CLARKSVILLE, Ark. (KTHV) –Cotton candy grapes are not grown in Arkansas, but they have roots here. Tucked away between the Boston Mountains and the River Valley we find the Fruit Research Station of the University of Arkansas.
Dr. John Clark and his team have the opportunity to develop fruit varieties. The fruit breeding program includes peaches, nectarines, table grapes, wine grapes, blueberries, and the biggest crop is blackberries.
Their newest variety includes a blackberry that ripens in late October, making the growing season longer! Developing fruit varieties involves taking pollen from one fruit plant and dropping it in another fruit plant.
"What that is, is choosing the mothers and choosing the fathers that would put combined traits that would, hopefully, be something good. We are combining complimentary traits," said Dr. Clark.
Not genetically modified, but cross-pollinated. The cotton candy grape has caused the most excitement in recent years.
"Cotton Candy's father's pollen was put in a little sack and shipped to California and put on an emasculated grape cluster," said Clark.
The idea was first developed in the early 2000’s. The cross of the California and Arkansas grape was made in 2002. The first fruit did not make it to the market until four years ago. So, it took 10 years to develop Cotton Candy. But, why isn't the Cotton Candy grape grown here?
"One of the biggest challenges in the environment. California has a dry environment. It doesn't rain where grapes are grown for a number of months. When you have rainfall during the production season, that leads to a number of diseases and if it is near maturity, the fruit cracks open when the rain falls on the berry," said Clark.
Cotton Candy's father came from Arkansas. It’s a unique hybrid grape. The flavor was developed here in Arkansas. It was derived from the Eastern table grapes or wine grapes, and juice grapes combined with some other unique flavors.
"It is really exciting to think that people around the world, even though they don't know where or what Arkansas is, will taste a grape unlike anything they have ever had before. And they really don't know where Arkansas is," Clark said laughingly.
If you want to try a cotton candy grape, they might be hard to come by this time of year. Peak production is from August until mid-September. It is a limited production grape and it cannot be stored for long. With the growing popularity, production has now been expanded to Brazil, Mexico, Peru, and Chile so finding the grapes December through May will become more common in the next few years.
The Cotton Candy grapes have developed a cult-like following. Fans post pictures online when they find them in store. When they are back next spring, make sure you tell your friends they may be grown in California, but their roots are in the Natural State.