Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Opal: The Jewel of a Washington Orchard

I've eaten apples called "Opalescent" and they're not only tasty (crunchy and sweet with a touch of tartness) but beautiful to look at. Now a recent introduction from the Czech Republic, which has been growing in Washington State, the Opal, is poised to make one orchard very special, possibly wealthy. The Broetje Orchards have been selling the Opal apples locally and are looking to gain exclusive rights to market it in Washington. Consumers have been willing to pay almost an extra dollar a pound for these beauties. Word of mouth has spread about this delicious apple and in recent months the Opal has also been sampled at Whole Foods markets in Michigan.

Unlike the Opalescent, which is green flushed with red and pink, the Opal is a bright yellow color. It's said to have a very complex flavor, even drawing comparisons to wine. It's a cross between a Golden Delicious (itself a surprise discovery that proved very popular) and a Topaz.

Washington apple growers have been diligently introducing newer varieties to the local markets, some of which have been seen in the Northeast, like Jazz, Pacific Rose and the popular (and premium-priced) Honeycrisp. The Honeycrisp, according to this article, commands high prices not just because it's delicious, but because it requires special care while growing. Honeycrisps are available more widely now, but some Washington growers want to be able to grow and sell varieties unique to them, and new licensing laws are making that possible.

Given the growing interest in reviving heirloom apples, it's exciting to see the same interest aimed at developing new varieties. Whether through discovery (the Granny Smith was found randomly in a New Zealand orchard) or breeding, the introduction of "different" apples is definitely having an impact on the worldwide marketplace.

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