They are not genetically altered in any way."


@bevrockin A relaxing bathing process? That's good, I really don't want my apples to be more stressed out than I am...


The thing about apple varieties is, they all taste like APPLES. There are no apples that taste like cotton candy. This is just weird and apparently I don't like change. So please get these grapes off my lawn?


@causedbycomma The thing is like there are already a bajillion grape varietals, just wander over to the wine aisle. It's just that nobody sells any of them in grape form in stores.

Judith Slutler

@Onymous Well yeah, but those aren't good to eat, really. Thick skins, not very sweet, usually seeded.

I'd be into trying some of those "Witch Fingers" grapes though!


@Onymous Is this where I post about how excited I am that it is almost Concord grape season in Ontario? I am going to eat myself sick on baskets of those things the moment they appears in the farmers market. Mmmmmm.

Blackwatch Plaid

@causedbycomma Concords grow wild all over MA. Sometimes I just pull over and harvest the ones growing on the side of the road. It's one of my favorite times of year!


@causedbycomma Winesap apples do have a kind of winey note, but it's still more "wine as interpreted by an apple" and not "cabernet-flavored apple".


@swirrlygrrl Concord grape season is the best. Those things are like candy to me, I just eat and eat and eat.


Is this what happened to Bosc pears? A few years ago I noticed that they all stopped tasting like pears and took a perfumey cotton-candy flavor. I thought they were breeding for disease resistance and ended up in an unfortunate back alley of genetics. And that's when I stopped eating Bosc pears.

fondue with cheddar

I'm allergic to everything. Therefore, I would rather someone make cotton candy that tastes like fruit.


Just eat some fucking normal things that taste like ONE THING at a time, America. Nobody wants your fucking Cool Ranch watermelons, okay?


@iceberg YESOMG. There are already so many tastes out there, why do we need to make more again?

Heat Signature

@causedbycomma Because capitalism.


@Heat Signature Aww, come on! This is just the glory of horticulture - it's not like new genes from a totally different species have been injected! The grapes have just been bred to develop an already existing flavor profile! (Which is how we got all those incredible heirloom tomatoes, etc, in the first place.) This is the awesomest!


@iceberg So you aren't interested in my Honey BBQ Watermelons then?

I was astonished at British crisp making companies for making sunday dinner (lamb with the fixings or something) crisps. I figured that was something Lay's would invent eventually.

And cotton candy grapes sound vile.


@PistolPackinMama Hmm Honey BBQ might be worth it... ;) I did just eat glorious Maple Bacon Kettle Chips last week.


Talk about alarmist headlines- this isn't "genetic engineering" like people tend to think of the term- using Science to tinker with specific genes.

This is just breeding for desired traits, which we've been doing basically since agriculture started.

So everyone just calm down, OK?


@beetnemesis these grapes have 12% more sugar, so forgive us if we're buzzed for the next hour or two!


@beetnemesis Yes, thank you! Panicking about cross breeding grapes until you get a mutant that tastes like cotton candy is like freaking out that your neighbor's dog is a labradoodle, or that there's a white tiger at the zoo.

Engineering implies that you have literally synthesized DNA to alter the genes of your organism - not the case here!

a piece of pie

@beetnemesis Also maybe we should all calm down about genetic engineering in general? If it's not scary to breed for desired traits, then why should it be scary to engineer those exact same traits? You're tinkering with genes in both cases.


I actually found someone who had a cotton candy grape. My sister said "those are gross as hell. Not good and doesn't even taste like cotton candy. Just tastes kind fake." Are we surprised?


YOU GUYS. I had these a year or two ago--Fresh Direct strangely delivered them to me in an order (I did not order them) and they were incredible. I even tweeted Fresh Direct about them and they said I got a sample of a coming product. I searched for them on FD to order again but they were never there. I've been spreading the word about these mystical grapes ever since. Try themmm!


@ajayne I've been looking for the cotton candy grapes, but in the meantime I tried out the witch fingers and sweet surrender grapes from Grapery. They were both amazing! So glad FD is carrying them now. The witch finger grapes are really fun to eat.


I would've said that, because these grapes stray so far from community standards for this type of fruit, they can only be considered statutory grapes, but then I remembered that grape jokes are never funny.


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