How can you crave something you didn't even know existed mere hours ago?
That happens after you taste a "cotton candy grape," a relatively new variety to hit grocery stores in recent years (and now trending on social media), thanks to the brilliant wizards/grape growers at Grapery, a vineyard based in California.
When we sent a bushel around the HuffPost office, reactions ranged from trepidation to intrigue, skepticism, excitement and, after eventually eating them, consensus: These things actually taste like cotton candy, or at the very least, really, really sweet grapes.
Though they're trademarked as Cotton Candy Grapes by Grapery (the exclusive grower of the grapes in the U.S.), that surprising flavor came about by accident. "We weren’t trying to make a grape that tastes like cotton candy, we were trying to make a good grape," Jim Beagle, Grapery's CEO, told The Huffington Post. "We just picked really flavorful parents."
Rather than modifying genes to make better grapes, Grapery partnered with a breeding program that experiments with new grape varieties by traveling the world to "find the most flavorful grapes we can," Beagle said, grapes that taste great but have too-thick skin or too-big seeds to make it salable in markets. "So we use those grapes as parents and cross them with grapes that have other good characteristics."
Cotton Candy grapes grow on the vine at California-based Grapery.
Cotton Candy grapes are super sweet -- they kick a little in the back of the throat -- but Beagle assured us they have "basically the same nutritional content as almost any grapes in the grocery store."
If the average brix (the unit for measuring a grape's sweetness) is 17 or 18 -- your average sour green grape is 14 to 16 brix -- Cotton Candy grapes come in at 19 to 21. "It’s probably sweeter than the average grape, but within the range of sweetness," Beagle said.
He said it can take 10 to 12 years to make a grape that meets Grapery's criteria. The grapes have to grow dependably every season, or every other year; grapes have to have the right skin structure and shelf life; and they must have a long enough growing season so as not to be too expensive. "It takes millions of crosses [to find a good grape] and you fail far more often than you succeed," Beagle said. "It's a slow process."
But worth it. These are premium grapes at premium prices: We found them at Le District in Manhattan for, no kidding, $8.99 per pound. But that hasn't stopped people from gobbling them up. "We’re selling it as fast as we can pick it," Beagle said. He expects to sell the last boxes of this season's crop this week, but will ramp up production in the coming years.
Grapery is also responsible for grape varieties named Witch Fingers, Flavor Pops and Moon Drops, and will keep the experimental varieties coming. Beagle teased a grape that "a lot of people swear tastes like mangoes" and another that tastes like strawberry lemonade.
Before you go wishing for a chocolate grape 0r something savory, Beagle says there's a limit to the types of grapes his farm can produce: "We can get pretty rich and delicious, but unless we have some absolute freak of nature, it needs to be the kind of flavors that you’d find in the fruit world. We’re not going to have any steak flavored grapes."
We're happy with the cotton candy.
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