What Are Cotton Candy Grapes?

A bag of Cotton Candy Grapes from the Grapery
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If you’ve been in the produce section of the grocery store recently you’ve probably encountered a display of Cotton Candy Grapes. Your first thoughts most likely are, what are Cotton Candy grapes?

If you happen to try one (always ask the produce person before you start chowing down) you’ll be blown away. They really do taste like Cotton Candy.

Do they inject them with flavoring to taste like Cotton Candy? This doesn’t seem natural.

Well, they don’t modify these grapes whatsoever and they are actually non-GMO.

Statement on the bag of Cotton Candy Grapes that proclaims they are sustainably grown and non-GMO
It says it right on the bag, sustainably grown non-GMO.

How can this be you ask? Grapery, the grape-growing company that grows Cotton Candy grapes states that the Cotton Candy grape’s flavor is “a result of continuous experimentation by mixing and matching a wide range of cross-pollination combinations.”

More on what that means in a bit. Cotton Candy grapes were actually developed by the fruit-breeding company IFG or International Fruit Genetics. They license the rights to grow and market Cotton Candy grapes to Grapery, whose operations are based in California.

You probably have many more questions such as: How long is the season for Cotton Candy grapes? Where can I find Cotton Candy grapes? What kind of nutrition do Cotton Candy grapes have?

I’ll answer these questions and more as we take a look at these delicious grapes.

A bunch of Cotton Candy grapes on a wooden cutting board.

A Little History of Cotton Candy Grapes

The story goes like this. After founding International Fruit Genetics in 2001, one of the founders and the head scientist of the company, David Crain, visited a trade show in Arkansas.

Crain encountered a grape that had been developed by researchers from the University of Arkansas.

The grape’s appearance was unappealing, resembling a mushy, riddled-with-seeds, purple Concord grape. But the taste. Oh, the taste was transporting!

It had the taste of cotton candy, but in its current form, it was a definite non-starter. So, Crain and his team at IFG got to work after signing a licensing agreement with the University of Arkansas.

After many years of trial and error, they were able to marry the taste of the cotton candy Concord grape with the body of a green seedless grape called the Princess.

You really appreciate these grapes, even more, if you think about the years and years of hand pollinating grape plants to find the right match to get to the current, crisp, sweet, taste-sensation you have today.

That’s a testament to patience and having a love for what you do.

By 2010 the Cotton Candy grape was patented by IFG. The first large commercial crop entered grocery stores in 2013.

Close-up shot of a Cotton Candy grape bag

Cotton Candy Grapes are Non-GMO, Here’s How

If Cotton Candy grapes aren’t genetically-modified, what is the process by which they were created?

Cotton Candy grapes are the result of cross-pollination by hand. This is a very labor-intensive process. First, pollen from male grape flowers are extracted by hand and brushed onto the female clusters of another plant.

As the plant matures, the new grape plant will have varying levels of characteristics of both plants. We are talking millions of plants here until just the right levels of taste, firmness, durability, etc. are achieved.

Isn’t that modifying the genes of the plants then? No.

Conventional breeding through hand pollination is a process that develops new plant varieties through the selection process and aims to achieve the expression of the genes already present in a plant species. These are processes that already occur in nature, and have so for millions of years.

Hand pollination is just giving nature, clears throat, a hand. (rim shot from drummer)

Hand pollination is just helping nature along, much as alcohol does with the propagation of a certain percentage of the human race.

Genetic engineering involves inserting genetic material into a plant, which is not happening here.

When They’re Available

Grown in California, Cotton Candy grapes have a short growing season. They are typically available from mid-August through early September, usually a few weeks.

They are grown in Kern and Tulare counties in California. Their headquarters is located in Shafter, California, about 20 miles north of Bakersfield.

Where You Can Find Them

The Grapery has a very helpful website as they have a link to find stores and suppliers that carry their grapes. You can find their cool interactive map here.

Grapes showing a tinge of amber color
You can start to see a little of the amber color on the grapes, this is inherent to the variety.

How To Pick Out a Bunch and What to Look For

Cotton Candy Grapes will have a green appearance with some amber color mixed in as well. Having sold tons of these things you will run into some grapes that will be more amber-colored than green.

These are still ok and taste just as good as the greener ones. The amber color gets a bad rap as this is what happens to the traditional green grapes as they are starting to deteriorate.

This isn’t the case with these grapes. This isn’t to say that some produce departments don’t leave some bags on the display that are past their prime.

A good way to tell if the grapes are still good is give the grapes a gentle squeeze. If they still have good firmness they are good to go. You can also ask the produce clerk if you can try one to see if they haven’t turned yet.

Cotton Candy Grapes Nutrition

A half-cup serving of cotton candy grapes is 50 calories with 14 grams of sugar and 1 gram of protein, as well as 1 gram of dietary fiber and 6% of your daily Vitamin A. A very nutritious snack.

What is the PLU Code for Cotton Candy Grapes?

The PLU code for Cotton Candy grapes is 3093. The PLU (Price Lookup Code) is a universal 4 or 5 digit code that identifies produce items based upon the type of produce as well as its size. This is to help cashiers ring up the items as well as track the sale of the items for inventory purposes.

Final Thoughts

If you’ve never tried Cotton Candy grapes, do yourself a favor and get some when they’re in season. The season is very, very short in August and September and the price will be higher than what you’ll pay for a standard bunch of grapes.

But as you can see, these aren’t your standard bunch of grapes and are well worth it. Thanks for reading.



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