Almost Candy Apples

Posted in Blog, Apples on Thursday, February 29, 2024

What does it take to grow high-quality apples? Washington’s apple growers are some of the world’s leading experts in that field.

Almost Candy Apples

You might already know that Washington grows more than 30 varieties of apples, and that our rich soil, plentiful water, and ideal growing conditions make the apples delicious, crunchy, and flavorful. Washington farmers export 30% of their apples worldwide, and according to Steve Smith, the director of marketing for Washington Fruit Growers, these apples are “regarded as a premium product all over the world.”

You might not be aware, however, of how many decisions farmers make long before the apples end up in stores, locally or worldwide, including what sizes to grow, how to tell if the apple is ripe, and why color matters (and it’s not because of taste!). Here are some fun facts we learned from Smith as he took us on a tour of a Cosmic Crisp orchard.

How does the apple’s color affect its sales?
According to Smith, shoppers are often drawn to the reddest apples, and those sell the best. Fruit growers refer to them as high-colored apples, and at the end of the day, once shoppers have bought apples off the shelf, the lower-colored, duller apples are generally left over.

Does the same kind of apple sell well everywhere?
It varies by market and country. Some countries like Vietnam prefer a smaller apple, while others like China import larger varieties. “Markets like Mexico, they buy the whole tree: high color, low color, large, small,” says Smith. Fortunately, Washington has plenty of varieties to choose from.

What is the correct way to pick an apple?
“Set your finger right on the top of the stem where it meets the tree,” said Smith, cupping an apple in his hand. “Press and turn it up, and that will pop it right off.”

How do farmers know when an apple is ready to pick?
As apples mature, they convert starch into sugar. Farmers can measure this conversion at different stages, and it will tell them when it’s the perfect time to start harvesting each variety.

How do they measure the sugar conversion?
Farmers do an iodine test on the apples to see how much conversion has happened — and, therefore, how mature the apples are. First, they cut the apples in half. Then they spray them with an iodine solution, which turns the starches black and the sugars white.

Are apples only harvested when they’re mature?
Different varieties are harvested at different points in their sugar conversion; for example, Cosmic Crisp apples are very starchy, and they are harvested before they’re fully mature and kept in storage for a few months after picking, so the starches can continue to convert to sugars. Others, like Fujis, are harvested when they’re more mature.

Why is there a random crabapple tree among the Cosmic Crisp apples?
In general, apples need two different kinds of pollen to fertilize the bud and produce fruit. The purpose of the crabapple tree is to cross-pollinate the Cosmic Crisp apples.

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