Who doesn't like apples? Most people have a favorite variety, and they're quick to tell you why. It could be the sweet tartness of a Braeburn or the honey aromatic flavor of the Ambrosia that they love. Or perhaps it's the white flesh and distinct flavor of a fresh New England Macintosh that gets them excited.
But there should be another reason as well: Apples are high in fiber. How high? Well, one medium apple has 5 grams, which is more than a serving of oatmeal, which has 3 grams. Apples are loaded with pectin—a cholesterol-lowering soluble fiber—and are a good source of antioxidants. Apples also contain many minerals and vitamins. That could be where "an apple a day keeps the doctor away" came from.
Another thing most people agree on is that nobody likes a mushy apple. That begs the question: How are we able to have crisp apples year-round when they can be freshly picked for only about three months? In the past, a grower might have kept apples in the root cellar at a cool temperature to help lengthen the season. Today there is an even more sophisticated version in which the ripening process is slowed by keeping apples in large refrigerated rooms at 32 degrees Fahrenheit, with the humidity regulated to a consistent 90 percent to 95 percent, to ensure the apples' crispness, texture and flavor. This has worked well for years and still plays a big part in keeping our apple supply consistent. But the real story is a takeoff on Rip Van Winkle, where apples are sort of put to sleep in the fall and awakened in the spring as if nothing has changed.
Building on the idea of cold storage is a process called controlled atmosphere storage. Apples are put into large rooms and remain in sort of a state of suspended animation, which is accomplished with careful control of temperature, oxygen, carbon dioxide and humidity levels.
Here's how it works: All fruit continues to "breathe" after harvesting. It takes in oxygen and gives off carbon dioxide, which means it ripens. To counteract this, distributors drop the temperature of the airtight storage room and remove the oxygen, replacing it with carbon dioxide. This system has worked well for many years, but recently it's been further improved. Now, mobile units allow the fruit to be shipped on trains or trucks while maintaining this suspended state. So as long as your distributor treats the apples right, they should arrive at your store crisp and sweet. Pretty amazing, huh? Now you can feel like an expert when you are talking about apples with your customers.
Here are a few other things you should know. First, apples that come out of CA storage should be kept in your refrigerated display unless you sell them very quickly. You see, when apples are fresh off the tree they have enough internal pressure to handle being stored at room temperature. But when you take these sleeping beauties out of their boxes, despite feeling firm and fresh, they already are several months old and will lose their pressure much faster. So, you'll need to keep them cool and tell your customers to refrigerate them at home.
Apples, properly handled and stored, can keep for up to three months even at home. But what is proper storage at home? They should be stored in a plastic bag in the refrigerator but kept away from strong-smelling foods like cabbage, because they can absorb that flavor—which could make for a very unpleasant eating experience.
If your customers say they don't like cold fruit or they like the look of apples in a bowl on the table, share this little bit of information with them: Outside the refrigerator, apples ripen 10 times faster, so they shouldn't be kept unrefrigerated for more than 48 hours.
Since you probably won't be able to talk to every customer, I suggest that you put up a sign near your display that tells the CA story and gives the important advice for home storage.
Mark Mulcahy runs Organic Options, an organic education and produce consulting firm. He can be reached at 707.939.8355 or at [email protected].
Natural Foods Merchandiser volume XXVIII/number 1/p. 46