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  • Writer's pictureAli Tadlaoui

Crunchy apples and cheap cherries...

A light-hearted take on a less serious topic, for a change. Apples. Cherries. It's the beginning of the season for one and just past season for the other, so they're top-of-mind.

I just read a piece featuring on the longstanding, successful apple breeding program at the University of Minnesota. We owe the Honeycrisp variety to this program. The article offers an overview of the process of inventing a new apple hybrid that everyone in the value chain, from grower to consumer, values. It's an arduous process. Finding the next Honeycrisp (first marketed in 1991) requires patience and perseverance. It took 24 years for daughter of Honeycrisp, SweeTango, to hit the produce aisle. I admire this commitment to a long-term objective. But I also wonder if they're working on what I think most of us really want from an apple. Another apple variety is not on my list.

I'm already overwhelmed by the number of choices when I shop for apples at our local, upscale supermarket. Do I really need another option? The president of the U.S. Apple Association claims that they need new varieties to keep the apple category fresh and exciting. But for whom? Really, it's for the supermarket chains. Apples are competing for space in the fresh section of the store with other fruit, and other produce. Finding the next great apple variety seems to be more about market share than about meeting a consumer need.

What I really want is to be able to bite into any apple and expect a crunch most of the time, not half the time or less. I don't care about the color, or the shape, or how thick the skin. But I want my apple to be crisp, and to not get mealy within a few days either. It's hit or miss with fruit as much hit or miss with breeding the next, great apple variety.

I had a similar reaction to a story about Pairwise, a biotech start-up, that, among other things, is working on developing a cherry without a pit. Pairwise is banking on using CRISPR to edit the genetic sequence of some variety of cherry to render it pit-less. I'm not averse to editing fruit genes per se - we've been creating genetic hybrids since wild apples were first domesticated in what is now Kazakhstan - but the pit is not my primary problem with cherries.

First of all, the cherry season is too short. I bought them twice this crazy summer before they were gone. Even when I'm top of things, I buy them infrequently because they're too expensive except for maybe two weeks in the year (on sale one week in one store and on sale the next week in another store). They were $7.99/lb at the more upscale store in our area for most of the season this year. There's a reason cherries are called the "beloved of kings" (rough translation) in Arabic. I'll take a perfectly ripe, dark cherry over any other piece of fruit, pit or no pit. But, I wish for cherries to be affordable enough to be in our fridge all summer.

The quest for the next, glorious apple variety and the work to remove pits from cherries are not misguided, but they could be a bit more focused on more salient gaps in MY needs, wants, and desires. The initiatives are not as consumer-centric as they could be.

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