SweeTango apple

Seattle is one of three test markets in the U.S. for the SweeTango apple, a new cross between a Honeycrisp and a Zestar, hailed as the next big thing in the apple world. Like its parents, the SweeTango was developed at the University of Minnesota. Locally, it’s being grown by Wenatchee-based Stemilt, who also recently bought the rights to grow Pinata apples in the U.S

Stemilt offered to send me some apples to sample before they were available here, and I found them crisp and clean, attractive and crunchy and sweet. The skin was a bit thick, but I loved the texture, though Stemilt says in press materials that it expects an even better texture next season. As the Associated Press reported, the apple’s being seen as a successor to the Honeycrisp. But the way it’s being marketed is quite different: The university licensed the apple to a co-op of growers who control “who can grow SweeTango and where, and how the apple is marketed and shipped.” It’s the same sort of “managed variety” as Pink Lady and Jazz apples, more common overseas than in the U.S., the AP notes. SweeTangos are now on the shelves at QFC (the only place they’re available locally), and, at my neighborhood store, they priced out at $2.99/lb. It’s a dollar more than most other varieties there, though in line with what I usually see at the top end of apple prices.

Minnesota Public Radio noted that some growers find it unfair to restrict who can grow the apple, as the previous varieties developed by the university had been available to any grower who paid a one-time fee. The story continued:

Bev Durgan, director of the Minnesota Agricultural Experiment Station, said the university learned a big lesson with the Honeycrisp after some growers planted trees in places not particularly suited for the apple, like Texas. ”So because of that, they are more readily available, the quality isn’t good, and so the price of the Honeycrisp is going down,” Durgan said.

And keeping prices high is what’s driving this decision. Durgan said the university has to make money on the new variety to keep funding its breeding program. She said state and federal dollars continue to decline. So the U has chosen to be much more exclusive this time around.”

As long as we’re speaking of apples, I discover more varieties that are new — to me, at least — every year around this time. The  University District Farmers Market will feature “AppleLooza” on Saturday (Oct. 3), with Jon Rowley and Kate McDermott, masters of apples and pies, discussing that field along with Michael Hampel of Grouse Mountain Farm. Bring apples from your backyard trees to test for ripeness and sugar content. Or, head to Jones Creek Farm Oct. 16-18 for the annual harvest festival, which was well worth a drive last year to experiment with varieties like the Northern Spy and Belle de Boskoop, ones that our grandparents knew. 

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