Arctic Snow, patented by Zaiger Genetics and sold by Dave Wilson Nursery, ripens late August to early September. The fruit is freestone, sweet, low acid, with 50 to 60 percent red blush skin color over lime white. It’s said to be a heavy producer and excellent shipper.
The story of Arctic Snow is more about a planting trend that swept through California and other states to energize the stone fruit industry than it is about an individual variety. Arctic Snow was among the first of many white-fleshed nectarines bred by Floyd Zaiger that helped fuel the modern-day white-fleshed fruit trend.
Arctic Snow, released in 1992, was a popular late-season fruit that in its heyday led in tree sales for white-fleshed nectarines. From 1999 to 2002, more than 41,000 trees of Arctic Snow were sold, according to California nursery tree sale statistics compiled by the California Tree Fruit Agreement. About 30 percent of the total California nursery nectarine tree sales in that time period were white-fleshed, subacid fruit.
The Modesto, California, fruit breeder and founder of Zaiger Genetics, Inc., wasn’t the first to breed white-fleshed nectarines or peaches. Some of the first nectarine varieties from Asia are reported to have been white-fleshed, and the Babcock peach, bred at the University of California’s Citrus Experiment Station in Whittier by E.B. Babcock and released in 1933, was white-fleshed,
but bruised easily.
But Zaiger, noted for his quickness in recognizing trends, was ahead of other U.S. fruit breeders when it came to white-fleshed fruit. Good Fruit Grower talked about Zaiger’s interest in white-fleshed fruit with his daughter Leith Gardner, now general manager of the family fruit-breeding business. Her father, in his mid-80s and still active, has turned Zaiger Genetics over to Gardner and her brothers Gary and Grant.
White flesh in Europe
Gardner said that in 1968, during a European trip to meet with fruit growers and nurseries, her father noticed that white-fleshed peach and nectarine varieties were selling in France for twice the price of standard yellow varieties. On his return home, he restarted some of his earlier white-fleshed breeding work that had been stopped because of lack of grower interest and began developing white-fleshed varieties for Europe.
Gardner said that it took her father several generations of peach and nectarine crossings to develop Arctic Snow. Seedling parents of the white-fleshed nectarine include Sun Grand nectarine and Merrill Gem peach. Pollen ancestry goes back to the Redwing peach and a few unnamed nectarines. Zaiger named all of his white-fleshed nectarines with Arctic as the first name; white-fleshed peaches were given Snow as the first name.
Pacific Rim exports
In the 1990s, when Pacific Rim countries were opened for U.S. exports, California growers became interested in the white-fleshed stone fruit, Gardner said. Asian consumers liked different flavor profiles than Americans, preferring a higher sugar-to-acid ratio. Although breeders have now developed a wide range of acid levels in all types of peaches and nectarines, the mainstream yellow-fleshed peaches and nectarines back then were higher in titratable acidity than the subacid whites and had tangier flavor than the white-fleshed fruits.
As export markets in Taiwan, Singapore, Hong Kong, and other Asian countries expanded in the 1990s, white-fleshed peaches and nectarines became the hot selections to plant in California, stated Terry Bacon, director of variety development at Sun World, Bakersfield, California, in a stone fruit report he authored.
Zaiger, who had been developing white-fleshed varieties for Europe for more than 20 years, was ahead of other breeding programs, Bacon wrote in his report California Peach and Nectarine Trends, 1982-2002. Other breeders accelerated their programs and jumped on the white-fleshed bandwagon, releasing selections that covered early, mid-, and late-season timing.
“Excess white-fleshed fruit began to appear in domestic grocery stores as a niche product by 2000, and consumer acceptance has grown steadily,” stated Bacon, adding that in 2002, California stone fruit producers shipped around 8.5 million boxes of white-fleshed peaches and nectarines out of total peach and nectarine shipments of 45 million boxes.
Today, Arctic Snow is still listed on variety charts, though it doesn’t hold the prominence it once did. The last year posting quantity sales of Arctic Snow, other than replants, was in 2005, reports Robert Woolley of Dave Wilson Nursery.
“Interest in white-fleshed peaches and nectarines has diminished with the overall reduction in demand from Asian markets, particularly Taiwan, for California stone fruit, except for cherries,” Woolley said. “Domestic producers are now asking for yellow-fleshed varieties with medium to high acid flavor in both peaches and nectarines.”
SOURCES: Terry Bacon’s California Peach and Nectarine Trends, 1982-2002, Dave Wilson Nursery (www.davewilson.com), and The Peach, edited by Desmond Layne and Daniele Bassi.