As senior research fellow for the Horticultural Research Center at the University of Minnesota, David Bedford thinks of the apples as his children.
He taste tests up to 3000 apples a week, searching for the perfect texture and flavor, during the height of the season from Aug. 1 to Oct. 30.
“Some days, you get burned out,” Bedford said. “Not a lot of people know, that there’s just so much acid in apples–not as much as in, say lemons, but after tasting 500-600 apples a day, they start to taste like lemons.”
When you’re an apple taste tester, you need your taste buds to be in tip-top shape to do the job right.
There’s a science to it. It took 30 years for the University of Minnesota to develop their most famous apple variety, now the widely popular Honeycrisp.
Honeycrisp was originally bred in 1960 and released to the public in 1991. “Now there are now 27 cold hardy apple varieties that have been developed by the University of Minnesota. If it weren’t for the Fruit Breeding program, we wouldn’t have many apples that could survive in Minnesota,” Bedford said.
The development of their latest variety, named SweeTango®, required 21 years from to complete.
“Honeycrisp and Zestar are the parents. The trick is to find that child who is as good or better,” Bedford said.
The process for developing the perfect gene pool for apples is called. breeding or hybridization. After hybridization, the researchers must wait about five years, or until the tree has reached maturity, before they can begin testing for taste.
“Honeycrisp redefined texture,” Bedford said. “It’s not soft and mealy, or too hard or dense. It’s explosively crisp. And the cells in the apple are twice as large as other species. So, when you bite down, the cells rupture, giving you the juice that follows.”
To find the very best combination of sweetness within apples, and have that satisfying crunch, the researchers do a lot of taste testing–Bedford, especially. “It’s only about one tree out of ten thousand that is good enough to get named and released. My job is a lot like walking on a beach for 20 years, looking for a diamond,” Bedford said.
It all started in college, when a friend gave him a bushel of apples. They were different than the apple that he had grown up with. As a kid, his family ate Red
Delicious apples, and he did not like them. But, then he had the opportunity to develop new varieties, and he jumped on it.
“Now, I’m almostrecovered from being raised on Red Delicious. To go from being a kid that didn’t like apples, to a person who samples 500-600 of them each day, it’s really makes it worthwhile when when we can develop a new variety that people love to eat,” he said. Apple-tasting weekends started on Sept. 19 and end Oct. 11.
Featured photo via the University of Minnesota.