Fresh Harvest of WSU’s Research-Promoting Apple Hits Stores December 1 – WSU Insider

With each harvest, scientists learn more about the best ways to grow, store, and share the Cosmic Crisp® apple bred by Washington State University.

This year, the biggest harvest yet will hit stores just days after the 2022 Apple Cup. The official December 1 release date, set by a committee of WSU scientists, growers and fruit industry professionals, ensures apples are harvested and shipped for optimal texture, juiciness and flavor. This date is a few weeks later than in previous years due to the unusually cold spring of 2022.

“Release dates help prevent premature picking,” said Kate Evans, WSU professor and apple grower. “They’re quite common with new apple varieties.”

Cosmic Crisp® is the brand name for the WA 38 apple variety originally bred in 1997 at WSU’s Wenatchee Research Station. WSU researchers evaluated WA 38 against other competitors for more than a decade before releasing it to growers in 2017. The apple first went on sale to consumers in December 2019.

About five million 40-pound cases were harvested this year – more than a million cases more than the 2021 crop. Harvested apples will be stored in cold storage and delivered to stores and made available to consumers from December 1, with the Availability fastest in the Pacific Northwest.

This apple was specially bred for its excellent shelf life; The fruit retains, and even benefits from, its flavor and texture in cold storage: “Cosmic Crisp® tastes better if it’s been stored a little after harvest,” Evans said. “It’s getting a little softer.”

Apple trees use photosynthesis to convert carbon dioxide, water and sunlight into sugars that are stored in the fruit as starch. As apples ripen, starches are converted back into sugars. If you pick an apple too early, you’re biting into a fruit that’s tough, acidic, and starchy.

The distinctive red color of apples isn’t always the best indicator of ripeness, Evans said. The red hue is caused by several factors including cold autumn nights and warm days. Cosmic Crisp®, like many other strains, turns red on the tree before it’s ready for harvest, so growers test the starch content to see when the fruit is ready for picking. Tests, combined with the official release date, ensure that the apples hit the market in the best possible way.

A portion of the sale of each box supports scientific discovery at WSU. Most of the university’s apple breeding program, which develops new, improved varieties for Washington growers, is funded by WA 38 royalties, which also support research orchard workers. WSU scientists continue to study best practices for WA 38 gardening, harvesting and storage.

“While the breeding work for WA 38 is complete, research to support commercial production continues,” Evans said. “It happens with every new apple variety.

“Every year is different,” she adds. “There are always challenges to be overcome in order to keep growers prosperous and keep great fruit on the table for consumers.”

Scientists at WSU are studying the genome of WA 38 looking for valuable traits, and the apple is a parent in Evan’s breeding program: she crosses it with other apples in search of improved hybrids.

Who knows, maybe a future WSU apple, now just one promising seedling among thousands, will have Cosmic Crisp® as one of its ancestors?


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