Humans have bred more than 7,000 apple varieties; you’d think that the development of one more wouldn’t be a big deal. In Washington, though, it’s news.
Botanists at Washington State University – a world leader in agricultural research – have come up with a breed they hope will give the state a tighter grip on the international apple market.
Its current name, WA 38, suggests that horticultural researchers aren’t necessarily great advertising executives. But WSU is working to create buzz around the new fruit, so it will no doubt find something sexier.
WA 38 was first cultivated in 1997; it’s a cross between the Enterprise and the Honeycrisp varieties. Both of those varieties have wonderful qualities, but neither has flourished in this state.
WSU has been testing the WA 38 in Central and Eastern Washington orchards, and it looks like a winner. Compared to the Honeycrisp, it better resists disease and sunburn, needs less spraying and is slow to brown. Last but not least, it is reportedly very flavorful – a zingy blend of sweet and tart.
In Western Washington, when we think exports, we tend to think software and airplanes. In distant lands, though, the state is as likely to be known for its Red Delicious, Gala, Fuji and Granny Smiths. Washington grows most of America’s apples – $2.25 billion worth in 2012 – and sells them throughout the Pacific Rim. Only China grows and sells more.
Since apples are – deservedly – the official state fruit, let’s acknowledge their many virtues. They do in fact keep the doctor away, or at least the undertaker: A recent British study, for example, concluded that an apple a day can prevent heart attacks and strokes as effectively as some modern medications.
Apple nutrients appear to help control blood sugar and blood fats. The fruit also delivers a lot of appetite satisfaction per calorie. It’s the diametric opposite of junk food.
If WA 38 favors the Honeycrisp side of the family, it will be ideal for pies, applesauce and just plain crunching.
The trick now is to tempt the world into trying it. WSU plans to market it aggressively.
Marketing, of course, requires that you have something sell. The university expects to offer 30,000 trees to orchardists in 2016 and 300,000 trees in 2017. That’s less than the variety’s pioneers are going to want, so the first trees will be distributed by a lottery that’s just about to begin. Washington growers will get exclusive dibs on the trees for the first 10 years.
No, it’s not the Boeing 777X. On the other hand, it undoubtedly tastes a lot better.