The best thing about travel is discovering something new, different or unusual. This past weekend in a small fruit and vegetable shop in Toronto, I stumbled on something both new (to me) and different – witch finger grapes.
I hadn’t planned on buying when my friend and I stopped into the shop but as soon as I walked in, I felt a powerful urge to buy grapes. I love grapes: they’re tasty and easy to eat.
The store had the usual green and red seedless grapes. Next to them were these purple chilli pepper-looking variety. I hesitated. One of the guys in the store likely saw the puzzled look on my face. Before I could ask, he volunteered, “Those are witch fingers.”
Witch fingers? Where are they from?
I expected him to say somewhere in Ontario but he didn’t. They’re from California, he added.
California? You mean I had to come to Canada to find these California grapes?
I wasn’t sure I wanted to buy them – not because of the name. I wondered if they’d be sweet.
Try them, he said.
I broke a few off, rubbed them on my pants and popped them into my mouth. The juice that exploded and found its way down the back of my throat was unexpectedly, deliciously sweet. There was no question which ones I’d take.
Witch Finger Grapes are a hybrid variety that, according to specialtyproduce.com, is a cross between an American cultivar and a Mediterranean variety. I’ve been unable to find out how it got its distinctive shape or why it’s called witch fingers.
These little bundle of sweetness didn’t last till Sunday. I should have bought more than a pound.
What unusual foods have you found during your travels?
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- Fruit breeder hits the sweet spot with Cotton Candy grapes
- Witch Finger Grape Vine Facts: Information About Witches Finger Grapes
- What are Witch Finger Grapes?
- Where Do Witch Finger Grapes Come From?
- Care of Witch Finger Grapes
- What Are Moon Drop Grapes? Not What You Think
- What are moon grapes?
- Are Moon Drop grapes genetically modified?
- What do they taste like?
- Nutrition facts
- Health benefits
- Where to buy
- Plants for sale
- Other Interesting Fruits Available Now For a Limited Time
Fruit breeder hits the sweet spot with Cotton Candy grapes
It’s not easy peddling fresh fruit to a nation of junk-food addicts. But in rural Kern County, David Cain is working to win the stomachs and wallets of U.S. grocery shoppers.
Cain is a fruit breeder. His latest invention is called the Cotton Candy grape. Bite into one of these green globes and the taste triggers the unmistakable sensation of eating a puffy, pink ball of spun sugar.
By marrying select traits across thousands of nameless trial grapes, Cain and other breeders have developed patented varieties that pack enough sugar they may as well be Skittles on the vine. That’s no accident.
“We’re competing against candy bars and cookies,” said Cain, 62, a former scientist at the U.S. Department of Agriculture who now heads research at privately owned International Fruit Genetics in Bakersfield.
In an intensely competitive marketplace, breeding and branding have become almost as valuable to farmers as sun and soil. Producers are constantly tinkering, hoping to come up with the next Cuties Clementine orange or Honeycrisp apple — distinct products that stand out in the crowded fruit aisle.
“People are looking for more flavor,” said Mark Carroll, senior director for produce and floral at Gelson’s Markets, which will carry the Cotton Candy grape. “Once they get hooked, they want more no matter what.”
Cain’s company, in the heart of California’s $1.1-billion table grape industry, specializes in bold flavors and exotic shapes. Purple-hued Funny Fingers are long and thin like chili peppers. A variety named Sweet Sapphire come as round and fat as D batteries. Like the Cotton Candy, the special varieties are patented, then licensed to growers. The Funny Fingers are marketed as Witch Fingers and are available at high-end supermarkets. The Cotton Candy will be available this month.
Ordinary grapes like the red Flame Seedless can cost as little as 88 cents a pound. The Cotton Candy could fetch around $6 a pound, though prices would come down if enough growers cultivate the grape.
The U.S. designer-fruit craze kicked into high gear in the late 1980s. That’s when a Californian plum-apricot hybrid called the pluot hit the market. The crispy stone fruit, which took 20 years to develop, proved such a hit with consumers that it inspired more farmers to invest in breeding programs to boost sales.
California is now churning out other sweet inventions, including apriums (a pluot but with more apricot), peacharines (peach and nectarine) and cherums (cherry and plum).
Not to be confused with GMO engineering, cross-breeding techniques employed by fruit breeders are centuries old. In the case of grapes, pollen from male grape flowers is extracted and then carefully brushed onto the female clusters of the target plant. Then comes a lot of waiting. Then replanting. Then repeating the process — for years, even decades.
“It’s a bit like fishing. You never know when you’re going to get the big one,” said Cain, a soft-spoken man who would look every bit the lab coat-clad scientist if it weren’t for the soil under his nails.
Fruit breeders have made California No. 1 when it comes to grapes. Almost all the table grapes commercially grown in the U.S. come from the Golden State, which shipped a record 100 million boxes last year.
Still, to stay competitive in the nation’s lunchboxes, growers must keep developing new tastes.
Columbine Vineyards in Delano, Calif., already has two successful patented varieties, the cranberry red Holiday Seedless and the ultra sweet Black Globe, a seeded berry with a strong following in Asia. More are in the pipeline.
“We have people constantly testing for new varieties,” said Lauren Olcott in the farm’s sales and marketing office. “It can take 15 years or more for something to mature, so you have to wait.”
Although some of these grapes have been bred for higher sugar content, nutritionists don’t seem all that bothered.
“You would have to eat about 100 grapes to consume the same amount of calories in a candy bar,” said David Heber, director of the UCLA Center for Human Nutrition.
Cain got his start in the 1970s as a researcher with the USDA developing new varieties of table grapes and seedless raisins in Fresno. Then, most fruit breeding was done by the government or universities that could afford the time-consuming and expensive work.
He jumped to the private sector in 1987, just as U.S. grape consumption was exploding, thanks to new seedless varieties developed in California.
Cain helped start International Fruit Genetics in 2001. A few months later at a trade event he tasted the grape that has obsessed him ever since.
Researchers from the University of Arkansas were showing off a purple Concord grape that didn’t look like much. The flesh was mushy and speckled with tiny seeds. The skin slipped off easily after biting, a no-no in the grape business. But the cotton candy flavor transported Cain to a carnival or county fair.
What if he could take the unique flavor of that Eastern U.S. native and meld it with Californian qualities such as superior crunch, thin skin and generous size?
International Fruit Genetics signed a licensing agreement with the University of Arkansas. By 2003, Cain was cross-pollinating their grapes with a dozen California varieties on his test field, 80 acres of dusty vineyards in Delano, north of Bakersfield.
On a recent weekday, Cain showed why he spends half his time was spent outdoors. Rows and rows of vines needed to be inspected in search of the next big thing. Carrying a tool belt and a refractometer to measure the sugar content of each grape, Cain methodically tasted his berries, deciding what to keep and what to toss. With 300 kinds of grapes to taste on each row, swallowing the fruit is out of the question.
“I’ve learned to do a lot of spitting,” Cain said.
First came a set of green grapes showing signs of early ripening — a valuable quality. Cain tied a blue and white ribbon around its root to signify a keeper.
The next bunch was red tinged with green at the tips — as likely to confuse consumers as attract them. Cain spritzed the root with orange spray paint, a reminder to dispose of the grapes later.
It was this same painstaking process that led Cain to find the ideal mate for his spun-sugar-flavored Concord, a green beauty called Princess. That variety was developed by the USDA and is known for its crisp texture and juiciness.
After five more years of test planting, the Cotton Candy was patented in 2010. A Bakersfield grower is set to harvest the first large crop as soon as next week.
Cain doesn’t like to fuss over such milestones, but the Cotton Candy has him jazzed. He thinks its signature flavor has a chance to hook consumers like nothing before.
“It’s going to be introduced slowly,” Cain said. “Whether it will be a niche grape or start a revolution is hard to say. What we’re hoping is it will do for grapes what all these new varieties have done for fruit like apples.”
Witch Finger Grape Vine Facts: Information About Witches Finger Grapes
If you’re looking for a great tasting grape with an unusual appearance, try witch finger grapes. Read on to find out about this exciting new variety of grape.
What are Witch Finger Grapes?
You probably won’t find these special grapes in your supermarket yet, but they are worth waiting for. Grown as a table grape, both their sweet flavor and unusual shape makes them appealing to kids as well as adults.
Maroon in color when fully ripe, a cluster of witch finger grapes looks like a tightly packed cluster of chili peppers. They have thin skin over light colored, juicy, sweet flesh. The result is a pleasing snap between the teeth when you bite into them.
Where Do Witch Finger Grapes Come From?
Developed by hybridizers using a University of Arkansas cultivar and a Mediterranean grape, witch finger grapes are a specialty fruit not yet available for home growers. At this time, there is only one company that grows them. They are grown in Bakersfield, California and sold in Southern California farmer’s markets. Some are packaged and shipped for national distribution, but they are very hard to find.
Care of Witch Finger Grapes
It may be awhile before you can find these special grape vines available for home gardens, but they aren’t any more difficult to grow than other grape varieties. They need bright sunlight and good air circulation. Adjust the soil pH to between 5.0 and 6.0 before planting, and try to maintain this pH as long as the grapes remain in the location. Space the plants as much as 8 feet apart if you plan to grow them on a trellis or as little as 4 feet apart if you are going to stake them with poles. Water the plants when the weather is dry until they become established.
You can fertilize grapes with a layer of compost each year if you prefer an organic crop. If you plan to use bagged fertilizer, apply 8 to 12 ounces of 10-10-10 around each plant about a week after planting. Increase the amount to 1 pound the second year and 20 ounces in subsequent years. Keep the fertilizer about a foot from the base of the vine.
It can take a long time to learn to learn to properly prune a witch finger grape vine. Prune the grape vine in late winter or early spring, after the danger of frost has passed but before the vine begins putting on new growth. Remove enough of the stems to allow in plenty of sunshine and air, and to keep the vines from exceeding their boundaries.
This information about witches’ finger grapes will help you establish your vines. Good pruning technique comes with practice and observation.
Driven by changing demographics and an ever more curious consumer, grocers have found it pays to stock the shelves with exotics – breadfruit, taro, sugar cane. And,
to compete with the latest superfruit, producers of old
familiar standbys are creating novel hybrids. After a decade of development, the Witch Finger grape, from California grower Grapery, is now available in Canada – but just until late September.
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The variety was developed by horticulturist Dr. David Cain, for Grapery co-owners Jim Beagle and Jack Pandol on their beautiful 1,000-acre operation. Beagle explains what went into the Witch Finger grape: “We were zeroing in on the unique shape from the beginning; there are several varieties of grapes native to the Southeastern United States that have a similar shape to the Witch Finger, but they tend to have large seeds and bitter skins. We’ve been able to make crosses with seedless parents with good flavours to combine the shapes with those desirable eating characteristics.” And while the exact lineage is a secret, the “parent” stock are, among many others: concords, scuppernongs, labrusca and riparia.
The Witch Finger grape’s flavour isn’t strikingly different from other purple or red grapes, but rather, each berry is extra-flavourful, juicier, supersweet. They achieve this by leaving the berries on the vine longer. In fall, as the rains come to this part of California, most growers quickly harvest all their grapes at once. Grapery covers their rows with recycled plastic to protect the fruit from the downpours – and marauding starlings – and conducts ongoing selective harvests of only the sweetest bunches until they’ve disappeared. $6.99/pound; harvestwagon.com
Anyone that knows me, knows that I hate when people are misinformed.
It’s one of my pet peeves. I want people to know the truth. To understand their universe better.
I strive on this blog to help people understand the differences and similarities between different foods. While at the same time clearing up some misconceptions.
Today I want to talk about grapes. The grape market is hot right now. So many new and tasty varieties showing up. It’s never been a “graper” time to be a grape fan. With that comes some confusion about the varieties. Case in point today, Moon Drops and Sweet Sapphire grapes. Are these grapes one in the same? Or are they different?
Let’s give you a “grape education”
These are Sweet Sapphire Grapes grown by Anthony’s Vineyards in California. I found them at a grocery in Michigan.
What are Sweet Sapphire Grapes?
Sweet Sapphire grapes are a black seedless grape with one unusual characteristic, They are long. Really long. They look more like a log in shape than a grape. These types of grapes have been grown in the Middle East but have not been widely produced for an American market until now.
Sweet Sapphire lives up to it’s name as a sweet grape. The flavor while really good is not unusual like Cotton Candy or Gum Drop grapes. The grapes are super crisp. You really bite into them. Besides their shape being fun that crispiness is what I really love about them and encourage everyone to take a bite of.
Where Did Sweet Sapphire Grapes Come From?
International Fruit Genetics.
They are the ones responsible for many of the new grape varieties we are seeing. IFG came out with Sweet Sapphire grapes.
Before you start thinking this grapes must be GMOs, don’t worry, they are not. Here is how IFG describes their breeding methods:
It is important to note that IFG is not involved in genetic engineering. Instead, we are taking traditional breeding techniques to new levels of sophistication and success. In addition to performing embryo rescue in the lab, IFG has more than 80 acres of test fields and vineyards for traditional plant breeding of seeded grapes and stone fruits. Each year, more than a million blossoms are carefully hand emasculated then pollinated with various genetically desirable traits.
Yes they do work in a lab. They are not messing around with DNA or RNA or any of that. They are taking the old fashion method of planting breeding that we have been doing for centuries and infusing it with modern technology.
Nice sign minus the misspelling of Sapphire.
Where Do Sweet Sapphire Grapes Grow?
So where do these grapes grow? IFG has licensed the grapes to be grown by different growers around the world. I have seen them coming from South American countries like Chile.
Earlier this summer you can get them coming in from Mexico. In August, they are coming from California.
The Sweet Sapphire grapes you see in the photos on this post are grown by Anthony Vineyards. They grown both conventional and organic grapes. Their Sweet Sapphire grapes are not organic.
Grapery uses the name “Moon Drops” to describe their black elongated grapes.
What are Moon Drops Grapes?
You may also hear of or come across a grape called a Moon Drops grape. It looks alot like the Sweet Sapphire. That is because it is actually the same variety.
Moon Drops are grown by Grapery – the ones known for making Cotton Candy grapes a topic of conversation. They have chosen to give them their own trademarked name. Originally they were part of their Witch Fingers grape line but they decided that Moon Drops after customer feedback.
I never expected to be eating grapes that were this shape. I really like the indentation at the end of the grape. So weird. Yet so crispy, juicy, and flavorful.
What is the Difference?
The difference between Sweet Sapphire and Moon Drops grapes comes down to who grows them. As far as I know everyone else but Grapery calls them Sweet Sapphire.
Is one better than the other? In my opinion, the Moon Drops are the best tasting Sweet Sapphire grapes you will find. Grapery goes the extra mile every time when it comes to producing their grapes.
Grapery lets them ripen perfectly on the vine before picking. They only pick them at optimal flavor. I found Sweet Sapphire grapes on store shelves before Grapery had released their Moon Drops – which normally come out around August 20th and last until mid November.
I am not saying the regular Sweet Sapphire grapes are bad. I have enjoyed them as well and like that I can get them during times of the year that Moon Drops aren’t available.
If you have chance to try both side by side, go right ahead. I would love to hear if you have a preference. Leave a comment below.
Interested in Growing Your Own Grapes?
If you are interested in growing your very own grapes. my favorite resource for learning how is The Organic Backyard Vineyard: A Step-by-Step Guide to Growing Your Own Grapes It is a great resource on getting you started.
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What Are Moon Drop Grapes? Not What You Think
Back in 2017 the Arctic apple hit the market, which is an apple that has been genetically engineered to not turn brown.
Not too long before that, there was a new grape that hit the shelves of select supermarkets. This variety and the green-colored “Cotton Candy” variety.
You don’t need to know their names to know there’s something different about them. Their specially packaged and in the case of the Moons, they look like tubes!
What are moon grapes?
Sometimes just called moon grapes, their official name is Moon Drop and it’s trademarked by Grapery, a California-based grower. They come from a version of the common grape vine species (Vitis vinifera) that has been selectively bred to produce an intensely sweet and crisp seedless fruit, which grows in a tubular shape.
Jack Pandol Jr. is a co-founder of the Grapery and International Fruit Genetics (IFG). These are the companies which have brought this and other new trademarked varieties to market including Cotton Candy, Gum Drops, Tear Drops, Flavor Pops, and Flavor Promise.
But wait, there’s more.
If you look up International Fruit Genetics, LLC on Google Patents, you will get 22 results!
Yes that’s right, Moon Drop grapes are patented.
Filed in 2011, they call it “Grapevine ‘IFG Six” and it’s not Jack Pandol, but rather a man named David Cain who’s listed as the inventor on the patent filing. (1)
If you’re curious, Cotton Candy is identified in another filing as IFG Seven.
The website of International Fruit Genetics describes David Cain as “is in charge of all fruit breeding for our rapidly expanding company.”
Are Moon Drop grapes genetically modified?
Since this is a trademarked name for a patented fruit, one might assume that Moon Drops must be a GMO plant. They’re not. These were created using Dr. David Cain’s selective breeding techniques. Hand pollination of the Beita Mouni and C22-121 grape varieties are what led to the IFG Six, more commonly known as moon grapes.
These are “natural” in the sense that there was no genetic modification that ever took place. The breeding techniques though did require human intervention to occur.
Known as “embryo rescue” it involves pollinating a flower and then growing the immature seed in a laboratory test tube. Eventually, the seedling is transplanted to regular soil and grown in the traditional manner.
While the initial growing process may be unnatural, the plants and fruits that result from it are 100% natural and non-GMO.
What do they taste like?
Moon Drop grapes taste like a regular black seedless, only better. The flavor is sweeter and the texture is more crisp. When you bite into one it’s not mushy, but rather the skin “snaps” like that of a freshly-picked fruit. Since they’re elongated, you can even break them in half with your fingers.
While there’s nothing preventing you from making jelly, jam, or wine using them, the resulting flavor might be a disaster.
Using Cotton Candy grapes, which is probably the most variety from this grower, Bon Appétit reported that wine made using them was “So bad. It tastes nothing like Cotton Candy. It’s flat, flabby, no acidity structure.”
The lesson? Enjoy them fresh and raw!
The Grapery, who is the exclusive seller of this variety, doesn’t provide a nutrition facts label nor are they required to since it’s produce. Most likely, Moon Drops grapes’ nutrition is comparable to standard black seedless. Per 1 cup (92g) that’s 62 calories, 0g of fat, 15g of sugar, 1g of protein, and 1g of fiber. (2)
As far as the expected vitamins and mineral content…
- Excellent source of vitamin K, with 17% of the daily value
- 33% of the DV for manganese, an essential mineral
- Small amounts of vitamin C, thiamin, and B6
- Low calorie dessert for weight loss
- Reasonable glycemic index value
- Source of resveratrol
We haven’t heard of side effects of Moon Drop, Cotton Candy, or their other varieties. The only drawback is that you can’t get them organically grown. The FAQ on the Grapery’s website states (3):
“One of these modern practices is the careful use of crop protection. Like most growers around the world, we use as few of these interventions as possible. More than that, through years of rigorous experimentation we have developed numerous techniques to add nutritional complexity and nurture the perfect soil biology to strengthen and sustain our vines. Organic or not, safety should always come first. We specifically test all of our fruit for residues before we harvest them.”
Although this type hasn’t been measured, the glycemic index (GI) for a 120g serving size of grapes has measured as being 43 to 59. For diabetics and those desiring more stable blood sugar, this is reasonable assuming your portion size is small. (4) (5)
Where to buy
According to data from the Specialty Produce app, when in-season the Moon Drop grape can be found for sale from coast to coast; CA, IL, NY, MS, OH, VA, and WA just to name a few states. Whole Foods, Meijers, Kroger, Albertsons, Ralphs, Wegman’s, and Sam’s Club are all stores where they have been spotted.
In Toronto, Canada they were seen at Michael-Angelo’s Marketplace in Mississauga. Elsewhere, such as in the United Kingdom and Australia, they’re not yet sold.
Their cost can vary greatly based on location. We heard from someone in Akron, Ohio who got them for $1.50/lb. Here in Los Angeles they were $2.99. Two drastically different prices in the very same week!
If you spot them, snap ’em up while you can.
The growing season for Moon Drops is extremely short. They’re only sold at stores from August 20th to September 15th. That’s less than one month out of the year you can eat them.
Grapery’s most popular variety, Cotton Candy, follows a similar time frame, as do their other bestsellers.
image credit: Grapery
Their “Flavor Promise” varieties span a wider season. Those include Sweet Celebration, Sweet Surrender, Autumn Royal, and Sweet Globe.
image credit: Grapery
Since these are non-GMO grapes grown in California, you have late summer through the fall season to enjoy them.
Plants for sale
Okay, if the supply is so limited and you have a green thumb, perhaps you’re thinking you should put a bare-root vine in your backyard.
Do you live in a climate with a greater growing season? Or maybe you’re a Brit in the UK with a greenhouse?
Sorry, neither scenario will work.
In fact, no scenario will.
The company which owns Moon Drop and Cotton Candy grapes don’t offer their vine cuttings or plants for sale. Since they’re patented and not sold to anyone, it means there’s no possible way for you to grow them yourself. At least until their patents expire in 2031.
Even then, since they’re seedless you can’t just plant one in the ground. Until they sell the actual plant/vine clipping, your only option is the grocery store!
Cotton candy is definitely not part of a healthy diet. It’s just sugar with artificial colours and flavours making it possibly one of the worst foods for you. However cotton candy grapes are the total opposite being a natural fruit with a cotton candy taste.
Pop a few in your mouth and you will get that nostagic fairground candy floss taste without any gilt. For a short time only they are back in shops but hurry as they are expected to disappear at the end of October and not return until at least August.
Wildly available in North America and Europe. They are most commonly grown in Chile and California.
Cotton candy grapes are non-GMO and have been made through natural cross-breeding of selected varieties of grapes to develop the desired characteristics. Selective breeding of produce has been practised for thousands of years. It’s why broccoli and sprouts aren’t bitter anymore as the sweeter varieties have been breed to reduce bitterness.
Other Interesting Fruits Available Now For a Limited Time
Moon Drop Grapes
These very sweet grapes first appeared in 2017 in very short supply. They are named after candy due to their shape and taste. Moon drop grapes are firm enough to be snapped in half. They are in season from August to October but again in limited supply.
Witch finger grapes have been around for over 5 years although at first they were called chilli pepper grapes. They have been rebranded again as teardrop grapes due to public demand as many were off put with a food called finger.
Teardrop grapes are said to be sweeter than other grapes as they are left to ripen for much longer on the vine. Available for a short amount of time from the summer until Halloween but in limited numbers.
A mini version of a kiwifruit with a smooth hairless skin. Miniature kiwi fruits have been available for many years, but always at a huge premium. Now many mass market supermarkets are stocking them at reasonable prices although the season is short due to issues with transporting and shelf life. They are native to china.
Looking for a cashew cheesecake recipe that looks like cotton candy? Look no more
Have you tried any more unusal varieties of grapes or grape sized fruits? Let me know in the comments below