North Carolina State University professor Dr. Gabriel Keith Harris won the top prize of $2,000 in the recent AgBio Summit innovation fair for translating food science research into real products – in this case, ultra-nutritious smoothies made from a base of Muscadine grapes mixed with blueberries or strawberries.

Harris worked with Cottle Farms in Eastern N.C. to create the smoothies, already on sale at Food Lion, Harris Teeter, Lowes Foods and other retail groceries as “Juven8.”

The project, started about five years ago, “Came about because we grow a lot of blueberries, strawberries, and Muscadine grapes, but a lot (about 20 percent) was going to waste” due to minor imperfections that nevertheless kept them out of stores, explained Ron Cottle.

The fruit used is “perfectly fine” said Harris, but might have brown spots or other visual imperfections keeping it from being acceptable in package goods in stores.

Working with a state farm advisor, they came up with the idea of mixing the Muscadine’s with the other fruits. One of the problems was developing a method and equipment that would puree the Muscadine’s with the skin and pulp where the high level of antioxidants is.

“We worked closely with Keith Harris at NC State and they came up with a formula for us and led us to where we could get the right equipment,” Cottle said.

They found a company in Illinois that could puree the grapes and fruit with skin, seeds and all.

“That was a big deal,” said Cottle.

When he first sampled the product, he feared it might be bitter, said Harris. But these are a different variety of Muscadine’s than the bitter variety used to make wine. “The grapes we use in these smoothies are like throwing in sugar balls,” said Cottle.

They did taste panels to sample the recipes and “blew the competition away,” Cottle said.

(Note: We sampled the smoothies at the Agbio Summit, and they are indeed delicious.)

According to Wikipedia, “Muscadine grapes are rich sources of polyphenols and other nutrients studied for their potential health benefits.”

That includes the trans-resveratrol thought to be the major health-boosting ingredient in red wines. Muscadines have more of that and other micro-nutrients than other varieties of grapes. “It’s a real super fruit,” Harris said.

Launched in March, the products are in 1,200 stores where the bottled smoothies sell for from $3 to $1.99. They’re planning to relaunch in December with new, more attractive 15.2 ounce bottles and graphics.

“It has to look as good as it tastes,” Cottle said.

Down the road, he added, they’re looking at the possibility of using the nutritious frozen Muscatine base in baby food and pie fillings.