The Cosmic Crisp, a new, Washington State University-bred apple with astronomical implications, is set to hit shelves in less than a week, but some local grocers say it remains to be seen whether they will be readily available in time to serve cosmic apple pie for Christmas.
Most grocery stores in the region say they plan to stock the new fruit. But with little more than 450,000 40-pound boxes to be sent to sellers starting Sunday, it’s possible the initial release will mostly go to larger chains.
“Everybody I know has said they expect it to come out Dec. 1, but a lot of stores aren’t going to get it until January,” said Travis Rash, produce manager for Dissmore’s IGA in Pullman. “The fruit world’s weird because you’re not sure if some of the big-box people bought them all or left any for the smaller guys like me or the Co-op.”
A cross between Enterprise and Honeycrisp varieties, the apple takes its name from the constellation of pinprick-size bright spots that dot its otherwise russet-toned skin. Kate Evans, who directs WSU’s Pome Fruit Breeding Program, stressed that Cosmic Crisp was not created through genetic modification but through a process called “cross-hybridization.” She said the thought behind blending the two varieties was to create an apple that combines the sweet taste of a Honeycrisp with Enterprise’s resistance to disease and browning.
“From a consumer perspective, it is an ultracrisp, very juicy apple with a good sweet-tart balance – so fundamentally just a good eat,” Evans said. “It is a very long storing apple, so we know that it retains its quality pretty well in the evaluations that we’ve done so far and even eats well when it’s a year old.”
Evans said the first 600,000 trees that would bear Cosmic Crisps were sold to growers in 2017, but the number planted since has shot well past 10 million. By the end of 2020, WSU officials said they expect more than 2 million boxes – by 2026, that number is expected to exceed 21 million.
Washington growers can look forward to 10 years of exclusive growing rights, which Evans said is in keeping with the school’s land grant mission to provide support for state industries.
“It’s kind of fundamental that any varieties that are coming out of the program should be available to all Washington growers, plus Washington apple levy money has been helping to fund the breeding program since it started in 1994,” she said. “So it is only correct that these varieties that are released from the program will be available to our growers.”
Evans said part of the goal of the fruit breeding program is to offer consumers a variety of uses and eating experiences.
If she is able to get her hands on a bushel or two, Moscow Food Co-op Bakery Manager Jessica Blommer O’Malley said she’s looking forward to trying Cosmic Crisp in pies, tarts, crisps and even crostatas, which she describes as a “rustic Italian tart.” She said Honeycrisp-esque apples have a number of qualities that make them desirable for baking.
“You use less sugar, which is nice, (and) the texture holds up really well in baking, so you still get a delightful apple texture,” Blommer O’Malley said.
She also suggested using lemon juice when baking with sweet apple varieties “to complement the sweetness.”
Trent Maier, who owns Liberty Lake-based Trailbreaker Cider Co., said he typically purchases huge quantities of apples for around 10 cents a pound to produce drinks, but he’s excited to experiment with the new fruit. He said Honeycrisp typically produces an underwhelming fruit juice, but he has a feeling Cosmic Crisp will be different.
While he may have to wait until the apple is available in greater numbers before using it to make commercial volumes of cider, Maier said he has “no doubt, in the next couple of years, we’ll be making cider” with Cosmic Crisp.
“I’ve told a lot of people my personal prediction, in 10 years, we may not even know the Honeycrisp apple anymore,” Maier said. “This will likely replace it.”
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