Calgary

Goodbye, Red Delicious: Canada's favourite apples are now sweeter, more juicy

What do you think the best apple is? For 50 years, Red Delicious topped sales in the United States — until it lost its throne this year. And in Canada, three other varieties take the crown.

Fruit breeder David Bedford says he celebrated the dethroning of his least favourite apple

The Honeycrisp apple variety is one of the most popular apples in Canada, along with Gala and Ambrosia. They've bumped the Red Delicious apple out of the top five in three provinces. (Steve Berry/CBC)

David Bedford eats a lot of apples, and he's not trying to avoid the doctor.

He's been breeding apples for 40 years, perhaps making him one of the leading authorities on the contentious question: What's the best apple?

In Bedford's opinion, it's certainly not the Red Delicious.

"It's a big letdown in the world of apples," Bedford told the Calgary Eyeopener. "I mean, in the U.S., it's been the No. 1 apple for about 50 years. It finally slid out of first place this year and is on the decline — and none too soon for me."

The popular apple with its dark red, shiny skin is too soft and mealy, and tastes "a bit insipid," he said. He finds the skin tough and chewy, similar to that of Naugahyde, a type of imitation leather.

But for 50 years, the apple topped sales in the United States until this year, when it lost its throne to the Gala.

Sweeter, juicier varieties are taking over. In Canada, Honeycrisp, Ambrosia and, indeed, Gala take the top spots in three apple-growing provinces.

"I like to say I'm a recovering Red Delicious eater," Bedford said. "And fortunately there's a lot of good things to choose from, so that, that's the good news."

Red Delicious apples were the most popular type of apple for 50 years in the United States. Juicier and sweeter varieties now take the crown. (Andy Sawyer/The Associated Press)

The top selling apples at Calgary Co-op stores are Gala, Ambrosia, Honeycrisp, Granny Smith and Pink Lady.

Bedford was especially happy to see Honeycrisp on that list, as his team at the University of Minnesota bred that variety. Now the apple is very popular and sells for a high price, which he chalks up to its sweet taste uniquely married with crispiness.

Listen to the full interview about why some apples are a hit:

We speak to Minnesota apple breeder David Bedford about what makes a great apple, and why the gala is the top selling apple in Calgary. 7:18

Apples typically have two textures: hard, dense and crisp, or soft and mealy, "which nobody likes unless you've got some denture issues or something," Bedford said. Honeycrisp changed that thinking, he said.

"It's crisp, and when you bite it it kind of explodes in your mouth," Bedford said. "It's really a juicy sensation. So once you've had that texture, it's hard to go back."

Breeders are now trying to replicate that experience in new varieties, he said.

In the course of his work, Bedford has developed a palate for apples. Each day, he tastes roughly 500 apples — and "as a matter of fact, almost every single day, I get sick of it."

"But the good news is, you go home, you have a little home-cooked meal, sleep it off and come back for more."

Apples are a major industry in Canada. (Norm Arnold/CBC)

In terms of taste, apples range between sweet and tart.

"People are trending toward sweeter varieties but I'm not sure of the reason, just preference," said Candy O'Connor, executive director of the Nova Scotia Fruit Growers' Association.

The Honeycrisp now tops the sales in Nova Scotia, both domestically and in exports, and the variety is in the top five for both British Columbia and Ontario.

The types of apples offered at your supermarket often depend on what's available. For example, Gala is a top-seller and also widely grown. (Katherine Holland/CBC)

O'Connor has universally sweet varieties on her list, including Gala, specialty varieties SweeTango and Pazazz, and the B.C.-bred fruit, Ambrosia.

Ambrosia was a chance seedling discovered in Cawston, B.C., in the early 1990s, according to the B.C. Fruit Growers' Association. Now it's a consumer favourite and a big seller.

  • What's your favourite apple? Share your thoughts in the comments.

While taste often drives demand, so does supply. Gala is one of the top varieties grown, Bedford says, plus it has that popular sweet taste.

"That's fine, I don't have an argument with its flavour," he said. "My only concern or dislike or distrust of Gala is that that texture tends to get a little mediocre in time.

"So at some point, you get kind of a semi-soft juicy apple with a nice sweet flavour. I mean, that's, that's nice. I won't call it exciting but it's, it's pleasant."

Gala, in fact, was responsible for booting Red Delicious off its throne as the top selling apple in the United States.

For Bedford, he'll keep looking for the most a memorable experience in his 500 daily bites.

For everyone else, the varieties continue to grow, should you want an apple to snack on.

With files from Danielle Nerman and the Calgary Eyeopener.

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