WENATCHEE — A lottery for the first sales of a new apple variety bred specifically for Eastern Washington is scheduled for Friday.
The new Cosmic Crisp variety (formerly WA 38) has been in development for about 15 years, said Kate Evans, the Washington State University (WSU) scientist in charge of the apple-breeding program. “It has a lot of the characteristics that will please consumers. And we can also produce it very efficiently here,” said Jim McFerson, manager of the Washington Tree Fruit Research Commission.
Cosmic Crisp was propagated from the Honeycrisp and was first bred in 1997. Growers can start planting the trees this summer, and the apple should be readily available in stores by 2019, WSU officials said.
The breeding program was started in 1994 to help growers find varieties that work in Eastern Washington and are appealing to consumers, Evans said. “And that growers have access to,” she said. New apple varieties have emerged but in some cases access is restricted, she said.
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There’s also a development program for sweet cherries, McFerson said. The idea is to provide growers with options that fit the varying conditions in Eastern Washington, he said, as well as offering more options for consumers.
Current apple varieties, from the classic Red Delicious to the relatively new (and very popular) Honeycrisp, were all developed for other parts of the world and thus other weather conditions, McFerson said. Growers have adapted them successfully to Washington, he said, but research in the business is heading in a different direction.
“Developed in Washington for Washington growers,” McFerson said.
In tests, consumers liked Cosmic Crisp’s juiciness, and it starts and stays crispy, he said. People like its “sweet, tangy” flavor, Evans said. “You just get a really good eating experience. Really crisp, firm and juicy.”
Cosmic Crisp test trees have been grown all around the eastern part of the state, McFerson said, from the Tri-Cities to Quincy and Royal Slope to Okanogan County. It’s more resistant to sunburn and is a consistent producer, he said. It’s also more resistant to pests, Evans said.
And it stores well, she said. Part of the WSU research included a taste test with Cosmic Crisp and Honeycrisp in October, December and March, Evans said. While consumers like both varieties about equally in October and December, by March there’s a clear preference for Cosmic Crisp, she said.
The grower-supported Washington Tree Fruit Research Commission is working with WSU to produce more new varieties, McFerson said.
Evans said more new varieties are coming, but it will be a while. “There are apples at every stage (of development),” she said, but it takes about 15 to 18 years to develop and test a new variety.