(This article appeared in the Fall 2021 issue of Pastry Arts Magazine)
When you read the phrase “advances in apple development,” it’s easy to picture the latest smartphone rather than the official state fruit of Washington and New York. Yet, orchards have been at the innovation forefront for decades, specifically in the development of new varieties. And this new crop of apple breeds isn’t just advantageous to growers and consumers, but bakers as well. With better shelf life, improved flavors and textures, and huge marketing budgets behind them, these new apples are pushing the future of fruit forward.
The launch of the Cosmic Crisp in 2019 had perhaps the most fanfare an apple received in the market in decades. First developed in 1997 at Washington State University and patented in 2014, the new breed is touted for its superior qualities. For growers, the trees are developed from dwarfing rootstock, meaning they can plant more in less space to increase yield. The fruit is also less susceptible to bruising and browning and has a significant storage life of a year after harvest, similar to its cousin the Enterprise apple.
Of course, pristine, long-lasting apples are huge benefits to direct consumers, as well. But it’s the flavor and texture profile that stands out most. The director of their marketing campaign, Kathyn Grandy, describes it as “enormously crunchy and wipe-your-face juicy,” which it can thank for its relation to the Honeycrisp. That certainly was no accident. Increased market demand for crisp and juicy apples in recent decades sent pomologists on the path to develop new varieties to quench consumer thirst. Similar new releases like Autumn Glory, SweeTango and SnapDragon have hit shelves in hopes of capturing brand loyalty for the same qualities.
And while certainly interesting for growers and consumers alike, these new breeds also benefit bakers. Even older breeds of apples have a longer shelf life than most fruit. Coupled with their popularity in desserts, apples are mainstays on menus for most of the year. These new breeds can further prolong that possibility because of their storage capability. And since the Cosmic Crisp doesn’t oxidize quickly when sliced, it removes the limitations that browning causes in certain applications. Think of improving pie production, for instance, by eliminating the immediate need of acid. Even raw slices as a component to a dish become a possibility. According to Domex Superfresh Growers, “Since Cosmic Crisp doesn’t brown, having slices on a plate look fresh all afternoon.”
Because of their crisp texture and high level of sweetness, they also bake extremely well. Cosmic Crisp recently teamed up with pastry chef and pie maven Erin Jeanne McDowell to promote their brand with a series of recipes. She describes the apple as “truly flavorful sweetness balanced with a bit of tart” and “incredibly juicy,” leading to what she refers to as “a perfect flavor storm for baking.” The apple also has strong structural integrity when cooked, making applications like pies, fritters, dumplings and cake all possible.
But apple advancements do not come cheap. Cosmic Crisp launched with a $10 million marketing price tag its first year. Competition from international sources and pricing pressure from supermarkets make the market increasingly difficult. And despite the counter-culture-turned-mainstream movement towards preserving heritage and heirloom varieties, there is still huge customer demand for consistency in taste and appearance. Even the pandemic push towards online grocery shopping made it increasingly important to market new breeds as branded names to gain loyalty.
Perhaps not surprisingly then, many new apple types come with culinary application suggestions as part of their marketing strategy to further their use and popularity. Autumn Glory, for instance, is touted as “an ideal cocktail base” for the front of house while its “sweet caramel notes” hold up well in both savory and sweet dishes for the back. Branded names have dedicated websites and social media accounts packed with recipe ideas from seared scallops with apple reduction to miniature French apple tarts.
And whether or not new apples spark your interest, chances are, you will continue to hear about them. Both Autumn Glory and Cosmic Crisp saw significant increases in sales by early 2021, 40 and 48 percent respectively. Their popularity and production are steadily growing, as are their marketing budgets. So don’t be surprised if one day soon, customer demand for certain brand names starts to bake into your business. Because perhaps for them, an apple by any other name won’t taste as sweet.
Photo Credit: Proprietary Variety Management