Malus domestica 'Honeycrisp'
Malus domestica 'Honeycrisp'Courtesy Art Oglesby

Honeycrisp, my favorite apple

Around the end of September I eagerly visit an apple orchard to stock up on Honeycrisp apples. I first experienced Honeycrisp apples back when they were first released in 1991 because I lived next door to Jack Kelly and what is now part of Apple Jack Orchards. I was impressed by the "explosively crisp" snap as you bite into the apple and its sweet, juicy flavor that also has a hint of tartness. Here is a quote about the Honeycrisp apple from the University of Minnesota Extension:

Honeycrisp fruit is characterized by an exceptionally crisp and juicy texture. Its flesh is cream colored and coarse. The flavor is sub-acid and ranges from mild and well-balanced to strongly aromatic, depending on the degree of maturity. It has consistently ranked as one of the highest quality apples in the University of Minnesota sensory evaluations.

The Honeycrisp story is remarkable

I first read the amazing story about how the Honeycrisp was developed in the City Pages. James J. Luby and David S. Bedford, working within the Department of Horticultural Science University of Minnesota, have given a big boost to Minnesota's apple growers and the horticulture department.

Bedford calls it a "lifesaver." According to the university's office of technology commercialization, Honeycrisp has generated $6.3 million for the institution, placing it among the school's top five most lucrative inventions. (The U receives $1.35 a tree and splits royalty income in thirds, with one portion going to the inventors, another to the college and department where the faculty work, and the third into a general research fund.)

How the Honeycrisp apple is produced

Apple breeder David Bedford tastes between 500 and 600 apples every day. Bedford is trying to find the genetic gems from among the nearly 20,000 trees in the horticulture department's orchards. Only 15 or so have the "wow" that allows their genetics to advance to the next round. Hand pollinating select blossoms and using wax bags to prevent any stray pollination, produces the next generation of seeds. The ancestors of the Honeycrisp were in the crop of 1960. A bad freeze almost eliminated the genetic line in 1980. When the parent trees were killed by a 1 in 50 yr. freeze, the offspring were classified as unacceptable. Bedford decided to let them have a chance, and

A few years later, when the clones began bearing fruit, Bedford was shocked by the apples' crispness and juiciness, which reminded him of an Asian pear. "The thing I remember was that the texture was so unusual, I wasn't sure if it was good or bad," he says.

Read more about the Honeycrisp saga

The complete story is fascinating. You can read more by clicking the City Pages link. Probably the best description of the Honeycrisp apple sage is told at MinnesotaHarvest.net. An addendum within this webpage added this surprising quote:

Records and public releases from the University of Minnesota from 1991 to the present have identified the parentage of Honeycrisp as the cross 'Macoun' x 'Honeygold'. But recently completed DNA testing has determined that neither Macoun nor Honeygold are parents of Honeycrisp.

The testing determined for certain that Keepsake, another apple from the University of Minnesota's apple breeding program that was released in 1978, is one of the parents. But, despite extensive searching, the other parent has not been identified. There is no DNA match among any of the varieties that are thought to be possible parents.

The University's Research Center routinely crosses and plants thousands of seeds annually, moving them and the resulting seedling trees from place to place over a period of years, so there are multiple points where a mix-up could take place.

Your Comments, Thoughts, Questions, Ideas

Muna_00's picture
Muna_00 says:

Thats really Interesting. I like the crisp in apples too!

posted on Mon, 10/27/2008 - 10:27am
Liza's picture
Liza says:

Honeycrisps are my favorite, too. I'll eat Fujis or Galas, but I gorge myself on Honeycrisps when they become available.

My five-year-old just did her obligatory annual school field trip to the apple orchard and learned the story of Johnny Appleseed. No one told her, though, that you generally can't grow eating apples from seeds. (Crab apples are good pollinators, so they're often planted in orchards alongside trees that produce apples for eating. That means that the "daddy" of any given apple seed is likely a crab, and the resulting apple is, in the vast majority of cases, horrible tasting. If you want to reproduce an apple tree that produces good-tasting apples, you generally have to graft a bit of it onto another plant.)

Michael Pollan, the author of "Botany of Desire," gave an interview on NPR in which he said,

"...what happens when you plant apples from seed is you get all different kinds of apples. Every single seed in an apple produces a different variety, most of which are useless. However, apples grown from seed are perfectly good for making cider."

What's the big deal about cider? Well, back in the days before municipal drinking water supplies and cheap high-fructose corn syrup, cider was a sweet, safe drink. And hard cider was a sweet, safe, alcoholic drink. That's right, folks: Johnny Appleseed wasn't bringing apples to the frontier--he was bringing booze.

And THAT'S what they don't teach you in kindergarten. :)

posted on Mon, 10/27/2008 - 11:05am
maleman001's picture
maleman001 says:

I love apples

posted on Thu, 10/30/2008 - 5:02pm
millie's picture
millie says:

I love the honeycrisp apples purchased at Costco QUeens. My daughter Brianna and I read David Bedford article about the breeding of apples and we were astonish that Mr. Bedford eats several apples a day. The articles was very excellent and it made us realize that apples are constantly being analyzed for taste. I told her that I will buy Honey crisp apples when at see them and my husband purchased them from Costco a couple ago. We were so surprise that we actually had them in the house.

posted on Mon, 11/14/2011 - 1:46pm
Anonymous's picture
Anonymous says:

bananas are better

posted on Wed, 05/09/2012 - 10:31am

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