The Current

Ever tried a Pink Pearl? It's just one variety in this orchard growing apples of the future

We visit one of the world's most diverse apple orchards in Nova Scotia, to learn about the apples that might line the supermarket shelves of the future.

The Apple Biodiversity Collection orchard in Kenvtille, N.S. boasts more than 1,000 varieties

The Pink Pearl is a type of apple being developed at an orchard in Nova Scotia. (Mary-Catherine McIntosh/CBC)

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Biting into an apple at a Nova Scotia orchard, Sophie Watts turns the fruit around to show off something unusual — its bright pink flesh.

The Pink Pearl is "really crunchy," with "a great texture," and has been likened to "Jolly Ranchers and Lifesavers, a bit of a sweet candy taste," according to Watts, a PhD candidate at Dalhousie University's Faculty of Agriculture.

It's being grown at the Apple Biodiversity Collection, an orchard in Kentville, N.S., which boasts more than 1,000 varieties of apples, one of the widest collections in the world. 

But people intrigued by the Pink Pearl shouldn't get too excited. It can take up to 25 years to successfully breed a new variety of apple, according to Sean Myles, an associate professor of agriculture at Dalhousie.

Breeders start by adding the pollen from one flower to the flower of another variety, which will produce a seed months later that the grower will then plant, he said.

Sean Myles was one of the founders of the Apple Biodiversity Collection, an orchard in Kentville, N.S., that boasts more than 1,000 varieties of apples. (Mary-Catherine McIntosh/CBC)

The careful growing and refining that follows can take years to turn into large-scale stocks.

Myles and his team created the orchard as a resource for growers "so that it takes less time and money and space to create new apple varieties that are tasty, [and] that achieve commercial success."

"Think of it as a kind of a United Nations of apples ... different apples from all over the world, as many different varieties as we can get a hold of, all in one place."

Those varieties include an "ancestor" of modern-day apples from Kazakhstan, which Myles described as a "tiny little yellow apple that goes soft pretty quickly, [and] wouldn't be a big hit in the grocery store today."

There are also Black Oxfords — "not completely black, but it's as close to black as an apple is going to get: very, very, very dark purple," he said.

'A blockbuster apple' ready to hit stores

One variety apple lovers won't have to wait long for is the Cosmic Crisp, which has been in development in Washington state since 1997, and will make its debut in grocery stores this fall.

It's the offspring of two varieties: the crunchy, sweet and tart Honeycrisp, and the juicy and disease-resistant Enterprise. Legal protections mean the apple can only be grown in Washington state until 2024, a deal that may be extended for a further 10 years.

"They're really banking on this being a blockbuster apple," said Myles, adding that it could supplant another popular variety, the Red Delicious.

Sean Myles described these small yellow apples, grown in N.S. but from Kazakhstan, as the ancestor of modern-day apples the world over. (Mary-Catherine McIntosh/CBC)

This apple became so popular because of its looks, but with the rise of apples like the Cosmic Crisp, "we see that taste is starting to take over for looks, which is great," he said.

"Red Delicious is that apple that's beautiful on the outside, and garbage on the inside."

Myles said some breeders are looking into red-fleshed apples, betting that the unusual colour would be a winner if the apple was also tasty, crunchy and stored well.

Apple expert can't eat apples

People could "make do" with the apple varieties on the shelves today — but Myles argues, the same could be said of other products.

"Somebody is going to go out there and try to figure out how to make a better toothbrush, a better car and a better apple — we're just focused on the apple."

He thinks that apples have long held a special place in people's hearts — appearing in art and popular culture for centuries — but their popularity could also have something to do with their flexibility.

"You can throw them in your bag and they don't go mushy there. You can store them for a really long period of time. You can ferment them and turn them into cider."

The Red Delicious is 'beautiful on the outside, and garbage on the inside,' Myles said. (Mary-Catherine McIntosh/CBC)

But despite his enthusiasm, Myles can't actually enjoy them — he's allergic.

"I can take a little bite and chew a little bit, but then it starts to burn around my lips and on my tongue," he said.

He said he one day hopes to breed a "hypoallergenic" apple that won't trigger his allergies.

"It's a good career goal."

Written by Padraig Moran. Produced by Mary-Catherine McIntosh.


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