Apples are one of my favorite fruits and I’m sure a lot of people share my sentiments. But there is one major problems with apples that make them less versatile than other fruits – once they’ve been bruised, sliced, cut, or bitten into they start to brown.
Not only is this a problem for consumers who wish to slice apples in advance for fresh preparation, it also is problematic for food processing companies that want to do the same.
The solution? Turn off the enzymes that cause the browning.
That’s exactly what Okanagan Specialty Fruits did with their Arctic Apples! OSF is a small company of about 6 employees out of Washington, headed up by President Neal Carter. (I got to interview Neal recently — look for more on that interview soon!) Using some fairly simple science, OSF managed to create apples that won’t brown.
|Left: Conventional apple; Right: Arctic Apple
As explained by the Arctic Apple website, here’s how it works:
When you bruise, bite, slice or dice an apple, rupturing the apple cells’ walls, a chemical reaction is triggered between the apple’s polyphenol oxidase (PPO) and phenolics that turns the apple flesh brown. And unfortunately, that reaction burns up the apple’s health-promoting phenolics in the process. . . . A family of four genes controls the majority of PPO production.
To scientifically breed Arctic apples, Okanagan Specialty Fruits’ science team turns down the expression of the apple PPO genes in a process called gene silencing, which utilizes low-PPO genes from other apples. Gene silencing is a natural process that all plants (and animals too) use to control expression of their genes. This apple-to-apple transformation is aided by time-proven biotechnology tools. In the end, Arctic apples produce too little PPO to brown.
(For a longer explanation, click here.)So, OSF uses apples genes to turn off certain apple genes and stop the browning process.Take a look here:
|An Arctic Apple testing orchard in Washington.
Now, the apple will eventually “turn brown” when it rots, just like any other fruit. But until then, it stays perfectly preserved without any browning.
The trees are grown in normal orchards and look just like their conventional counterparts. The apples have the same texture, feel, and taste as their conventional counterparts. The Arctic Apples are even nutritionally identical to other apples (that’s not quite true, they’re actually a bit more nutritious, but that’s for another post…). The only difference is that they won’t turn brown.
The Arctic Apples will even come in different varieties! Currently, the Arctic Granny and Arctic Golden are going through the deregulation process. OSF is also developing an Arctic Gala and Fuji. (And I’m excited about that, because Fuji is one of my favorite varieties!)
When the apples (finally) hit the shelves — which could take several years yet — they will bear a label. While it won’t say “GMO” anywhere on it, it will identify the apple as an Arctic Apple. I was also told that they may have a bar scanner available, so people can instantly get more information via their smart phones.
Currently, the apples are waiting to gain “deregulated” status from the USDA. When that happens (and I’m told it’ll hopefully be this spring…), the trees can be put in the ground for commercial use. However, as with any apple tree, it will take a few years for the trees to bear enough fruit for commercial use