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MN Fairgoers Get First Bite of "First Kiss"

The University of Minnesota has developed 27 varieties of apples since 1878, including the popular Honeycrisp apple. (UNM)
The University of Minnesota has developed 27 varieties of apples since 1878, including the popular Honeycrisp apple. (UNM)
August 31, 2018

ST. PAUL, Minn. – Minnesota's newest apple debuted at the State Fair this week, with fairgoers more than willing to pay three dollars to taste "First Kiss," the latest apple from the University of Minnesota.

UMN has one of three apple-breeding programs in the country and 20 years ago, created a current superstar among apple lovers, the Honeycrisp. David Bedford is a horticulturist and senior research fellow with the university, and says the effort to create an apple that would survive Minnesota's cold winters started way back in 1878.

"Back in the early days, when the settlers came here and brought apples with them from the East Coast, they ran into Minnesota winters and that did not end well. And so for many years, there were no apples that could be grown here," says Bedford.

Americans eat about 28 pounds of apples annually. In the past 110 years, Minnesota has contributed 27 varieties to keep up with the ever-changing taste buds of apple lovers.

The First Kiss apple can be harvested in mid-to-late August, or four weeks earlier than most Minnesota apples. To create the newest variety, breeders crossed the Honeycrisp with an early-ripening apple from the University of Arkansas.

Bedford says new varieties are developed because apple-lovers' palates continually change. But he adds what kind of apple you prefer – sweet or tart – often depends on where you live.

"What we do see is that, as we get to further northern regions in the hemisphere, the more tolerant they are of tartness,” says Bedford. “And the closer you get to the equator, it seems, the more preference there is for sweetness."

The U.S. is the world's second-largest apple producer, topped only by China. The U.S. Apple Association predicts that the perennial favorite Red Delicious will soon lose its top spot to the Gala apple, with its production up nearly 6 percent this year.

Roz Brown, Public News Service - MN