Scuppernongs are a variety of muscadine grapes native to the southeastern United States. They have a distinctive bronze color and sweet, musky flavor that makes them popular for jams, jellies, wine, and fresh eating. However, some people experience an itchy or tingly mouth and lips after eating scuppernongs. What causes this reaction and is it harmful?
The Culprit Behind the Itch
The itchy mouth reaction experienced by some people after eating scuppernongs is caused by a naturally occurring chemical found in the grapes’ skin and seeds called salicylates. Salicylates are members of the same chemical family as aspirin and have mild anti-inflammatory properties.
In sensitive individuals, salicylates can trigger oral allergy syndrome – an allergic reaction affecting the mouth, lips, tongue, and throat. It’s estimated that up to 5% of people may have an allergic sensitivity to salicylates.
Allergic Reaction or Irritation?
The itchy mouth caused by salicylates in scuppernongs is usually a harmless localized reaction, not a full-blown food allergy. Someone who is truly allergic to grapes would likely experience more systemic symptoms like hives, swelling, or anaphylaxis.
Instead, the mouth itchiness is caused by the salicylates irritating nerve endings and inducing histamine release in the soft tissues of the mouth. It’s similar to the tingly, itchy mouth feeling caused by eating pineapple or kiwi.
The highest concentrations of salicylates are found in the skins and seeds. This explains why some people can eat peeled, seeded grapes without issue but react to whole grapes. Cooking scuppernongs also helps reduce salicylates.
Managing the Itch
If you experience mouth itching after eating scuppernongs, here are some tips to manage it:
– Peel the grapes and avoid the seeds
– Cook scuppernongs instead of eating them raw
– Take an antihistamine before eating to block histamine release
– Rinse your mouth with water immediately after eating
– Avoid other high salicylate foods like apricots, cloves, peppermint
The itchiness is temporary and should resolve on its own within an hour. Though uncomfortable, it is not a medical emergency. Pay attention to your personal tolerance level – some people are fine with small amounts of scuppernongs while others are more sensitive.
Enjoying Scuppernongs Safely
Don’t let a little mouth itch scare you away from enjoying the unique sweet-tart flavor of scuppernongs. Select grapes that are fully ripe to lower salicylate content. Consider making cooked jams and jellies instead of eating them fresh. Be prepared with antihistamines or mouth rinse if you tend to react. With some minor precautions, most people can continue enjoying this Southern grape delicacy.