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What Goes Into That Apple You're Eating

You could cross two parents with one another and grow out 100 seedlings from them and no two seedlings are going to be like one another, nor are they going to be like either one of the parents. You probably have some resemblances to your father and mother, but you probably aren't like them in appearance, personality or behavior.

Most humans don't have families anywhere near 100 kids, but if we did we'd have quite an assortment in that family.

Taking that human analogy a bit further, do an apple's traits and upbringing make it more suited to certain lines of work -- say, baking or juicing?

Luby: Especially with pie apples, the ability to maintain the shape of a slice is considered pretty important. Some apples are able to do that, but some melt away and are better for sauce.

When you call it a cooking apple, it all depends on what you're going to cook it into, whether it's a pie or baked apple.

Does the same crispness that makes a good eating apple make a good baking apple?

Luby: Not necessarily. I can think of some local varieties around here that are preferred for baking. The Honeycrisp is not really preferred by the pie makers, but we have a local apple here called a Haralson that is much preferred. It holds its shape better and has more acidities so that when you're adding something sweet -- sugar or brown sugar or honey -- to an apple pie, you want to balance that. Anything you're going to add sugar to you're going to want more acidity to balance it out.

You've noted that only about 10 million of the more than 246 million apples produced this year will be Honeycrisp. According to the USDA, its $2.58-per-pound price is down 40 cents a pound from 2012, but more than double that of a McIntosh and similar to that of a 3-pound bag of Gala apples. That's kind of a boutique apple, no?

Luby: I think the price reflects that it's still not that much of a common apple yet. People like it, obviously, so there's demand, and there's a lot more planting to come in five to 10 years.

So when you're breeding and producing apples, is it as much about finding that great-selling apple as it is about furthering the science behind apple production?

Luby: I think most of the apple breeding programs are reliant on income from the apples and apple varieties. The public investment in our breeding programs has gone down, so it usually comes down to investment of grower organizations and then income generated from varieties from the program.

There's certainly interest in furthering the science too. I know most of us at the Cornell, Washington State and Minnesota breeding programs have been involved in a project funded in part by the USDA to try to develop genetic markers that we can use to do more efficient selection so we can tell, even when a seedling is very young, if it's more likely to have crisp fruit several years form now or mushy fruit, if it's red or yellow, if it's sour or not.

To go back to the human analogy, it's similar to what people do. Many couples seek genetic screening information about the risks they might have in having children. The difference with apples is that we can just through the sour ones out. With humans, it's just a bit more complicated.

-- Written by Jason Notte in Portland, Ore.

>To contact the writer of this article, click here: Jason Notte.

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Jason Notte is a reporter for TheStreet. His writing has appeared in The New York Times, The Huffington Post,, Time Out New York, the Boston Herald, the Boston Phoenix, the Metro newspaper and the Colorado Springs Independent. He previously served as the political and global affairs editor for Metro U.S., layout editor for Boston Now, assistant news editor for the Herald News of West Paterson, N.J., editor of Go Out! Magazine in Hoboken, N.J., and copy editor and lifestyle editor at the Jersey Journal in Jersey City, N.J.
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