Why do grape-flavored foods taste different than actual grapes?

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Grapes are one of my favorite fruits, but I typically don't like grape-flavored foods. For example, grape jelly or grape candies (like Jolly Ranchers) have a distinctly different taste. I imagine some of the taste perception has to do with water content. Why is it so different?

Josh

Posted 2017-04-18T15:05:19.847

Reputation: 767

11Many candies use artificial grape flavor, which doesn't really taste like a real grape. – GdD – 2017-04-18T15:35:26.710

36@GdD I think that's the point of the question... why doesn't artificial grape flavor actually taste anything like grapes... – Catija – 2017-04-18T15:37:03.073

1What do you mean by "grape jelly"... (i.e. are you a Brit or an American)... is it the stuff you spread on toast or the stuff you have as dessert (gelatin aka "Jell-O" in the US)? – Catija – 2017-04-18T15:38:21.963

I don't have a good enough answer to why artificial grape doesn't taste like real grape, other than it's the result of industrial chemistry. – GdD – 2017-04-18T15:45:48.033

@Catija, I meant what you spread on toast. Didn't know the dessert went by that name in the UK! – Josh – 2017-04-18T15:59:17.827

Thanks! In that case, it's not usually artificial flavors... the candy or Jell-o probably is but Welches, Smuckers, etc don't generally use fake flavors. If I had to guess, I think Joe is likely correct. Have you ever tried a concord grape? – Catija – 2017-04-18T16:01:40.717

@Catija: Yes, concord grapes are delicious and taste very much like the candy/jam/drinks etc. labeled "grape flavor"; quite different from any other variety of grape I ever tried. – Lorel C. – 2017-04-18T17:11:03.800

@Catija There are 3 types of stuff to spread on toast here: jelly, jam, and preserves. Jelly is very processed, very smooth and uniform, most like gelatin. Jam has real fruit in it and has medium processing. Preserves has real chunks of fruit and even seeds. Marmalade would be closest to preserves. I prefer preserves and marmalade. – Chloe – 2017-04-19T02:56:39.887

@Chloe I'm not sure how that matters... I was trying to clarify between two usages of "jelly". I never said that jelly is the only thing spread on toast. – Catija – 2017-04-19T04:16:30.937

14I've found very few artificial flavors that taste the same as natural flavors. Consider artificial cherry flavor (like you might find in candy or cough medicine)—does that taste anything like a real cherry to you? It doesn't to me. Or artificial banana flavor, which doesn't taste much like a real banana. The big exception is artificial vanilla favor, which they've done a very good job matching, but that's because the flavor profile for vanilla is mostly just the vanillin molecule, which can be relatively easily synthesized, giving you the entire flavor profile. In other words, simple to copy. – Cody Gray – 2017-04-19T10:05:20.150

1Does anyone ever make wine with this weird Concord halotype ?! – Fattie – 2017-04-19T11:28:22.217

1@CodyGray It's complicated. Flavors are usually a mix of many different chemicals, and their balance depends on many factors in the natural product - there's many kinds of apples, and even within the same strain, the flavours vary wildly based on nutrients available, amount of sunlight, rain, ripeness, storage... artificial flavours are a lot more specific than that. Banana flavour in particular is actually a quite accurate artificial flavouring - but of a banana cultivar that is now extinct! It's like saying Granny Smith isn't an apple, because it doesn't taste like Golden Delicious. – Luaan – 2017-04-19T12:09:03.463

1Down here in the American South, we have muscadine and scuppernong grapes growing wild, which taste exactly like "grape flavor". Delicious! – Graham – 2017-04-19T12:32:42.940

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@Fattie I believe that Manischewits is made with Concord grapes, or at least is engineered to taste like it.

– None – 2017-04-19T13:16:49.420

astounding, thanks @Pants ! :) – Fattie – 2017-04-19T14:32:54.137

6While parts of that are true (it is, indeed, complicated, and artificial flavorings lack a complex organic mix), it is a myth that artificial banana flavoring is based on a now-extinct cultivar of the fruit. While, yes, we now eat Cavendish bananas, and the Gros Michel variety has gone extinct due to a fungal infection (Fusarium oxysporum), there is no actual evidence that artificial banana flavoring is based on this Gros Michel cultivar. It is just isoamyl acetate, which tends to evoke "banana" (and "pear") thoughts in everyone who smells it, and is found in all cultivars of bananas. @lua – Cody Gray – 2017-04-19T14:34:53.773

@CodyGray You're right. But some people still grow Gros Michel bananas (they're not really extinct, it just isn't possible to grow them in large quantities economically), and it is reported the artificial banana flavour tastes a lot more like Gros Michel than the Cavendish. Isoamyl acetate is the most important part of the flavour, yes (just like in many other flavourings, including strawberries), but the taste is very different, most likely due to it being much sweeter than most bananas today. – Luaan – 2017-04-20T07:53:16.743

Grape candy is based on concord grapes, but concord grapes are rarely used as "table grapes" – Wad Cheber – 2017-04-29T05:48:16.857

Answers

196

Concord grapes, which most grape jellies/jams/preserves in the US are made from, are derived from the (US-native) "fox grape" (Vitis labrusca) rather than (Europe-native) wine grape (Vitis vinifera). Common table grapes (the ones eaten as fresh fruit) such as Thompson seedless are also derived from Vitis vinifera wine grapes.

Fox grapes have a "foxy" taste character, which is a result of the presence of the naturally occurring compound methyl anthranilate. Methyl anthranilate is a rather simple compound, and is used in many situations as an "artificial grape flavor". In many cases "grape flavored" candies, drinks and medicines are flavored not with grape extracts, but with synthetically produced methyl anthranilate. As such, these artificially flavored foods taste like Concord grapes (fox grapes), rather than table or wine grapes.

While it would be possible to come up with "artificial wine grape" flavor, the flavor profile of wine and table grapes is not dominated by a single compound, as fox grapes are. Therefore, any such "artificial wine grape" flavor would be much more expensive than artificial Concord grape flavor (i.e. just methyl anthranilate). As such, when companies reach for "grape flavor", they tend to go for the more inexpensive Concord grape flavor.

This also adds to the persistent expectation (at least in the US) as to what "grape flavored" means. Even if you came out with a wine-grape-flavored Jolly Rancher, many in the US would think it wouldn't taste right, as they expect grape flavored things to taste like Concord grapes.

R.M.

Posted 2017-04-18T15:05:19.847

Reputation: 1 200

15What an amazing answer! – Fattie – 2017-04-19T11:27:01.830

9Glad to see this as an answer. I didn't know the chemical name, but the fake grape flavor is almost spot on for Concord grapes, but no one eats those by the handful. You can get them, but you always use them in "cooking" while the more subtle flavored grapes are eaten by the handful. – coteyr – 2017-04-19T13:14:00.953

3I was pretty thrilled to find and eat Concord grapes a few years ago - it was revelatory. – mskfisher – 2017-04-19T13:53:09.170

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The fact that "grape flavor" means "Concord grape flavor" to the American palate may also have something to do with the use of pasteurized Concord grape juice as a substitute for communion wine, particularly during the Temperance Movement of the late 19th & early 20th centuries. The Wikipedia article on the Welch's Grape Juice Company has a brief but illuminating discussion of this.

– Michael Seifert – 2017-04-19T15:02:10.543

2This also explains why grape flavour seems to be more common in America than the UK. I don't think I've ever seen grape jam in the UK for example. – thelem – 2017-04-19T16:42:04.680

I've tried Concord grapes a couple of times, and aside from the distinctive taste they were not particularly aesthetically appealing. The flesh was slimy and gelatinous, the skins were tough and chewy, and the seeds were large and difficult to extract from the flesh with tongue/teeth. They're definitely not well suited for eating plain, IMO. – hBy2Py – 2017-04-19T20:48:07.920

@hBy2Py: I find it hard to imagine a type of grape that with flesh that isn't slimy and gelatinous ... my experience is that the normal seedless grapes that I am used to fit that description pretty well. I don't think it's necessarily a bad thing: many people like jello after all. There's the common Halloween practical joke of using peeled grapes as a tactile substitute for eyeballs. – sumelic – 2017-04-19T20:57:57.517

@sumelic Just imagine if it were more slimy and gelatinous, and there you go. Normal table grape flesh splits when you chew it directly; Concord grape flesh "gives" quite a bit, more like gelatin. – hBy2Py – 2017-04-19T21:37:10.030

Oh, that also explains why I don't like grape jelly, along with grape candy. – P1h3r1e3d13 – 2017-04-19T22:22:57.153

This answer is US-specific. – Lightness Races in Orbit – 2017-04-19T23:21:37.400

3@BoundaryImposition: I don't think it necessarily is. It might even be more useful outside of the US, because many grape-flavoured things have this Concord grape flavour, even in countries where Concord grapes are completely unknown. – Max – 2017-04-20T07:39:16.690

4@BoundaryImposition The question is (more or less) US-specific, I'd bet. Where I'm from, outside of american candies, grape flavouring doesn't use the concord grape flavour. While I'm no fan of flavoured beverages, grape-flavoured drinks use wine grapes (or wine grape flavour) here. The flavour goes all the way from "basically wine grapes" to "basically wine". – Luaan – 2017-04-20T08:00:55.150

1"Concord grapes, from which most grape jellies/jams/preserves in the US are made from [sic]" even though OP didn't specify which country's jellies/jams/preserves they were asking about. .·. this (otherwise excellent) answer assumes US audience. – Lightness Races in Orbit – 2017-04-20T14:27:44.520

1I was baffled by ordinary grape flavoring in foods well into my 30's, but finally I had a concord grape and everything became clear. – rschwieb – 2017-04-20T14:50:58.320

1@coteyr I eat concord grapes by the handful. I like them! – Deleted – 2017-04-20T17:48:31.940

+1 for the last sentence. If it makes you feel better, consider it "purple-flavored". That's what I've been doing. – T.E.D. – 2017-04-21T13:28:27.777

Amusingly, I agree that “grape-flavored” things have this taste—but I’ve never had a Concord grape and had no idea that the “grape flavor” was actually based on any real grape. I had just accepted that “grape flavor” was completely different from actual grapes. (And I’m someone who quite enjoys “grape flavor” but is pretty meh on actual, by which I mean wine, grapes.) – KRyan – 2017-04-21T17:25:15.420

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There are lots of types of grapes. Grape flavored items tend to be closer to concord grapes than a wine grape, or the green/red ones available at the grocery store.

Joe

Posted 2017-04-18T15:05:19.847

Reputation: 59 803

6I wonder if there's a reason for this if concord grapes aren't the dominant variety. Were they the main type of grape available at some point? (I understand that something like this is why artificial banana tastes the way it does - it replicates a now-extinct variety.) Do they simply have a uniquely extractable flavor? – logophobe – 2017-04-18T18:41:32.610

I suspect that it's because they were one of the main grapes available as juice (pasteurized, not fermented) in the US (it's a hybrid of American wild grapes). – Joe – 2017-04-18T19:26:34.990

14I remember being grossed out the first time I ate concord grapes because they tasted exactly like nasty artificial grape flavoring. – Myles – 2017-04-18T19:44:49.197

4I've only ever seen concord grapes as fake plastic grapes attached to fake plastic leaves. I didn't realize they were a real thing until now. – BlueRaja - Danny Pflughoeft – 2017-04-19T05:43:23.687

1@logophobe Concord grapes (and a few other related varieties) have a tough skin that many people prefer not to eat. There's a technique for eating the meat of a Concord grape without the skin, but it's not as convenient as popping a whole grape in your mouth and chewing. Dealing with the Concord grape skin does have the reward of getting the fresh Concord grape flavor, but not as many people are willing to put up with it. – Todd Wilcox – 2017-04-19T06:32:42.697

5@logophobe Their flavour is dominated by one chemical that's easy to produce industrially. Concord grapes don't have a lot of variety in flavour -> more distinct. In contrast, wine grapes have hundreds of cultivars, each with variations of flavour depending on growing conditions, storage, processing etc. That's why you have thousands of different wines all over the world, and why different "years" have different flavours, and that's before you add mixing, which is very popular. Even the simplest wine-grape flavours are the result of complex mixture of chemicals that aren't as easy to produce. – Luaan – 2017-04-19T12:14:47.490

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A jelly or candy, even if using the same aroma compounds that a (raw or cooked) grape or glass of grape juice contains, has a very different balance of sweetness (jelly has a far higher sugar concentration), acidity (balanced by the sugar, or even removed in processing) and texture (jelly coats the tongue, has far less water).

rackandboneman

Posted 2017-04-18T15:05:19.847

Reputation: 13 934

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Another important factor is that nice table grapes are raw. Jellies and juices have been cooked. Heat changes the flavour. Think how different are the tastes of fresh tomatoes and canned tomatoes. Drying also changes the flavour of fruits. Raisins are very different in taste from their fresh beginning.

user57242

Posted 2017-04-18T15:05:19.847

Reputation: 61