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Muscadine grapes ripening on the vine. Link to photo information
Muscadine grapes, used in wines, juices, jams, jellies, preserves, sauces and glazes. Click the image for more information about it.

Grape Expectations: New Muscadine Will Offer Improved Flavor, Health Benefits

By Jim Core
April 11, 2006

For those who love the unique flavor of muscadine grapes, there's good news. Stephen J. Stringer, an Agricultural Research Service (ARS) geneticist at the Southern Horticultural Laboratory in Poplarville, Miss., is working toward developing new, healthful cultivars of this natural treat.

Growing wild from Delaware to the Gulf of Mexico, and as far west as Missouri to Texas, muscadines come in varying shapes, sizes and colors. Most wild types have a thick, tough skin and a pulp that yields less juice than other grapes. Their aroma is often described as slightly musky.

Muscadines are grown commercially in the southeastern United States, where they are often called scuppernongs and are used primarily in juices, wines, jellies and preserves. They are valued for their high yields (8 to 12 tons of grapes per acre) and for resistance to pests such as phylloxera and nematodes, fungal diseases, and the bacterium that causes Pierce's disease.

Stringer is breeding cultivars with thinner skins, a crisp and melting flesh, high sugar content and increased concentrations of nutraceuticals, specific chemical compounds found in foods that may prevent disease.

Muscadine grapes (Vitis rotundifloia Michx) are extremely high in total phenolic content. Phenolic compounds have antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and anticlotting properties that may translate to cardiovascular health benefits. Muscadines contain other beneficial compounds, such as gallic acid and ellagic acid, not commonly found in high concentrations in other grape species.

Stringer is working toward a joint release later this year, with the University of Florida, of a new fresh-market muscadine grape cultivar that offers excellent flavor, high yield potential and extraordinarily high concentrations of ellagic acid. Other advanced lines with high concentrations of total phenolics are showing promise for release in the near future.

Stringer is also looking at production practices, such as determining the efficiency of growth regulators to develop bigger and seedless varieties of muscadines.

Read more about this research in the April 2006 issue of Agricultural Research magazine.

ARS is the U.S. Department of Agriculture's chief scientific research agency.