University researchers release new ‘crisp’ and ‘juicy’ apple

Researchers spent 17 years developing the Rave apple.

Helen Sabrowsky

The nationally renowned University of Minnesota apple growing program released a new apple this year: the Rave. 

Nearly 20 years in the making, this apple is the fastest ever developed by University researchers in the program’s 100-year history. The fruit, described by some as juicy and tart, will be more widely available next year. 

The apple is a cross of the popular Honeycrisp — another University creation —  and the MonArk, an unreleased variety, said Brianna Shales, a representative from Washington orchard Stemilt Growers, the only orchard licensed to grow and sell Rave apples in North America.

This marks the University apple breeding program’s 27th release, said James Luby, a University horticultural science professor and apple breeder.

The apple is crisp and juicy, Shales said, adding it is more tart than other Honeycrisp crosses. Fully ripe in late July, the fruit is ready to pick about two weeks earlier than other early-season apples, which gives it a competitive advantage, she said.

But consumers may have to wait another year to try the apple. Since this is the first year these apples — grown under the name First Kiss in Minnesota, and Rave in other states — are produced commercially, there is a limited supply, Bedford said. 

Employees at Stemilt orchard hope to have Rave apples available nationwide next year.

Since its launch in 1908, the University’s apple breeding program has expanded its focus from producing cold-hardy apples to breeding quality fruit for national consumption, said David Bedford, a University apple breeder and horticulture professor.

The release of the Honeycrisp apple in 1991 marked a turning point for the program and “set a pretty high bar” for future apples, Bedford said.

Each year, University researchers breed between 2,000 and 3,000 apple trees. Of those, about 10 are selected to go through rigorous tests, like surviving harsh winter conditions and disease exposure, designed to check for hardiness, he said. 

Bedford said he tells his team members they aren’t just looking for great apples, they’re looking for apples that “make them say, ‘wow’” after just one bite. 

Researchers breed apples for 20 specific characteristics but place the most emphasis on taste and texture to achieve a crisp fruit, Bedford said. The whole process usually takes between 20 and 30 years, he said. 

But the time and effort of apple breeding is worthwhile. Bedford is always “proud to have a new [apple] variety,” he said.