Five years ago, I wrote this article on Muscadine, a very important grape originating in the Southeastern United States. I still haven’t gotten to try this grape, not in wine, jam or juice form. But I continue to be interested in it because of its geographic uniqueness, also known as its terroir, and its purported health benefits.
Muscadine vs. Muscat
Most of us are familiar with wines made from the Muscat grape, and many of us love these easy-drinking floral, musky wines. Some of us are very happy to see Muscat starting to replace White Zinfandel as the effortless go-to wine. The big question: Is Muscadine related to Muscat?
Let’s start with an interesting bit of information about Muscat. Did you know that Muscat is one of the oldest wine grapes in the world and it’s thought that most modern wine grapes have an ancestral relationship with the Muscat grape? Based on this information, I would assume that wine grapes whose names sound like Muscat must be related to Muscat. Moscato, for example, is Italian Muscat, and Moscatel is Spanish Muscat.
So I was very surprised to find out that Muscadine has no relation whatsoever to Muscat. Its only connection is a similar name that came about as a result of Muscadine’s Muscat-like characteristics.
I did a little more research on the grape, and I came upon Southern Living’s great description: “Muscadines are grapes, which are valued for fruit, wine, shade, and fall color; they’re among the few ornamental vines with bold, textured foliage; colorful edible fruit; and a dominant trunk and branch pattern for winter interest. A single grapevine can produce enough new growth every year to arch over a walk, roof an arbor, form a leafy wall, or provide an umbrella of shade over deck or terrace.”
Muscadine grapes were discovered in the late 1500s. They are thick skinned and large and have a strong, musky flavor. Unlike most grapes, they don’t grow in tight bunches. Instead, they grow in clusters of four or more fruits. They range in color from deep purple to bronze. The bronze colored ones are called Scuppernong grapes.
Through the years, many nicknames have arisen for these grapes, including bullis, southern grapes, swamp grapes and American wild grapes.
The Muscadine grape has become a subject of interest lately due to its reported health benefits. It turns out that the Muscadine grape has a higher chromosome count than other wine grapes. Normal grapes have 19 pairs of chromosomes, while Muscadine grapes have 20 chromosomes. It is believed that this extra set of chromosomes enables Muscadine grapes to produce healthful phytochemicals that are not found in other grapes.
A number of supplement producers are pushing Muscadine supplements for all of the purported health benefits. Here is what one of the supplement websites states as the healthful benefits of their Muscadine supplements:
- Six times the resveratrol content of regular red grapes
- The only grape to contain the very healthy ellagic acid
- More dietary fiber than rice or oat bran
- High quercetin levels, a very healthy flavonoid
- Forty times higher antioxidants levels compared to standard red grapes
Given the health buzz, many commercial growers now make more money selling the seeds to pharmaceutical companies than they make on other juice or wine products.
Now for the warning: Studies differ widely on how much of these healthful benefits are present. No conclusive studies on humans or mammals have been completed.
Enjoying Muscadine Just Because…
Certainly, enjoying Muscadine wines, berries, jams and jellies is a treat, and likely has some redeeming health value. But as I noted in my article entitled “Wine for Wine’s Sake or for Health’s Sake?”, while I get a bit of a rush every time I hear of a new wine health benefit, I’m doing my best to stay level headed about all the news. I remind myself that my primary reason for drinking wine is enjoyment. If there are some health benefits that come along for the ride, that’s all the better. But the wine itself is reward enough.
Whatever your taste in wine, I encourage trying new wines regularly. If you are in the South, make sure to try Muscadine. If you’ve tried Muscadine already, I would love to hear about your experience.
If you love trying new wines and would like to explore becoming a wine consultant, please check out my Wine Business page. Being a wine consultant is just about the most fun you can have earning money!