Opal apples from Washington are naturally non-browning—but why?
Some people go through a lot of grief to prevent apple slices from browning, but what if there were an apple that didn't turn brown? Turns out magical, non-browning apples without the help of some lemon juice aren't some figment of science fiction food fantasy. Apples that don't brown aren't only real, they've actually been available in American grocery stores since 2010. Called Opal apples, these non-browning apples are a hybrid between a Golden Delicious and the lesser-known Topaz apple. This variety was first created in the Czech Republic in the 1990s, and today, the only place where Opal apples are grown in North America is Broetje Orchards, based in Prescott, WA, on about about 1,000 acres of land for the last seven seasons.
The reason Opal apples don't turn brown is because they have lower levels of the enzyme that causes the flesh of apples to change color when exposed to oxygen. "It’s called polyphenol oxidase," explained Chuck Zeutenhorst, general manager at First Fruits Marketing, the exclusive grower and shipper of Opal apples, in an phone call. That means when an Opal apple is damaged or cut with a knife, the enzyme that causes browning doesn't react to oxygen as quickly or strongly as other varieties might, which keeps the apple flesh looking fresh.
Opal apples aren't the only non-browning apples available in the United States right now, to be fair.There's been so much demand for a non-browning apple that the US Department of Agriculture deregulated apples "genetically engineered to resist browning" in 2015. These non-browning Arctic apples became available to the public for the first time this year, but unlike Opal apples, they're genetically modified to create the same non-browning effect. Opal apples, on the other hand, are non-GMO certified.
Even if you don't mind apples that turn brown, it might be worthwhile tasting an Opal if you can find it. Though an Opal apple is part-Golden Delicious and has a similar, bright vibrant color, it has a pretty different flavor profile. "Overall, we would say sweet and crispy, but it’s got a really floral aroma to it. So before you even bite into it, it smells amazing, and then you bite into it, you’re overwhelmed by the crisp and the sweet. And the backend has got just a slight little bit of tang on it," said Adam Brady, senior marketing manager at Golden Sun Marketing, which represents Opal apples. "I don’t know if you’re a fan of Sour Patch Kids, but it’s almost like that but in reverse. Opal is like the reverse of that. It’s sweet first, and then not sour but a little hint of tang at the end."
And people have really grown to love these apples over the last seven years. As Zeutenhorst explained, the first year, the orchards shipped out "maybe five or ten thousand boxes," but this year, Broetje Orchards plan on moving over a million boxes this year. When exactly these naturally non-browning apples are available shelves depends on Mother Nature, but this year, it's looking like they'll be on grocery store shelves from early November through until June. And fans of the apple are already getting stoked, if enthusiastic Facebook comments are any indication.
If you don't have a chance to try Opals this season, don't worry. "I would also say that as we continue to produce more of this apple, we want this apple not to be viewed as a flash in the pan," explained Zeutenhorst, and the orchard continues to produce more and more apples to keep up with the demand. "This apple will be available twelve months a year, within a year or two. Maybe even by next season." So keep an eye out for this non-browning apple in the produce aisle near you soon, and you can forget about messing around with lemon juice or diluted honey.