Growers' Muscadine Prices Mixed
For more than 25 years, Jacob Paulk has been growing muscadines on his 400-acre vineyard in Wray, Ga. And until recently, he threw away the seeds.
Now he turns this former waste product into a new product he sells: capsules of muscadine seed powder.
"Muscadine seeds contain very high concentrations of antioxidants and cancer-fighting compounds," Paulk said. "And now, by grinding the seeds into a powder, we can offer this Georgia product as a dietary supplement."
Paulk knows his muscadines are chock-full of healthful things. He has the research to prove it.
Casimir Akoh, a food scientist with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences, analyzed grapes from Paulk's and three other Georgia muscadine vineyards.
Funded by the Georgia Traditional Industries Program for food processing, Akoh's study focuses on the nutraceutical properties of Georgia-grown muscadines, blueberries and onions.
He found that Georgia muscadines contain high levels of ellagic acid, as well as other healthful compounds.
"There is a lot of interest in the amount of ellagic acid in fruits because of increasing evidence of its cancer-fighting qualities," he said.
Research has shown, he said, that ellagic acid inhibits skin, breast, prostate, colon and pancreatic cancer cells.
"We knew blackberries, strawberries and especially raspberries are high in ellagic acid. But we didn't know about muscadines," Akoh said. "Our research revealed that muscadines leaves contain more than twice as much ellagic acid as raspberries. The skins and seeds also contain high levels."
Raspberries are the main source of ellagic acid for the supplement industry. "Now with our data, Georgia muscadine growers can pursue this new market for their product," Akoh said.
And Paulk is doing just that.
Ellagic acid can be harvested from muscadines by pulverizing the seeds into a powder or by extracting it from the leaves, skins, juice and pulp.
In early 2000, Paulk ventured into this new market when he bought a hammer mill, pharmaceutical dryer and capsule filler. "I already had a deseeder," he said.
As with any new product, Paulk's muscadine seed powder is fighting its way into the marketplace.
"It's a new product and it's just starting to take off," he said. "But the data from the UGA study has really helped. I'd like to start making the powder available in kilo lots for pharmaceutical companies to use in their own products. The first thing they'll want to know is whether my grapes have been analyzed."
Paulk plans to sell muscadine extracts, too.
"My pill isn't an extract," he said. "It's the whole seed ground into a powder. Next I'd like to process my product into an extract, which is a more concentrated form."
Paulk is more than happy to find new ways to market muscadines. "I hope I can transfer more of my work into this more stable product (supplements) that I can sell all year," he said.
Paulk's goal is to sell every part of his grapes.
"I sell them fresh-market, then I deseed them, freeze the skins and juice together, press the juice out and sell it to a winery," he said. "Now I'm making powder from the seeds in capsules. I hope to sell powder from the skins, too."
He sells most of his grapes on the fresh-produce market and processes the rest. The part he processes yields 3 to 4 tons of seed powder a year.
The UGA study should please Paulk and other Georgia muscadine growers.
"If they know more about their product, it will help them sell it," Akoh said. "If Georgia is producing muscadines with the highest levels of these antioxidants, we become the low-cost supplier, and people will come here to buy our product."
Akoh plans to keep studying muscadines' nutraceutical values, as well as those of Georgia blueberries and onions.
"The consumers who eat the fruit now know what they're getting out of it in addition to the great taste," he said.
The study showed purple muscadines have higher levels of antioxidants than the bronze ones.
(Sharon Omahen is a news editor with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.)