America's first grape? Introducing Muscadine
Sometimes called Scuppernong and known botanically as Vitis rotundifolia, this strong-flavored, tough-skinned bronze or purple fruit may have been the first grape that European explorers discovered when they reached the New World.
When the English explorer Walter Raleigh landed on the coast of North Carolina in 1584, says the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Agricultural Research Service (ARS), he wrote in awe of finding Muscadines "on the sand and on the green soil, on the hills as on the plains, as well as on every little shrub ... also climbing towards the tops of tall cedars ... in all the world the like abundance is not to be found."
Now as then, Muscadines grow profusely throughout the Southeastern U.S. And scientists today are just as excited as Raleigh was about the Muscadine, according to the ARS, which adds, "Research ... predicts that the Muscadine will not only be an alternative crop for growers in the Southeast, but a new health food as well."
Researchers James B. Magee with the ARS and Betty J. Ector at Mississippi State University report finding significant amounts of resveratrol in Muscadines; this antioxidant found in grapes is widely touted as an agent for lowering cholesterol levels, reducing the risk of coronary heart disease and perhaps inhibiting tumor development.
Sound like a natural-born health food? Scientists across the American South hope so, with visions of an agricultural and economic boom dancing in their heads.
From a wine lovers' standpoint, Muscadine is problematical: Like other old-fashioned "country-style" American wines made from native grapes, it produces wines with strong, grapey, "foxy" aromas and flavors reminiscent of commercial grape jelly, a style that's hard to like if you're accustomed to the more subtle nature of European-style table and dessert wines.
Still, if you would like to know more about Muscadine, here's some interesting reading on the Web:
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