Move over Honeycrisp, Cosmic Crisp is on its way

Introduced in the 1990s, the Honeycrisp apple became an immediate favorite among Americans thanks to its juicy flesh and crisp texture. While the Honeycrisp has been seen as an improvement from the former American favorite, the Red Delicious apple, it is difficult to produce, expensive and its flavor does not store particularly well.

That’s why, according to a recent article, growers are scrambling to produce crisper and more flavorful apple varieties. This includes a new variety known as the Cosmic Crisp, which the New York Times describes as “dramatically dark, richly flavored, and explosively crisp and juicy.”

Apple breeder Kate Evans, from Washington State University, states in the article that the most important factors that go into the perfect apple are texture, storability and balance of acid and sugar. For each potential new variety, she also evaluates firmness, perceived with the force of the first bite; crispness, detected as teeth shear an apple’s flesh and it cracks; and juiciness, revealed when the flesh is chewed and its cells rupture.

She and others who breed apples for large growers are well aware that many consumers are fed up with mass-marketed fruit chosen mainly for looks and shelf life. Their current quest is to restore the flavor and eating quality, despite the compromises required by large-scale production.

Honeycrisp, introduced by the University of Minnesota, set the standard for crispness, juiciness and upscale pricing and currently rakes in $3 million annually. Its flavor, however, is inconsistent and fades in long storage, and it is maddeningly difficult to grow.

In contrast, the article explains that Cosmic Crisp, a cross of Honeycrisp and Enterprise, is firmer but not too hard to bite, and much easier for farmers and packers to manage. Firmness is crucial because it helps apples keep longer, and supermarkets demand year-round availability.

Even more important for extended eating quality is acidity. It is low in the three leading Washington varieties — Red Delicious, Gala and Fuji — and drops in storage, leaving apples tasting flat. By contrast, Cosmic Crisp, which is high in both sugar and acidity, not only tastes great off the tree, but also retains a balanced flavor and crispness all year, even after weeks in a warm kitchen, which the article describes as “a game changer.”

Developing a new apple variety is a protracted and painstaking process, Dr. Evans explains. She uses the traditional method of applying pollen of one parent tree to the flowers of another, then planting the seeds of the resulting fruit, waiting five years for seedlings to bear, and evaluating tens of thousands of candidates for each eventual variety.

She does not practice genetic engineering but does use recently developed DNA tests to select genes linked to crisp texture, acidity and fructose to help her choose parents for new crosses and discard unpromising seedlings.

While the Cosmic Crisp was originally hybridized in 1997 by Bruce Barritt, Dr. Evans’s predecessor, the fruit more than likely will not be available in supermarkets until 2019. However, Barritt predicts that it could eventually account for as much as a quarter of Washington’s apple production as standards like Gala, Fuji, Braeburn, Red Delicious and Golden Delicious apples have continually faded in popularity over the past several years.

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