I’ve long been fascinated by Concord grapes. For those not in the USA, I wouldn’t be surprised if you hadn’t heard of it. You know when you have (usually American) grape flavoured sweets or drinks, and you think “this tastes artificial, not like real grapes”? Well that’s what Concord grapes actually taste like. A much more intense and musky flavour than white, red or black European grapes. They are a cultivar of a native North American species of grape. Wikipedia has a helpful article if you want to know more.
Now here’s the key point. Concord Grape Jelly is the traditional ingredient in the legendary American snack, the Peanut Butter and Jelly Sandwich, the PB&J. I’ve made many of these with blackcurrant jam but never with the real deal. Incidental side note: a PB&J is a great meal or snack if you’re out hiking as it has starch, sugars, proteins and fats – all the energy sources you’re going to need.
When I was visiting family in the USA this winter, I had to bring some of the famous American Grape Jelly home with me. I popped to the local supermarket, Publix, which compared to British supermarkets seems to be somewhere in between Sainsbury’s and Waitrose. They also had the most amazing fresh food, deli and bakery section I’ve ever seen in a supermarket – I don’t know if this is something unique to Publix or if all American supermarkets are like this, but I was very jealous that we don’t have shops like this in the UK. Freshly made devilled eggs, countless varieties of fresh coleslaw and potato salad, every kind of baked treat you can imagine…
The jam section was surprisingly small (and was called the jelly section because this is America), but they did have a good selection of grape. I chose this one from Welch’s partly because it was in a plastic bottle, which would make it safer to transport home in my checked-in suitcase, partly because the bottle was quite big (567g) and I knew I wouldn’t be able to replace it easily, and partly because I hoped a big brand such as Welch’s would be best.
Once safely home, opening the bottle was a bit like opening a squeeze bottle of ketchup – unscrewing the lid and peeling off the thick paper seal. The bottle has a flip-up plastic lid just like a ketchup bottle, except that instead of a round hole it has a long, narrow slit. Rather strange, until you come to squeeze it on your toast. Instead of the almost solid blob that you sometimes get from spooning jelly from a jar, that strange little slit broke up the jelly as it dispensed it, making it soft and easily spreadable. It took minimal effort to cover the toast with this purply-red jelly. Genius.
After all that, I took my first, long anticipated bite. And it was almost flavourless. I could have been eating the generic mixed-fruit flavoured jam that you can buy in UK discount supermarkets for less than 30p per jar. I couldn’t taste Concord Grapes at all. I was gutted. I reverted back to the bottle, and ate a spoonful of the jelly straight from a spoon, and this time I could definitely sense the aromatic flavour that is unique to Concord Grapes, but it’s just too subtle to be detectable when it’s spread on toast (and I’m pretty generous with how much jam I spread on toast. My partner likes to ask “would you like some toast with that jam?” as a long-running joke).
I did try it in a PB&J, and whilst the contrast with the peanut butter did make it seem slightly tastier then when I had it on toast, it was still very bland. Until I can track down a tastier Concord Grape Jelly, I’ll be sticking with blackcurrant jam in my PB&Js.
I’ll try some other grape jellies/jams in the future to see if any others are better, but I’m not aware that Welch’s has much competition. I’ve seen Smucker’s and some supermarket own-brand jellies, and I’ve seen that Welch’s also do a Concord Grape jam and a “natural” Concord Grape spread. If you have any recommendations, please comment on this post!
The texture of this jelly is excellent, and I’m particularly enamoured with the squeezy bottle and it’s clever little slit, but that really doesn’t make up for the disappointing flavour. 2 out of 5.
Price: Around US$2.29 + Sales Tax. Available online in the UK for around £8 including delivery. (June 2017)
Fruit content: Unspecified.
Ingredients: Concord Grapes, Corn Syrup, High Fructose Corn Syrup, Pectin, Citric Acid, Sodium Citrate.
Artificial Flavours: No.
Artificial Colours: No.