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What Goes Into That Apple You're Eating

Between 10,000 and 15,000 new varieties are grown each year, with Luby and his team tasting and spitting out 500 apples a day. Roughly 15 make the cut and are cloned into orchards that are observed for five more years. There's no guarantee any of them will become a sellable variety, though Honeycrisp and the school's SweeTango varieties both hit paydirt. The University of Minnesota has since brought in close to $10 million from the $1-per-tree royalties on Honeycrisp, and has a similar deal for SweeTango that gives it a 4.5% cut of sales.

If anybody knows what catches the public's and growers' attention, it's Luby. We sought him out again this year to see what key elements make great eating, baking and juicing apples. We also sent him some photos of those farmhouse apples to see if they were anything beyond a chance seedling or an exceptional crab apple.

"This looks very much like the Lodi apple that my grandmother had in her farmstead," Luby said. "We used to pick it in mid and early August."

According to the folks at orchard site Orange Pippin, the Lodi apple looks and tastes much like the unknown apple and is similarly good as a juice and puree. Far from a random seedling, however, the Lodi was developed with the help of geneticists from Cornell University at the New York State Agricultural Experiment Station in Geneva during the early 20th century. The station crossed Yellow Transparent and Montgomery apples and whoever planted those trees created a small windfall for the station and the university.

To give you a better idea of how apples such as the Lodi and Honeycrisp come to be, however, we had Luby offer some clarification:

What goes into making a sought-after apple?

Luby: It's got to be good to eat: Either good texture, good flavor or a combination of both. I think the other thing that's really critical is the ability to get to the consumer in good shape. It has to be an apple that can stay crisp for several weeks or months after harvest. That's really critical for continued staying power, but an apple also has to look good for initial purchases.

You're in the business of building the better apple, so what have you found that people respond to when it comes to the eating experience?

Luby: Crispness and juiciness kind of trump everything. There's a very small minority that prefer a softer, mushier apple.

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