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Honeycrisp apples on a tree

About 80 percent of the apples produced in Minnesota are varieties that were developed at the University of Minnesota. The Honeycrisp hit our grocery stores in the early 1990s.

Another sweet accomplishment

New report on top innovations yields savory honor for Minnesota apple

By Rick Moore

March 10, 2006

We know these apples taste great--that their "explosive" crispness awakens the senses. Some of us even count down the days till that time in early autumn when we can find them in orchards and in the grocery store.

Perhaps Minnesota Modesty keeps us from heralding this local success story far and wide. But fear not; others have noticed: The Honeycrisp apple, developed by University of Minnesota researchers and introduced to the public in 1991, has been named one of "25 Innovations That Changed the World."

The Honeycrisp story is part of the inaugural edition of The Better World Report, produced by the Association of University Technology Managers (AUTM), a nonprofit group dedicated to bringing academic and nonprofit research to people around the world.

Lest you think this is a mundane accomplishment for the Honeycrisp, consider the company of the other 24 innovations on the list. There's the V-Chip, the device that helps parents monitor the television viewing of their children; the Habitrol nicotine patch; and an electronic hearing implant that has given the gift of sound to thousands of people. And there's Google, which in its short life has become both the standard of Internet search engines as well as a verb that gets thousands of hits in daily conversation. Those are all impressive innovations, but the Honeycrsip is equally as sweet in the eyes of AUTM.

The report touts Honeycrisp both for its ephemeral pleasures and its long-term economic benefits. The apple "with almost magical properties," the report says, "...marries sweetness sought by some and tartness touted by others, and it thrives in the hard climate of northern-tier states." The apple is also known for being "explosively crisp," with flavor and texture that preserve well over time.

But AUTM points out that the Honeycrisp's contributions go well beyond flavor. Upper Midwest apple growers were faced with tough times in the '80s and '90s, as apples from Washington state and overseas were dominating the market, and locally grown apples were, at times, being sold for less than they cost to produce.

Honeycrsip came along in the early 1990s as a premium apple at a premium price (often retailing for $2.50 a pound), but orchards found that the public was hungry for the apples and willing to pay the price, and their profits rose accordingly. The report notes that one third of the growers for Pepin Heights Orchard Inc. went out of business during the '90s, but those who switched to Honeycrisp apples are now doing well.

The report touts Honeycrisp both for its ephemeral pleasures and its long-term economic benefits.

The latest jewel in a dazzling breeding program, the Honeycrisp was developed by Jim Luby and David Bedford, two University researchers who work at the Minnesota Agricultural Experiment Station.

For nearly a century, U researchers have been breeding apples that can thrive in the harsh conditions of extremely cold winters and hot and dry summers. About 80 percent of the apples produced in Minnesota are varieties that were developed at the University of Minnesota.

In addition to Honeycrisp, there have been many other success stories from the U, such as Fireside, Regent, State Fair, Honeygold, and Zestar. The Haralson apple, which was released back in 1922, reigned supreme in Minnesota for about five decades, according to Luby. But in the last few years Honeycrisp has taken a loud and large bite out of Haralson's share of the market; in fact, the Honeycrisp has now replaced Haralson as the state's number one apple.

Honeycrisp has grown in popularity around the United States and in other countries, such as New Zealand and South Africa, and more than two million trees have been planted.

To learn more about the Honeycrisp, see "It's Honeycrisp time!"

For general information about apples, see the U's apple Web site.