Despite being packed with antioxidants and anti-inflammatory compounds, muscadine grapes, which are local to the southeastern U.S. and the first native grape species to be cultivated in North America, is often referred to as “an acquired taste”.
Its thick, leathery skin and bitter seed steer most consumers away. This is why researchers at the University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (UF/IFAS) are working on new ways to make it more palatable.
Ali Sarkhosh, associate professor of horticultural sciences at UF/IFAS, explains that his team is developing a freeze-drying technique to preserve the fruit’s peel, as it contains most of the superfood properties, while making it more appealing to audiences.
“Muscadines are much more nutritious than the common grape. It’s unfortunate that more people don’t give the peel a chance because the peel is actually the most nutritious part,” says Sarkhosh.
When freeze-dried, the skin becomes thin and indistinguishable from the flesh when chewed, so consumers can get the full superfood benefits.
With this process, the grapes also become shelf-stable, which allows for longer-term storage and portability.
Antioxidants, found in fruits like grapes and some berries, have the ability to fight free radicals, which are linked to cancer, heart disease, cataracts, memory loss and other conditions.
To process the grapes, Sarkhosh and his team cut the grapes in half and remove 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.
Sarkhosh says his team is working with industry leaders to bring this superfood snack to the masses.