'Managed' Apple Creates A Buzz

Melissa Block talks with John Seabrook, staff writer at The New Yorker. His latest article, "Crunch," delves into the world of the SweeTango — a new hybrid apple that is part Honeycrisp, part Zestar. It's sweet and tangy. There's a hint of cinnamon, a hint of pineapple and a whole lot of crunch.

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MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

Now, something completely unfair, something sure to make your mouth water. Listen to this description of a rising star in the apple world, an apple called SweeTango.

JOHN SEABROOK: SweeTango has much larger cells than other apples and, when you bite into it, the cells shatter rather than cleaving along the cell walls, as is the case with most popular apples. The bursting of the cells fills your mouth with juice. Chunks of SweeTango snap off in your mouth with a loud cracking sound. Although a crisp texture is the single-most prized quality in an apple, even more desirable than taste, according to one study, crispness is more a matter of acoustics than mouth feel. Vibrations pass along the lower jaw and set the cochlea trembling.

BLOCK: That's The New Yorker writer, John Seabrook, reading from his article titled "Crunch" in this week's food issue. And John Seabrook, you're describing this apple, really, almost like a starlet. You describe her sunburned shoulders and her freckles. Born in Minnesota, this apple?

SEABROOK: She's born in Minnesota, bred in Minnesota. Her mother is the Honey Crisp, which a lot of people know and love. And her father is an apple called the Zestar, which is also around, but people don't know it quite as well.

BLOCK: So that's the parentage right there.

SEABROOK: Right.

BLOCK: SweeTango has her - it's hard not to think of it as a her - has her own Twitter feed and her own Facebook page?

SEABROOK: She's a very modern apple. As I said in the article, she's more like the apple on my laptop than the apple I used to carry in my lunchbox.

BLOCK: When you describe the sound of biting into this apple, you write that it's like hearing with your mouth or tasting music. What about the taste? What does SweeTango taste like?

SEABROOK: Well, it is sweet, like Honey Crisp, but it also has this great sort of lemony finish, almost a tropical taste, that I think cuts the sweetness and really makes it just very memorable. And the flesh of it is also very crisp and it's got a kind of a powdery texture to it, which I think tastes really nice and clean and just really a delightful experience eating one.

BLOCK: Okay. Now, apart from the qualities that make this apple remarkable, your story is also a business story because SweeTango has a trademark. It's what's called a managed apple. Why don't you explain what that means?

SEABROOK: Well, as most people who shop for apples have probably observed, in the last 10 years or so, a lot of new varieties have come into the supermarkets with names like Pink Lady, Gala, Jazz.

SweeTango is kind of the next of those modern apples that are all trademarked. They also all are patented, of course. Growers have to pay the university, in this case, for a license to grow the tree and they're trademarked, so they also have to pay a royalty on the number of apples that they sell.

BLOCK: I'd never thought about the business of apples in quite this way. The university here is the University of Minnesota, which has a very active apple breeding program, and they have set up a consortium, right, to market and...

SEABROOK: Right. So the deal is that the Honey Crisp apple was released in an open release and that meant that anybody who wanted to could grow it, anywhere they wanted to grow it, in any way they wanted to grow it. And that meant that the quality of the Honey Crisp varied widely.

So with the new apple, with the SweeTango, the university decided they were going to manage the release and that meant that, in order to grow the apple, you have to be granted the right to grow it by this consortium. And if they don't like where you're growing it or who you are or what your track record is, they won't give you that license.

Also, it means that you can't sell your apples to a supermarket. You have to sell them to the consortium and they do the marketing. Overall, it's an attempt to control the quality of the apple and ensure the long term longevity of the brands.

BLOCK: You know, we wanted to find some SweeTangos to taste for ourselves, but we are out of luck. I guess the season's over. We're going to wait 'til next year.

SEABROOK: The season's over and that's kind of a - I mean, it's too bad for you, but it's kind of a cool thing. It's like the old days. You know, you get it when it's in the stores and when the season's over, you've just got to wait 'til next year.

BLOCK: That's John Seabrook. His article about the SweeTango apple in this week's New Yorker magazine is titled "Crunch." John, thanks very much.

SEABROOK: Thanks, Melissa.

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