It’s lunchtime at your local supermarket and like many people, you head to the convenient grab-and-go aisle. Maybe you want to add fruit to your meal so you pick up a package of pre-sliced apples with a little snowflake sticker. These apples show not a single sign of damage or any brown discoloration marks. It isn’t luck how pristine these apple slices look: this is a new type of GMO technology. This pre-sliced apple may have been sitting on the shelf for a few weeks, and while it may not have turned brown yet, it doesn’t seem quite right to call this apple fresh.
These immaculate-looking apples with the little snowflake symbol are Arctic Apples, and they are created in laboratories using new genetic engineering techniques. Arctic Apples produce less of the enzyme polyphenol oxidase, which ordinarily causes apples to turn brown, either from damage or when they are cut up. For example, while it may appear to be in perfect condition, an Arctic Apple could be damaged when it was harvested and shipped. It should appear brown due to it being on its way to becoming rotten. Want to try juicing it? You may be caught off guard by its distinct, vibrant green juice, which highly contrasts with the traditional golden apple juice color.
Arctic Apple varieties currently on the market include Arctic Golden (in biotech lingo, the cultivar “event” is called GD743) and Arctic Granny (GS784), and Arctic Fuji (NF872). They are dubiously referred to as “value-added” GMOs. However, it doesn’t feel like having imperfections masked is an added value for the consumer. Perhaps the added value is realized more by the seller due to the extended shelf life of these apples that won’t show their age or any obvious discoloration due to bruising.
Arctic apples have been available in supermarkets and online since late 2017, and are a big enough seller that the company creating these GMO apples, Okanagan Specialty Fruits, is tripling their production. Okanagan Specialty Fruits is planning a major expansion into food service territory. That means Arctic Apples may soon be available in institutional settings like school cafeterias, hospitals, prisons, and even sports stadiums. It’s easy to speculate that these GMOs may be a boon to large-scale food service operations, where the goal is to sustain shelf life — and at least the appearance of freshness — for as long as possible.
While it may seem beneficial to have an apple variety that provides less waste due to fewer customers getting scared away due to imperfections, the cost of having GMO apples is not worth the benefit, especially because there are non-GMO alternatives.
If you do want apples that don’t easily brown, Opal apples are a non-GMO variety produced using natural breeding techniques. They are a warm golden color, crunchy in all the right ways, with a balanced flavor profile — not too tart and not too sweet. Opals are picked, packed, and shipped onsite at the family-owned orchard FirstFruits Farms in Washington State. FirstFruits is committed to using sustainable farming methods to produce these delicious hybrids.
At the Non-GMO Project headquarters, we got so excited about this season’s Opals that we had to give them a try. We cut up the apples and let them sit for a couple hours. After resting at room temperature for the better part of an afternoon, they still looked incredibly appetizing with only the slightest hint of natural browning.
There’s an old-school hack to stop apples of almost any kind from spontaneous browning: spritz them with a little pure lemon juice. The citric acid is a natural preservative that chefs use all the time to keep various foods looking their best while making the journey from kitchen to table. Look mom, no genetic engineering!