Here in the Northeast of the United States, we’ve begun the shift from summer into Autumn. One key indicator of this is the waning availability of stone fruits like peaches and the rise of orchard fruits, particularly apples. Which brings up the linguistic conundrum — why is the “Red Delicious” apple the worst tasting apple on the fruit stand?
The video below, from Atomic Frontier, takes a look at the history of apples, and explains the combination of genetics and business strategies that have shaped our current apple market. The Red Delicious was apparently at one time actually delicious. Over the years, it was bred more and more for appearance and durability in shipping, resulting in the current iteration, which features a thick skin and a mushy interior.
This particular cultivar became the dominant one sold in grocery stores in the US, which is disappointing enough that it led to a team at the University of Minnesota, led by David Bedford, to start generating new cultivars. Their first great success was the Honeycrisp apple, which corrected many of the errors introduced into the Red Delicious line. Unfortunately, once released into the market, the same forces took hold, and there is an increasing variety in what you get if you buy a Honeycrisp apple, as they are now once again being bred for appearance and shelf life over taste.
Dismayed by this, Bedford took a new tact. The group produced a new cultivar, the Sweetango™. As noted by that little symbol, Bedford’s group trademarked the name, and will only allow it to be used for apples that taste like a Sweetango™ is supposed to taste. So if you buy one of these beauties in your local store, you know what you’re getting.
An interesting lesson in agriculture, history, and business strategy, and one showing how intellectual property protections can be a force for good.