Antioxidants and Anti-inflammatory Agents
Many of the phytonutrients present in the muscadine grape have been recognized as powerful antioxidants and anti-inflammatory agents – the most powerful of these concentrated in the skins and seeds.
Antioxidants are important because they rid the body of free radicals that damage our cells. Free radicals are caused by exposure to radiation, tobacco smoke, pollutants, solvents and even intense exercise. Damage to DNA can also occur which can cause cell mutations resulting in cancer. Free radicals are of interest to the scientific and medical community because there is strong evidence relating them to aging and disease processes, e.g. cancer, atherosclerosis, immune system decline, brain dysfunction, cataracts, birth defects, rheumatoid arthritis and inflammatory bowel diseases such as Chrohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis.
Free radical production is controlled by several factors including antioxidants consumed as part of the diet. Some foods and supplements have higher antioxidant capacity than others, as was outlined above. The muscadine grape has over twice the antioxidant power as the blueberry based on the USDA and Tufts University’s Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity (ORAC) standard measurement.
Antioxidants can help prevent the initiation, propagation and termination of free radicals. Muscadine grapes and the antioxidants present in this grape have been studied as powerful antioxidants. Some of the most notable phytonutrients studied as antioxidants and anti-inflammatory agents found in the muscadine grape include but are not limited to:
These phytonutrients are well-known in the scientific and health care professional community for their beneficial effects. Many have been studied as effective antioxidants and anti-inflammatory agents. While a high ORAC value is important, “many scientists think that the disease-fighting benefits of fruits and berries is not just due to their ability to provide antioxidant protection. It is also very likely that phenolic compounds like resveratrol and quercetin produce specific responses such as reducing inflammation and improving health of the heart and other organs” . Ellagic acid is another phenolic found in the muscadine grape in measurable amounts , and has been closely link to anti-aging activities.
Muscadines are technically in the berry family and provide the beneficial phytonutrients associated with the purple to red range of fruits. Nutritionally speaking, muscadine grapes are low in fat and sodium, and have a healthy amount of potassium, fiber and Vitamin C. Dr. Betty Ector complied the following data on the essential nutrients in100g (3.5oz.) serving of muscadine grapes :
Dr. Ector points out that the fiber in muscadine grapes is more than in oats . According to the FDA, a food that has at least 0.6 grams of soluble fiber per serving without fortification can make the following claim: Low fat diets rich in fiber may reduce the risk of some types of cancer, and may reduce the risk of heart disease . One serving of muscadine grapes clearly qualifies for this claim. This is one key reason muscadine based products are thought to lower cholesterol.
The Muscadine Grape is very unique!
Muscadine grapes are scientifically known as Vitis Rotundifolia grapes and are native to the Southeastern United States. They can be found growing wild, and in the back yards of many southern homes.
The muscadine grape differs from other grapes in several ways. First, the most notable difference is the thick skin of the grape. This thick skins give muscadine grapes a natural resistance to disease, fungi, and insects, and is where much of the antioxidant power of the muscadine grape is stored. These thick skins account for 40% or the weight of the grape.
Second, muscadine grapes have an extra set of chromosomes containing genes that allow them to produce a unique balance of phytonutrients that are virtually absent in other grapes.
Third, the muscadine grape has significantly more antioxidant power than other grapes. Based on the ORAC standard measurement, muscadine grapes have been measured as high as 6,800 per 100 grams, compared to 739 for red grapes  . The muscadine grape skins alone have about 6-8 times as much antioxidant capacity as whole blueberries .
The fourth main difference in muscadine grapes and other grapes is the amount of natural resveratrol and ellagic acid. These phytonutrients have been studied as powerful antioxidants with potent anti-cancer properties.
The Heritage of the Muscadine Grape
The muscadine grape is known as America’s first grape. It is not clear how long muscadine grapes have been growing in the land now known as the United States. What we do know is that they were part of the Native American diet in the Southeastern US. These grapes were sometimes referred to as “possum grapes”, and were used in many Native American recipes such as Cherokee dumplings.
The first known written account of the muscadine grape was by explorer Giovanni da Verrazzano in 1524 while exploring the Cape Fear coastal region of what is now known as North Carolina. He wrote that he saw many vines growing naturally that without doubt would yield excellent wines. Of the Native Americans esteem of the muscadine grape, he wrote,
“They must be held in estimation by them, as they carefully remove the shrubbery from around them, wherever they grow, to allow the fruit to ripen better.”
Later, in 1584, Sir Walter Raleigh’s explorers, Captains Philip Amadas and Arthur Barlowe, wrote that the coast of North Carolina was so full of grapes that the very beating and surge of the sea overflowed them. Barlowe wrote,
“In all the world, a similar abundance was not to be found.”
In 1585, Governor Ralph Lane stated in describing North Carolina to Sir Walter Raleigh that,
“We have discovered … grapes of such greatness, yet wild, as France, Spain, nor Italy hath no greater…”
Sir Walter Raleigh’s colony is credited with discovering the famed “mother-vine” on Roanoke Island. This vine, which still exists today, has a trunk 2 feet thick and covers half an acre.
The muscadine grape has and has had many names over the years. The early settlers simply called them the “Big White Grape.” During the 17th and 18th centuries, cuttings were placed around a small town called Scuppernong in Washington County, North Carolina.
The North Carolina Wine and Grape Council reports that,
“James Blount of the town of Scuppernong took the census of Washington County in 1810 and reported 1,368 gallons of wine made there. A report in the Star newspaper, by Dr. Calvin Jones, dated January 11, 1811 commented on Blount’s report and was the first written record of the grape being referred to as the Scuppernong Grape. Eight years later in 1819, Nathaniel Macon, a member of Congress, sent samples of Scuppernong wine to Thomas Jefferson.”
It is no wonder that North Carolina has proclaimed the muscadine grape as its state fruit, and is considered to be the home of America’s first cultivated “white grape”.