When we talk about things that are all-American, we rarely think about Muscadine grapes. But think about it: this is the real American grape wine, compared to other wines sold in the US that are made in Europe or using European grapes. The muscadine grape is native to America, and it does not grow in other countries. Last but not the least, muscadine has a US country appellation as well as state appellation.
Subgenus: Vitis subg. Muscadinia
Species: V. rotundifolia
Binomial name: Vitis rotundifolia
- Consider muscadines as a unique breed: grapes usually don’t grow where it is hot and wet, but for muscadines, that is what they like best! Muscadine is the only type of grape you can grow in this environment.
- Muscat and muscadine are two different kinds of grapes.
- Muscadine wine has the reputation of being sweet, but it is not like that naturally. Winemakers from Europe who are not equipped in utilizing muscadine to make wine compensate for the natural taste of the fruit by using too much sugar.
- Wine production in the US began in Florida where muscadine was grown for wine-making as early as the 16th century.
- The horticulture department at the University of Georgia is home to the oldest muscadine breeding program in the U.S.
Muscadine Buying Guide
Muscadine grapes sold are usually plump, fully colored, and uniformly ripe. If you are looking to buy muscadine, make sure these are bronze, dark purple, or black. This means the muscadines are already ripe. In the wild, you might encounter muscadines that are green in color when they are ripe. This is how ripe wild varieties of muscadine appear.
If you see some scars or blemishes on the skin of muscadine grapes, don’t worry because it is normal. Wrinkled or shriveled skin is a different matter. Do not buy muscadine grapes if they are like this. You should also watch out for mold, damage to the fruit, and signs of decay, or anything that suggests the fruits are getting bad.
The peak season for muscadine is between Aug to October. So don’t be surprised if there are times in the year when you can’t seem to find fresh muscadine grapes in stores. Buy during peak season. You have the option of freezing muscadine grapes if you want to stock up on this fruit.
Growers choose fresh-market cultivars that produce muscadine grapes that consumers buy. Here are some fresh-market cultivars:
- Black Beauty
- Granny Val
Muscadine Production & Farming in Texas
Muscadine grapes have been cultivated since the 16th century. There are an estimated 152 cultivars of muscadine grapes known today.
To grow muscadine grapes, it is important to have a humid climate with warm winters. Muscadine grapes will have a hard time surviving if the winter brings very, very low and cold temperatures. Muscadine grapes grow in zones 6-10.
Plant on slightly acidic, fertile, well-draining, loamy, sandy, or alluvial soil. Plant after the danger of frost has passed. There are several varieties of muscadine grapes to choose from: Regale, Summit, Higgins, Doreen, Cowart, Carlos, Fry, and more. Scuppernongs is the most popular muscadine grape variety. It is important to use fertilizer (N-P-K fertilizers such as 4-1-2 or 3-1-2) and practice weed control. Expect fruits to be ripe and ready for harvest as early as July up to October, depending on which state you are in.
There are muscadine grapes that are native to East Texas. You can see muscadine growing in east and central Texas and along the Gulf Coast.
Unlike other fruits that are vulnerable to pests and diseases that require pesticides, herbicides, and other chemicals, muscadine is generally resilient against pests and diseases, which is why it can be successfully grown without spraying any pesticides. Muscadine grapes are resistant to Pierce’s disease, which can destroy other grape species. Of all the grape species, muscadine grapes are also the most resistant to Phylloxera, an insect that can kill the roots of grapevines.
Resilient, but not invulnerable, which is why growers are not taking any chances, using chemicals to manage diseases and pests that typically target and attack muscadine grapes. Muscadines are susceptible to parasitic nematodes.
- Black Rot – use Mancozeb, a fungicide used to control fungal diseases.
- Ripe Rot – Captan and Myclobutanil are the fungicides used to manage ripe rot in muscadine grapes
- Boscalid – a fungicide that is nontoxic to terrestrial animals and is moderately toxic to aquatic animals, used to treat powdery mildew, brown rot, leaf spot, and botrytis on grapes.
- Japanese beetles – To rid muscadine grapes of Japanese beetle, use pyrethrin, which is a combination of six chemicals (pyrethrin I, pyrethrin II, cinerin I, cinerin II, jasmolin I, and jasmolin II). An organic version of pyrethrin involves the use of chrysanthemum flowers. When using pyrethrin, make sure to mix 7.5 to 15 oz of concentrate in 5 gallons of water and apply enough to cover the upper and lower leaf surfaces.
- Aphids – Kill aphids destroying your muscadine grapes using neem oil, insecticidal soap, or horticultural oil. You can also use the pesticide malathion, which is the most commonly used organophosphate insecticide in the United States, or rotenone, a selective, non-specific insecticide typically used in home gardens for insect control.
- Leafhopper – Use pyrethroid insecticides like bifenthrin, organophosphates insecticides like malathion, pyrethrins, or any systemic insecticide (acephate, imidacloprid, or disulfoton).
Muscadine is indigenous to America and native to North America. There are muscadine grapes native to North Carolina. In the US, you can find muscadine grapes in Florida, New Jersey, Texas, Missouri, Kansas, New Mexico, Arizona, Oklahoma, and along the coastal side of New York, California, Oregon, and Washington State.
According to North Carolina Field and Family magazine, muscadine does not grow in other countries.
You’ll find muscadine grapes sold in supermarkets in plastic clamshell packaging. During harvest, muscadine grapes are placed in carton boxes and it is not uncommon to find boxes of muscadine grapes on display in farmers markets.
Muscadine grapes are great to eat fresh. Many people enjoy eating muscadine grapes as a snack.
For the uninitiated, be careful when eating muscadines: they look like common grapes that are soft when you bite and chew them, but muscadines have very tough skin. You need to bite to make a small hole and suck the pulp of the fruit from it.
Mind the seed inside also. If you are not careful, this (and the fruit as well) is a potential choking hazard especially for children who might swallow the fruit whole.
After buying muscadine grapes from the market or grocery store, make sure to refrigerate these. Use the plastic clamshell container it came with, or transfer to a food container with a lid. Keep it closed because if the container is open and the muscadine grapes are exposed, the result is dehydrated muscadine grapes. Make sure to eat these in 5 to 7 days. You can also freeze fresh muscadine grapes. This is how you can store them to last for several months.
Storing tip: during peak season, freeze whole muscadine grapes and use them to make summer comfort food like muscadine grape hull pie. It might be winter outside but eating muscadine hull pie on the dinner table feels like summer!
Reminder: if you buy underripe muscadine grapes, do not expect them to ripe or get sweeter while in storage.
There are many things you can make with muscadine grapes. It is popular for making wine but you can also use muscadine grapes to make other beverages like juice or smoothies. Use muscadine juice to sweeten drinks like iced tea or make custom cocktail drinks.
You can use muscadine grapes to make pies like muscadine cobbler or use muscadine grape compote when making cheesecake. Or make muscadine grape jelly and spread it on your toast. Did you know that the skin of muscadine grapes is used to make pizza too?
Muscadine grapes are great for making vinaigrettes or simple syrup you can use to marinate meat.
Muscadine grapes contain carbohydrates, dietary fiber, protein, calcium, phosphorus, potassium, sodium, vitamin C, and riboflavin.
Not only is muscadine the only grape that can grow in hot, humid, and wet climates, it is also the grape with the highest polyphenol content. Polyphenols help the body manage blood pressure levels and blood sugar levels. Polyphenols also help keep the blood vessels in the body healthy and flexible, allowing good circulation. Eating food high in polyphenols helps deal with inflammation too. If you want to take care of your heart, muscadine grapes can help you do that.