Chances are you’ve come across ‘flavoured grapes’ on your most recent supermarket run.
Although grapes are already juicy and sweet and delicious just the way they are, clever food scientists and fruit geneticists like Dr. David Cain have been busy breeding different grape (and cherry) varieties for decades now to deliver next level flavour—and this season, we’ve finally seen them hit the shelves in Australia.
Stamped with labels such as “butterscotch” and “cotton candy”, the journalist (and health conscious) minds here at Amodrn naturally have some questions when it comes to the integrity of the humble little grape. How exactly does the whole process work? Is the nutritional value of grapes altered in anyway? They’re not artificially flavoured, are they?
We sought answers:
First thing’s first, “Grape Co grapes are not genetically modified or engineered (GMO),” explains Jennifer Hashim from International Fruit Genetics (IFG). “The grape varieties receiving so much attention are a result of traditional cross-breeding. The most popular, the “cotton candy” first originated from hand pollinating carefully selected grape varieties with unique flavours or shapes back in the early 2000’s.”
Hashim explains that grape breeding is an extensive process involving the selection of two ‘grape parents’, both with unique characteristics and then crossing (also known as “hybridising”) the male and female parent by controlled pollination.
“The plant breeder must then wait two to three years for the vines to grow up and produce fruit,” shares Hashim. “After initial evaluation of the fruit, only about 1 out of 100 hybrid vines make it to the next phase of testing to determine if the new grapes are good enough to become a commercial variety.”
“The whole process takes around 10 to 12 years in total,” Hashim goes on to say. “Selection of the two grape parents is done with some ideas or goals the grape breeder hopes to achieve—seedless is one desirable characteristic. Great flavour is another.”
Achieving such characteristics is one of the main reasons as to why crossbreeding is carried out in the first place, Hashim explains. “Some of the IFG varieties have unique flavours that are a result of crossing parents that also have unique flavours naturally, but do not have good enough visual or eating characteristic to become a commercial variety on its own. So those varieties are crossed with commercial varieties that have good traits to begin with but can be always be improved. The result is a new variety that ticks all of the boxes in terms of size, crunchiness and appealing looks, but also amazing flavour.”
With no artificial additives, Hashim stresses that these grapes are indeed “all natural”.
“This process does not alter the nutritional value of the grapes,” says Hashim. “You get all of the nutritional and health benefits of regular grapes, but they are more interesting in terms of their flavour and shape. A win-win for people who love to eat fruit and those who need a few more reasons to add more fruit to their diet.”