Science closing in on number of genes in the apple genome – The Denver Post

The numbers are impressive.

Somewhere near 8,000 varieties of apples now grow all over the globe. Apples grew wild as long back as the genus Homo did, millions of years ago. They are among the most diverse of living things. Science is closing in on the number of genes in the apple genome (around 50,000, versus a mere 25,000 or so for the human).

And yet, at least in the United States, we pretty much narrow our apple buying and eating to a couple dozen varieties, with six or seven (such as the Gala and the ascendant Honeycrisp) of most interest.

Whereas other countries distinguish between cooking apples and eating apples, we tend to conflate the two purposes into the same apple. For instance, you’ll read that the Braeburn is just as good out of hand as it is in a pie. And it pretty much is, but that disallows us from using an even better apple for a pie (a Jonagold, say, or a Cortland) because it won’t be found with surety at the grocer’s.

Most apples have two lives anyway, one when they are young (recently picked); the other, after some time in storage or on the shelf. They’re better eaten out of hand when young; more useful for baking and cooking when older. One of the reasons for the success in the international market for apples is the ability of the Southern and Northern Hemispheres to feed each other what they want in an apple given the grace of flip-flopping seasons.

What we Americans admire most in an apple is sweetness, often overlooking that it is the apple’s level of acidity (or lack of it) that makes that sweetness interesting (or not).

But we are learning that. It took 50 years for the Gala to unseat the Red Delicious as the most purchased apple in the United States. The underlying story there is the eclipsing of an apple with mere sweetness by one with even greater sugar balanced by super-crisp acidity. Electricity (the play of sugar and acid) outdoes the candle wick (sugar alone).

As a food, we attend to the apple mainly as either a treat or a sweet, eating apples raw out of hand, or as a refreshing accompaniment to other foods such as cheese, and baking them into any number of confections or desserts — the iconic American pie, for example. (About a third of all apples harvested in the U.S. become juice, cider, and applesauce.)