Florida’s native grape, the muscadine, has long held a reputation for being an acquired taste. Juicy and sweet with a leathery, thick skin and bitter seeds, the grape is typically reserved for specialty stores and wine making.
Not only are these grapes delicious – they’re also a superfood, packed with antioxidants and anti-inflammatory compounds. The challenge was getting consumers to accept the fruit-leather-like skin, which contains most of the superfood properties. At least that was until researchers thought outside the peel.
Researchers at the University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (UF/IFAS) have found a way to make the muscadine grape highly palatable by freeze-drying them, said Ali Sarkhosh, associate professor of horticultural sciences.
“Muscadines are much more nutritious than the common grape,” he said. “It’s unfortunate that more people don’t give the peel a chance because the peel is actually the most nutritious part.”
By freeze-drying the muscadine grapes, the flesh and skin become soft and light like a foam peanut, and they have a delightful crunch and melt in your mouth like cotton candy. The taste is light and crisp, with a sweet-and-sour tartness. When freeze-dried, the skin becomes thin and indistinguishable from the flesh when chewed, so the consumer gets the full superfood benefits from their morsel. The grapes also become shelf-stable, which allows for longer-term storage and portability.
Muscadine grape skins contain antioxidants, dietary fiber, flavonoids, anthocyanins, ellagic acid and high levels of resveratrol, which has antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. Flavonoids, anthocyanins and ellagic acid also have antioxidant properties which may reduce the risk of heart attacks or strokes.
Antioxidants, found in fruits like grapes and some berries, are known for their ability to fight free radicals, which have been linked to cancer, heart disease, cataracts, memory loss and other conditions.
Muscadines are typically eaten by peeling back and disposing of the skin, sucking out the flesh and spitting out the seeds, Sarkhosh said. Another way they are often used is in wine, including at vineyards in Florida.
To process the grapes, Sarkhosh and his team cut the grapes in half and removed the seeds by hand. From fresh or frozen, they are dried in a freeze-dryer by lowering the temperature to below freezing. This causes the liquid in the fruit to sublimate — or turn from a solid to a gas without becoming a liquid.
Florida is especially primed for such innovation because it has a thriving muscadine grape industry, and the grapes grow particularly well in the hot and humid state, even in the wild.
Sarkhosh said his team is working with industry leaders to bring this superfood snack to the masses.
“This is an innovative idea for industry to take to the next level,” he said.