When fall rolls around, whether you care more about fantasy football or Pumpkin Spice Lattes, there’s one seasonal symbol that transcends all others: the humble apple. There’s nothing that screams autumn louder than apple picking or apple pie. But within the world of apples, there are dozens of different varieties, each with its own taste and texture. Granny Smith, for example, is known for its intense sourness, while the trademark of Golden Delicious is its mild, honey-like flavor.
“The thing about apples is that there is no one apple that everybody prefers,” says Kate Evans, Chair of Pome Breeding at Washington State University.
This fall, however, there’s a new apple on grocery store shelves, developed by Evans and her team, and it may soon become an all-around favorite contender. It’s called Cosmic Crisp, and it’s out-of-this-world good.
A cross between Honeycrisp and Enterprise, Cosmic Crisp — a deep red apple with flecks of yellow and green — blends crunchy and juicy in a way that gets you the maximum amount of each. The flesh is both tart and sweet. With every bite, there’s a snappy crunch then a juicy slurp. The team at Washington State University’s fruit breeding program, led by Evans, spent 20 years developing this apple. Although Cosmic Crisp first became available in December 2019, it has recently been experiencing a new wave of national success. You can now find the apple at grocery stores across the country.
The team at Washington State University’s fruit breeding program, led by Evans, spent 20 years developing this apple. You can now find the apple at grocery stores across the country.
Commercial orchards have raced to meet consumer demand. In Washington State, growers planted the first 600,000 Cosmic Crisp trees in 2017. Six years later, the state is home to 21 million Cosmic Crisp trees, a growth rate that Evans calls, “pretty phenomenal.”
People are taking notice of the new kid on the block. A magazine even gave the apple an award, citing its size, juiciness, natural slowness to brown, and balance of sweet and tart as reasons why this apple is the best of the best. On the consumer side, Evans says she regularly receives emails from strangers saying things like, “I was a Fuji lover, and I never expected to find an apple that I preferred, but now all I eat is Cosmic Crisp.”
While some may assume that Cosmic Crisp is genetically modified, Evans says it’s “definitely not.” Instead, she and her team like to think about their process as emulating nature. “Folks tend to talk about this apple being 'created or developed in the lab,' which makes it seem like we're wearing white coats and manipulating DNA," Evans says. "In fact, we are mimicking the bee but being a little more precise in terms of which pollen we are transferring to which flower.”
In the case of Cosmic Crisp, the “paternal” parent, Honeycrisp, supplied pollen to the “maternal” parent, Enterprise.
“Apples are really similar to humans in many ways,” Evans says. “That sounds kind of weird, but we are the result of the DNA of both of our parents. With apples, it's exactly the same.”
According to Evans, Cosmic Crisp inherited its “ultra-crisp texture, along with some sweetness” from Honeycrisp. Enterprise passed on its rich red exterior, as well as firmness and a hint of tartness.
“The end goal of the breeding program is to produce new, improved varieties that the consumer wants to eat and wants to keep eating,” Evans says. “The Cosmic Crisp apple fits those consumers who like that sort of crisp, juicy, sweet, tart apple.”
Another defining characteristic of Cosmic Crisp? Longevity.
“We work really hard to select new varieties that will store very well in refrigerated storage and retain their quality characteristics throughout that storage,” Evans says. Typically, after apples are harvested, they’re put into storage for anywhere between three to ten months. During those storage months, the quality of apples often decreases. The skin can oxidize and turn brown, or apples might develop “bitter pit,” a biologic condition that causes dark spots. Neither happens with Cosmic Crisp.
“We don't see the degradation of the fruit quality for eight to 10 months,” says Bernardita Sallato, Tree Fruit Extension Specialist at Washington State University. “We still have a fruit that is very tasty, very firm, it looks good, and it doesn't have that brownness that we have seen in other apple varieties.”
In fact, according to Sallato, Cosmic Crisp gets even better during storage. That’s in part because the crunchy texture remains crunchy as the acidity and sweetness become even more concentrated. This crunchiness is what sets Cosmic Crisp apart and makes these apples the ideal choice for snacking, baking, and everything in between. So this fall, instead of reaching for the same old Red Delicious, bite into a Cosmic Crisp and let your taste buds explode.