The low­down

Food di­rec­tor Ja­nine Rat­cliffe on why we should be cham­pi­oning home­grown va­ri­eties


Why we should be cham­pi­oning home­grown ap­ples

What’s the deal with Bri­tish ap­ples?

At the mo­ment, 40% of the ap­ples we Brits eat are from na­tive or­chards. That’s quite a climb from 10 years ago, when the level was 28-30%, and it’s hoped that in an­other decade it will be as high as 60%. To try to boost the num­bers, grow­ers are con­stantly look­ing into new tech­nolo­gies for both cul­ti­vat­ing and stor­ing ap­ples, so that the sea­son lasts longer.

But grow­ing ap­ples is no easy busi­ness. Each one sold com­mer­cially has to be se­lected and picked by hand at op­ti­mum ripeness and qual­ity. There’s no way such a process can be au­to­mated, so the in­dus­try re­lies on thou­sands of ex­tra har­vest­ing hands ev­ery sea­son.

His­tor­i­cally, ap­ples have been stored in a cold en­vi­ron­ment – although these days the tech­nol­ogy is far more ad­vanced than that. Ap­ples are es­sen­tially kept in a chilled, low-oxy­gen, low-car­bon diox­ide, ni­tro­gen­rich at­mos­phere, which means they go into ‘sta­sis’, with no loss of qual­ity. In fact, some ap­ples thrive in this en­vi­ron­ment, of­ten de­vel­op­ing a sweeter taste as the sug­ars are con­verted.

Why can’t I buy Bri­tish all year?

From Septem­ber on­wards there are plenty of Bri­tish-grown ap­ples to go around, but be­cause the ap­ple sea­son ef­fec­tively ends in May, it’s hard to find them in sum­mer. Also, our un­pre­dictable weather means that crops are a lot more vul­ner­a­ble. A frost in 2017 se­verely dam­aged the Bri­tish ap­ple crop that year but, con­versely, the hot sum­mer of 2018 has seen a lot of va­ri­eties thrive.

Are new va­ri­eties on the way?

Yes. Grow­ers are tri­alling new types of ap­ple all the time (the test pe­riod is ap­prox­i­mately four years, so it’s not a quick process). The aim is to de­velop ap­ples that re­spond well to the UK’s cli­mate, have a long sea­son and sat­isfy what con­sumers are ask­ing for. This in­volves in­tro­duc­ing va­ri­eties from dif­fer­ent coun­tries, as well as de­vel­op­ing hy­brids.

What are the su­per­mar­kets do­ing to help?

Dur­ing ap­ple sea­son, most su­per­mar­kets will run pro­mo­tions on Bri­tish ap­ples (look for Union Jack la­bels). As well as spe­cific va­ri­eties, you’ll also find bags of gener­i­cally la­belled ap­ples – such as ‘red dessert ap­ples’. The ap­ples in these bags will vary week to week de­pend­ing on what’s avail­able, but the su­per­mar­ket is re­quired to put the par­tic­u­lar va­ri­ety on the la­bel, so you’ll know what you’re eat­ing and can there­fore look out for it again if you like it.

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