A few decades ago, there was an utter dearth when it came to the variety of fruit made available to American consumers. If you wanted an apple, you pretty much had a choice between Red Delicious and Golden Delicious (neither of which are the most desirable apples). Over the past few years, because of market demand and the maturing of the American palate (as well as some creative marketing) we have anywhere from five to 15 varieties of apples available in any given season (Gala, Fuji, Empire, Honey Crisp, etc.) all of which hold unique characteristics and applications. But to be sure, if you have an apple that is sweeter, either in taste or name, you are bound to sell a lot more to a hungry public.
Beyond apple varieties, we now have a plethora of grape varieties (although not quite as many) and the newest to hit the market with a sweet sensation is the Cotton Candy Grape — not a product of genetic engineering, but the result of some elaborate horticultural work in California. According to a NPR piece, Horticulturalist David Cain wants to bring back the natural flavors of our grapes, which have been stripped away by decades of breeding fruit to withstand shipping and storage — not to please our taste buds. The result is the Cotton Candy grape made by hybridizing two different grape species. So the designer fruit is actually a hybrid — like pluots, peacharines and cherums. The grapes, which sell for about six dollars a pound, are certainly not a bargain variety, but as the name suggests, their taste is significantly sweeter (they have about 12 percent more sugar than regular table grapes) and some say they even taste like cotton candy, although I suspect their suggestive name brings many to this conclusion.
Considering the fact that this new variety is a product of plant breeding and not genetic tinkering, they seem to be a fairly benign sweet treat. However, is bulking up the sweetness (rather than the flavor) really the way to go with our fruit? Is it necessary to compete with the array of processed foods made available? Would you pay six dollars per pound for a significantly sweeter grape?