University’s latest apple, Zestar, hits supermarkets

Vincent Staupe

Move over, Granny Smith. There’s a new apple on the block that’s proving to be a hit among apple lovers.

The Zestar apple – a University creation 34 years in the making – finally is in supermarkets. University horticulturalists describe it as having a tart taste with a hint of brown sugar flavor.

Jim Luby, a University horticultural science professor and co-creator of Zestar, said, “It’s a sweet and tart flavor, a really zesty, sparkly kind of apple.”

The initial cross between what became the parents of the Zestar variety occurred in 1972, when University researchers crossed the State Fair variety with the Minnesota 1691 breed.

The seedling from the two varieties didn’t bear fruit until 15 years after the initial cross, Luby said.

Once the tree yielded fruit and researchers realized they were on to something, they cloned the original tree through a grafting procedure. This process demanded more growing time, but allowed researchers to observe how

the tree handles climatic variations – a critical factor for the tree to survive Minnesota winters.

The grafted trees produced fruit by the early 1990s and the apple received the approval of volunteer taste testers. The testers remarked about the apple’s texture, juiciness and flavor, Luby said.

“The Zestar would often beat the Honeycrisp (variety) in these early taste tests,” he said.

The Zestar also ripens earlier than other varieties and stays in better condition longer, Luby said.

“It’s a very nice apple,” said Steven McKay, an applied plant sciences graduate student. “It’s sweet and flavorful, but not bland.”

The Zestar even has swayed die-hard fans of Honeycrisp apples – another University apple, which has generated nearly $4 million in for the University over the past 15 years, said Bruce Erickson, communications director for the Vice President for Research Office.

The University doesn’t yet know how much money Zestar will yield, but it won’t be as much as Honeycrisp, Erickson said.

Deborah Morse-Kahn, the Regional Research Associates director and a self-professed expert on apple culture, said she was hooked after the first bite of Zestar.

“I like them better than the Honeycrisp,” Morse-Kahn said. “And I have been eating nothing but Honeycrisp for the past five years.”

Luby said Zestar is yet another in a long line of apples created by the University for local producers to grow and local buyers to enjoy.

“Around 80 percent of apple trees in Minnesota are from University varieties,” he said adding that this is something the University should be proud of. “These apples are a little bit of the University right in your refrigerator.”