There are at least 7500 different kinds of apples in the world.
Some of that ingenuity can be attributed to the wondrous creativity of God, who also created both the hippopotamus and the praying mantis as an example of His breadth and scope.
Some of it, although still ultimately God’s awesome power, can also be attributed to man’s creativity and scientific mind.
And that starts to sound a little scary.
In the world of food, anytime I see something “new” I immediately look at it sideways and then run the other way.
“New and improved” is always a mark of something over-processed and probably detrimental to one’s health when it comes to food. Right?
In the case of hydrogenated oils, Nutrasweet, and fat-free cheese, “new” is most definitely a bad sign.
But what about all those apples?
I walked into our local big box store about a month ago and saw that the endcap in the produce section had a “new” apple, the Opal Apple. It looked like my old friend the Golden Delicious, but the “new!” sign gave me pause.
Do we real foodies have to become concerned about finding only heritage varieties of apples and eschewing anything that’s ever been mixed with another kind of tree? How can we even trace apples back to only the originals? They don’t exactly come stamped with “descended from Garden of Eden” stamped on them.
(If they did, you might actually want to stay away from those in particular. Eating them caused some problems for a certain Adam and Eve…)
When the Opal Apple company asked me if I wanted to work with them on some posts, I had to dig in and do some research. As awesome as it was to have produce that actually had a brand to work with and a marketing firm, I had to make sure I wouldn’t be promoting the next Frankenfood.
Apples are Not Genetically Modified
Many people are pretty convinced that genetic modification, the process of introducing one species into another and/or making changes at the genetic level of an organism, is a slippery slope at best, and extremely harmful for human consumption at worst.
Thankfully for my apple-loving family, apples are not yet on the list of GM foods we have to worry about. Hopefully they never will be.
We’ve talked recently about how wheat is also not GMO, but it’s still altered so much that it may be harmful to the human gut. The genes haven’t been modified, but wheat is exposed to radiation and has gone through such radical changes in the hands of scientists that it’s almost not recognizable as wheat anymore.
It’s not actually rocket science (or genetic biology even) to crossbreed two apples into a new “cultivar” like the Opal Apple.
In fact, if we’re lucky, it’s going to happen in our own backyard this year.
Creating a New Apple
We have two apple trees in our backyard that my kids got as birthday gifts in 2012. (Best. Birthday. Gift. Ever, by the way! Talk about clutter free, practical, but so fun!) One is a Honeycrisp, and one is a Gala. The only way they’re going to bear fruit is if they’re pollinated, of course, that’s basic botany.
An apple tree can’t pollinate itself. The bees have to have another apple tree close enough to visit in order for the flowers to turn into fruit, so you always have to plant at least two apple trees.
When the little bees visit our Gala and then our Honeycrisp, the pollen will transfer and make the flower fertile, which will then become an apple – if the birds don’t eat it first.
That’s the birds and the bees, you know.
Here comes the cool part: Every apple on both trees will have unique seeds that will have qualities of both the Gala and the Honeycrisp.
Planting an Apple Tree
Raise your hand if you’ve ever saved seeds from an apple you ate to plant a new apple tree.
If you got serious about it, you might have labeled the seeds according to the apple variety: Golden Delicious, Fuji, Jonathan.
The crazy thing about apples is that even if a Golden Delicious apple tree was the pollinator for another Golden Delicious apple tree, the seeds wouldn’t necessarily grow a recognizable Golden Delicious, because apples do not “breed true.”
That’s why creating a new apple is relatively easy: Johnny Appleseed did it all across the nation if he really did wander about, planting apple seeds. Each tree would have been a little different.
Creating a good new apple, one that has desirable qualities from both parents and is actually better than its ancestors is a bit more difficult: “The odds of a seed producing a better variety are very low, less than 1 in 10,000.” (source)
A Good New Apple
That’s why when a new apple comes along, you can be pretty sure that someone either worked very hard to find the “best” progeny of a couple other varieties, or they got very lucky.
Enter the Opal Apple.
The child of the Golden Delicious and the Topaz, the Opal Apple was created by the Institute of Experimental Botany in Prague to have some handy features (and one nice surprise):
- crisp flesh
- sweet flavor
- hardy, doesn’t bruise easily
- resists oxidation naturally, so it doesn’t get brown as quickly (the nice surprise)
- Follow Opal Apple on Facebook to learn more and for opportunities to win some.
To create a new cultivar, its makers have to “play bees” by brushing pollen from one tree onto another, then planting its seeds, waiting, and tasting. I can only imagine it takes a great deal of patience, and you really want to know what you’re looking for!
The Opal Apple has been very popular, with an 89% approval rating. Perhaps we should consider Opal for president…
Opal Apples even support gardens for kids via Katie’s Krops, which is pretty awesome.
How to Keep an Apple Cultivar Going
What’s really interesting about growing apples is that once you get the kind you want, there’s that seed problem I mentioned above: the seed isn’t going to produce the same apple as its parents. So how do apple growers end up with Golden Delicious every year, and how did the Opal Apple people keep the Opal going?
It’s called grafting.
You take good rootstock and a little stick from the tree you want, line them up, tape them together, and about 95% of the time, the little stick (a “scion”) will grow a new apple tree, and the fruit will match the one you cut it from 100% of the time.
The type of rootstock you choose determines the size of the tree and the depth of the roots, which is why you can get both dwarf and regular sizes of just about any apple.
Interestingly enough, this will not be happening in my backyard this year, which leads me to reason that keeping an apple variety around is actually a lot more “unnatural” than creating a new apple.
That’s why even a “new” apple a day…doesn’t need to scare the real foodie away.
Have you tried the Opal or seen it in stores? What do you think? What are your favorite qualities in an apple?
- Apple flax muffins
- Baked Oatmeal
- Apple squares
- 8 ways to wash an apple – produce wash that works
- 5 ways to preserve apples
- Apple crisp – Gluten-free, slow cooker, & more!
- grain-free almond apple pancakes
Opal apple photos are from the Opal website, who sponsored this post.