Published on 08/31/00

Muscadines a Powerhouse of Health Benefits

For more than 250 years, Southerners have enjoyed the flavor of wild and domesticated muscadine grapes. Now, new research on muscadines is finding that they are one of nature's most healthful foods.

In the early 1990s, Betty Ector began analyzing muscadine grapes at Mississippi State University. She found they were richer in fiber, zinc, manganese, iron and calcium than most other fruits.

May Fight Heart Disease

In later research, Ector found that they are one of the world's richest sources of ellagic acid (thought to help prevent cancer) and the phenolic compound, resveratrol.

High levels of resveratrol are found in both fresh muscadines and processed-muscadine products. It is thought to be an important part of the "French paradox," in which French people with rich diets who drink red wine have much less heart disease than expected.

May Fight Cancer, Too

A new study by Minnie Holmes-McNary, at the University of North Carolina's medical school in Chapel Hill, has determined that resveratrol is also a potent anticancer compound.

The substance switches off a protective mechanism in cells and, as a result, makes invading cancer cells vulnerable to the body's natural defenses.

The study, funded in part by the National Institute of Health, also found that muscadine wines can contain up to seven times more resveratrol than regular wines.

Fresh Muscadines Available

Fresh muscadines are available from Aug. 1 to mid-October, depending on the location in the state. Since the University of Georgia grape breeders developed large-fruited types such as "Fry" and "Summit," muscadines have become available in grocery stores and many farm markets. Nearly all Southeastern wineries also produce muscadine wine.

If you haven't tried muscadine grapes, buy a package and see if you like them. Their rich flavor and chewy skins are an old Southern favorite with outstanding health benefits.

Gerard Krewer is a Cooperative Extension horticulturist with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.