The desire for locally grown, fresh, and delicious food resonated with the early plant breeders at the University of Minnesota. The drive for better plants in a challenging climate started soon after the Agricultural Experiment Station was created in 1887 with the quest for a hardy apple. Favorite trees from "back East" often suffered severe winter injury or failed to ripen before a killing autumn frost. Crossing them with apples brought in from colder climates eventually led to the enduring favorites, 'Haralson' and 'Beacon.'
Developing a National Treasure
The development of 'Honeycrisp' is recognized as one of the top 25 innovations of the decade by the 2006 Better World Report. This report, by the Association of University Technology Managers, recognizes significant academic research and technology transfer that has made the world a better place.
Since 'Honeycrisp' trees were introduced in 1991, millions have been planted, producing excellent fruit that is enjoyed by consumers all over the U.S.
What's Next in Apples
How does the U of M develop new varieties? We do it the old-fashioned way! Like the birds and the bees. Our research scientists manually and painstakingly cross-pollinate flowers in much the same way that it occurs in nature.
But that doesn’t mean a little science and intuition doesn’t play a part. With the most recent U of M introduction of the MN55 cultivar under the Rave® brand (aka First Kiss® in MN), our breeders set out to create an apple with the texture of ‘Honeycrisp’ and a more sprightly flavor that would be ready to harvest earlier in the season.
To accomplish this, they made hundreds of crosses and generated thousands of trees. The ultimate winner was a cross between ‘Honeycrisp’ and an early season variety from the University of Arkansas called ‘MonArk.’ The result is a crisp, flavorful apple ready to harvest and sell in mid-to-late August—just in time for the Labor Day crowd!
Flavor Remains Topmost Concern for Breeding
Taste remains the primary concern for our apple breeders and First Kiss®/Rave® apples deliver by offering a well-balanced sprightly flavor when picked at full maturity.
Four other U of M brands of apples with distinctive traits—Zestar!®, SnowSweet®, SweeTango®, and Frostbite™—continue to delight consumers with their unique flavor profiles.
The Zestar!® apple has a well-balanced sweet-tart taste with a hint of brown sugar. It is an unusually crunchy, crisp and juicy early season apple.
SnowSweet® apple trees produce savory, sweet fruit, with a slight tart balance. An added benefit is the snow-white flesh that is very slow to brown when cut and exposed to air.
SweeTango® has quite the "family tree" as a cross between two popular apples—'Honeycrisp' (mom) and Zestar!® (dad)—yet it delivers its own unique flavor plus the satisfying "crunch" of a 'Honeycrisp.'
The Frostbite™ apple tree fits a special niche. It is an extremely cold-hardy tree with small, tropical tasting fruit almost like sugarcane—tangy, very sweet and juicy
SnowSweet® (Wildung variety), Zestar!® (Minnewashta variety), SweeTango® (Minneiska variety), and Rave®/First Kiss® (MN55 cultivar) are registered trademarks of the University of Minnesota. Frostbite™ is a trademark of the University of Minnesota.