Maybe you’ve seen them at the grocery store…and maybe you passed them off as a total gimmick. But Cotton Candy grapes are as popular as ever, and surprisingly, they really do taste like the spun-sugar fair treat. So, what exactly are cotton candy grapes in the first place? And why do they taste so sweet?
What are Cotton Candy grapes?
The name says it all: Cotton Candy grapes are grapes that taste like cotton candy. They look like a regular old green grape, which, if we’re being honest, isn’t our favorite of the bunch. (We find red seedless grapes to be sweeter and crunchier.) But bite into one and you’ll be surprised at the ultra-sweet flavor that tastes remarkably like the blue, sticky, sugary stuff you had to beg your mom to buy you at the fair.
Cotton Candy grapes are actually a varietal specific to fruit distributor Grapery, which grows an assortment of new grape varietals with cheeky names and, sometimes, funny shapes. There’s also Tear Drops, which are extremely juicy and look like fingers, and Moon Drops, which are tubular and highly flavorful. But back to Cotton Candy grapes: According to NPR, they came about not as a nod to junk food, but the opposite.
Horticulturalist David Cain wanted to bring back the natural flavors of grapes, which he believed had been stripped away by decades of breeding fruit to withstand shipping and storage. He and his team developed the Cotton Candy grape by hybridizing two existing grape species (kind of like a pluot, which is a cross between a plum and an apricot). It took around 100,000 tries with test tube plants before they happened upon the cotton-candy flavored grapes.
How do Cotton Candy grapes taste like cotton candy?
Surely they add chemicals to make the grapes taste so sweet, right? Wrong. According to Cain, the grapes have almost no tartness, and the uncommon grape varietals they cross-bred were selected for their vanilla-like flavor. The grapes themselves have about 12 percent more sugar than your run-of-the-mill table grapes, but far less than raisins. (So yeah, they’re still pretty good for you.)
When (and where) can you buy Cotton Candy grapes?
All grapes are in season (and at their tastiest) from May to October, and Cotton Candy grapes are no different. They tend to show up in stores in early fall, and Grapery’s website indicates they’re in season from August 10 to September 10. But in recent years, they’ve been arriving at grocery stores earlier and earlier (as in, right about now).
As for where you can find the grapes, look to your neighborhood grocery store. Considering their popularity, Cotton Candy grapes are more widely available than ever. We’ve seen them at Whole Foods, Aldi, Trader Joe’s and Target, along with our regular supermarket. They’re typically around $4 per pound…and when you see them, snatch them up.