The candy-dipped fruit fad is centered around Chicago.
taffy grapes
Credit: Courtesy of Courtesy of NADIA's Gourmet Grapes / Terrence Antonio James / Chicago Tribune

If you, like me, had never heard of “taffy grapes” until today, one, you’re probably not from Chicago, and two, you may want to mentally prepare yourself for this potential food phenomenon. Earlier this week, the Chicago Tribune published an article about the “South Side treats that sell out daily” – an indication that this culinary cat might be out of its Chicago bag.

So what are “taffy grapes”? Well, they technically don’t have a ton to do with taffy, but they are literal grapes. To describe them in a way that makes sense of their name, taffy grapes are the grape equivalent of a taffy apple (also known as a caramel apple).

Grapes are dipped either partially or completely in frosting or some other sort of sweet coating, then covered with nuts or other toppings and left to set. Done properly, each taffy grape is prepared individually, resulting in finger-ready, bite-sized treats.

They go from the straightforward…

To the far more elaborate…

And you can even spruce them up for the 4th of July holiday…

According to the Tribune, despite being a local phenomenon, even shops in Chicago can’t keep them in stock. “We always get calls from people before they come in to make sure we have them,” Eric Gilbert, who works at a Bronzeville Harold's Chicken, was quoted as saying, adding that when taffy grapes do arrive, they sell out the same day. Part of the issue is that, as mentioned above, to keep the grapes from coagulating into a giant candied blob, each one has to be hand-dipped, making them surprisingly labor intensive. (That is, until someone inevitably tries to get rich by inventing a taffy grape-making machine.)

The exact origin of taffy grapes, both the product and the name, appears to be unknown. They’ve been around since at least 2011, likely starting on Chicago’s South Side. And by now, hardcore taffy grape artisans have expanded the basic concept into a variety of flavors – for instance, a shop called Nadia’s Gourmet Grapes does Key lime, banana pudding and red velvet versions – and into a variety of fruits. Though so-called “taffy strawberries” look a lot like something we’ve seen many times before…

But regardless of where they came from, where they’re going seems a bit clearer – into the world of buzz-worthy foods. According to Google Trends, the phrase “taffy grapes” only got passing mentions starting around February 2012. But around this time last year, the term began trending significantly upwards. Now, the sugary fruits are popping up on Instagram and Twitter. You can even find tutorials on how to make them on YouTube.

So when they inevitably come to a shop near you, remember to do Chicago proud. They’re not “candy-covered grapes.” They’re “taffy grapes.”