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Muscadines a Little Late, but Well Worth the Wait

Some things are worth waiting for. Gerard Krewer, a University of Georgia scientist, figures that's true of muscadines.

"The muscadine harvest is a few days late getting started due to the cool weather we've had," said Krewer, an extension horticulturist with the UGA College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.

"The season is just getting under way in south Georgia," he said. "So far the crop ranges from fair to very good."

Georgia has about 1,200 acres of commercial muscadine vineyards, most for fresh-market grapes. Krewer figures at least twice that many grow in the state's backyards.

Muscadines usually begin ripening in early August in extreme south Georgia. The harvest then moves northward and extends into mid-fall. The sweet, mellow grapes grow everywhere in the state except in the high mountains.

The distinctive flavor of muscadines seems to hint of the years they've had to mellow. People were enjoying these Deep South natives long before the first European settlers arrived.

Over the years, UGA and other scientists have improved what nature provided. "Muscadines today are bigger than a quarter and sinfully sweet," Krewer said. "They come in a range of colors, from bronze to red to purple to black."

Many of the newer varieties have tender, edible skin that make them prized as table grapes.

Among the bronzes, Fry, Summit and Tara are fresh-fruit favorites. Scuppernong and Carlos are noted for their sweet dessert wines. Many others are wonderful in cider, wines, jellies, preserves and syrups.

Among the new varieties being planted this year is Scarlett, a red-skinned grape bred at the UGA Georgia Experiment Station in Griffin. Scarlett is a regular favorite in taste tests.

Krewer is quick to point out that muscadines aren't just good. They're good for you, too. Krewer cites Mississippi State researcher Betty Ector's studies of the grapes' health benefits.

"Muscadines are rich in dietary fiber and several important minerals, low in fat and protein and high in carbohydrates," Ector said. "The muscadine is a better source of calcium, iron, zinc and manganese than many other fruits."

Ector said muscadines are an excellent source of dietary fiber, resveratrol and ellagic acid.

High-fiber diets lower blood pressure and cholesterol levels while they protect against coronary heart disease, gastrointestinal diseases and colon cancer. And muscadines are a better source of dietary fiber, Ector said, than oat bran or rice bran and almost as good as wheat bran. They're as good a source of soluble fiber, which is helpful for diabetics, as oat bran and much better than wheat bran or rice bran.

Resveratrol also lowers cholesterol and may reduce the risk of heart disease by 40 percent. Ellagic acid may lower the risk of colon, lung and liver cancer.

Muscadines are among the easiest-to-grow backyard fruits, Krewer said. They're best planted when the vines are dormant. County Extension Service agents can tell how to grow them.

(Dan Rahn is a news editor with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.)

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