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What Goes Into That Apple You're Eating

For flavors, there's just a lot of variation on what people like. Some people like them more on the tart side, others like them more seemingly sweet. There's a lot of latitude there and it's more of an individual preference thing. If you go in, and I've done it many times, and give a talk to a group of 50, 100 or 200 people and have them raise their hands for the texture they like, crisp usually always wins out. When you get into things like tart vs. sweet, the audience gets a lot more split -- and we see that in our tasting panels, too.

There are some special flavors that we come across that have a more specialized audience. There are some apples that have a bit of a honey flavor or anise flavor that people can really detect.

It's like drinking wine. What's a good wine? Get a few of your friends in a room and they may each have their own favorite.

When you're breeding a new apple and are looking for that crispness and juiciness, what are some of the base varieties that help bring those traits to a new variety?

Luby: We now use Honeycrisp a lot in our breeding, as do many other breeders. You're going to see, in the next few years, a number of offspring of Honeycrisp coming out. SweeTango is the first one, but New York has one that's going to be marketed under the name Snapdragon and that has Honeycrisp as a parent. The Washington growers have one and I haven't heard what name it's going to be marketed under, but it goes by the experimental number WA-38. In the next five years or so, we'll start to see those in some quantity too.

There's another one that's coming out of the Midwest Apple Improvement Program called Evercrisp, which is a Honeycrisp-by-Fuji cross. So there's a whole group of Honeycrisp children coming that, in the next 10 years, will really change what kind of apples are available.

But even the Honeycrisp's origin story suggests it gets its traits from the Macoun and Honeygold varieties. Which of the two gave it that initial crispness?

Luby: Well, actually it's not the Macoun or the Honeygold. About a decade ago, after the initial description came out in 1991 and genetic markets became available, we did a little CSI work and published a paper that said neither was the parent of Honeycrisp. It appears, based on the markers, that another Minnesota variety called Keepsake [which crosses a Northern Spy with an unnamed variety] is one of the parents. It has a very nice texture, but a different, nutty flavor. The other parent we're not sure what it is, but think it may be descended from Golden Delicious.

With that in mind, even with the availability of genetic markers, are a lot of apple breeding combinations still a matter of chance?

Luby: Apples are like humans. If you have a sibling from the same parents, you're very definitely not alike. You may have some resemblances, both physical and perhaps personality -- which we could say is the way you look and the way you taste -- and apples are kind of the same way.
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