Imagine biting into a delicious-looking apple but the next time you look at it, the fruit inside has turned all brown. Even though it might look like you’ve stumbled upon Snow White’s apple, this process of enzymatic browning is completely natural. It is caused when the fruit’s phenolic compounds react with the oxygen in the air. This oxidation process is driven by an enzyme called polyphenol oxidase (PPO) that oxidizes the phenols resulting in the formulation of melanin – the protein that is also responsible for the pigmentation of the human hair, eyes and skin.
Nonetheless, statistics show that apples are among the most wasted food products – in the United Kingdom alone 190,000 tonnes are thrown away every year. This is due to the browning that is a significant value issue and a deterrent for freshcut apple products, which are currently the smallest contributor to apple sales despite rising consumer demand for healthy, convenient snacks.
Scientists from the Canadian biotechnology company Okanagan Specialty Fruits have now found a way to suppress the enzyme responsible for the browning by genetically silencing it. This does not completely eliminate the PPO concentration in the apples but limits it to less than 10 percent which is enough to suppress the browning reaction. However, the scientists note that the fruit will still show discoloration from bacterial or fungal infections and rot just like any apple.
The team has called their new non-browning apple Arctic which, however, is not a completely new fruit variety. Rather, the technology is added to transform the already popular Granny Smith, Golden Delicious and Fuji apple types by simply making them brown-free. The bio-engineers note that the the growing preferences of the trees, the taste and the nutrients present in the Arctic-enchanted apples does not differ from their traditional counterparts.
What’s more, users will not be even able to differentiate the Arctic apples from the traditional ones if they are not bruised or damaged in a way. Thus, the team will implement special branding strategy ensuring that the Arctic apples are recognizable.
The company’s team is aware that, being a genetically modified product, the Arctic apple implementation might lead to passionate debates among the public. However, the scientists assure that their apple is “one of the most studied foods of all time” and stress that it took nearly two decades before the Arctic Granny and Arctic Golden were commercially approved by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), in 2015.
Following the green light from the USDA, the Okanagan Specialty Fruits planted the first commercial Arctic apple orchards last year and now the team expects small, test market quantities to be available from the 2016 harvest, followed by commercial launch in 2017.