A rose by any other name might smell as sweet, but when it comes to Honeycrisp apples, they pretty much nailed it on the first try.
This vivacious varietal delivers exactly what its name promises: Big, sweet flavors, and a pop that won’t quit. And people can’t help but fall prey to its siren song.
Where Do Honeycrisp Apples Come From
But it almost never happened at all.
That’s right, Honeycrisp apples are one of the world’s happiest accidents on record, and we all have a curious—and stubborn—breeder named David Bedford to thank for it.
A member of the University of Minnesota’s renowned horticulture program, David was involved in a novel project there in the late 1970s. Apples are bred for a number of reasons—indeed, with more than 7,500 varieties on the books, there are more reasons than non-reasons they’ve come into this world—but perhaps some of the lowest priorities on growers’ lists are taste and texture.
More often than not, fruits are bred with an eye toward hardiness, thicker skins that make shipping easier or more disease resistance. But David’s group at UM thought different. They wanted to breed an apple just to make it taste good.
And with the Honeycrisp, they succeeded beyond their wildest dreams. There was only one problem: The fruit was extra-finicky when it came to weather. That made the trees particularly prone to the winter chill and, as the project also called for growers to come up with a cold-resistant breed, the scientists began to think twice about their creation, no matter how tasty it turned out.
It wasn’t until Bedford happen to wander into the kitchen that the Honeycrisp’s fate was changed. He noticed the only four specimen left that hadn’t been chucked in the trash and decided to see what would happen if he planted the shoots. Sure enough, they bred the glorious fruit we know today. And after a bit more tinkering to secure the fruits through colder weather, Honeycrisp apples really hit their stride.
What Do Honeycrisp Apples Taste Like
Providing the biggest burst of wind behind their sails is the apple’s storied flavor. When those scientists set out to create a tastier apple, they weren’t messing around!
Honeycrisp apples are renowned in apple-loving circles for nearly every facet of their flavor. They’re juicy and provide a wonderful, snapping crunch that fills the mouth with a perfect balance of sweetness, tartness and acidity. To boot, the fruits are exceptionally large for the most part, giving apple lovers even more bang for their buck.
And that’s quite a lot. Since they’ve hit the market, Honeycrisp apples have proven so popular that grocery stores have been able to get away with charging as much as three-times as much as other apple varieties for the stand-out cultivars.
Production of the apple has also shot up, with Honeycrisp apples representing the fifth-most grown variety of apple in the U.S. as of 2018.
But humans aren’t the only ones that find the taste of Honeycrisp apples irresistible. The variety is a particular favorite among birds—moreso than other apple cultivars, according to horticulturalists—and so orchardists brave enough to take on the task often find themselves installing nets and other contraptions to keep the winged competition at bay.
Culinary Uses for Honeycrisp Apples
Of course, the preferred way for most people to eat this little drop of perfection is raw. Honeycrisp apples perhaps epitomize the idea of apple as a snack, and surely taste good enough to make even picky eaters eager to keep the doctor away.
But there’s even more good news: The cultivar is nearly as easy to cook with as it is to eat. Honeycrisps are completely versatile in the kitchen, with their distinct juiciness making them exceptional apples for juicing, and their sheer size and heft making them great for the freezer, where they can happily hang out for up to seven months.
As if that weren’t enough, Honeycrisp apples are also exceptional for baking. Their size makes even one apple enough for most recipes, while their hardy flesh stands up well to high heats, holding on to that sensational sweetness all the time.
If you’re after a Honeycrisp pie, however, you’ll have to be quick on your feet.
How to Pick the Perfect Honeycrisp Apple
That’s because the varietals aren’t exactly in season long.
Despite their freeze factor, Honeycrisps bruise easily and can lose their famous flavor relatively quickly, so they aren’t often shipped too far, even in spite of their perpetually high demand. (They are, however, grown all around the U.S., especially in Washington State, New York State, and Minnesota.)
Further adding to their elusive lure is the fruit’s relatively short harvest season, with a window that occurs just between mid-September and early October.
Still, if you’re lucky enough to come across some Honeycrisps in the produce aisle or at the farmer’s market, there are a few signs to check for ultimate ripeness. Make sure the fruits aren’t bruised or otherwise dinged up. And to get the best flavor, pay attention to color. Rather than registering as yellow, the lightest parts of the apple should maintain some green tint to them.
Overall, though, we here at Fruit Stand tend to think if you’re lucky enough to find a Honeycrisp apple, you’re lucky enough.