Honeycrisp admirers describe the popular variety as being sweet, juicy, and crunchy.

Honeycrisp admirers describe the popular variety as being sweet, juicy, and crunchy.

Honeycrisp apples have delighted consumers with their taste and growers with their high returns. The unmanaged variety, released in the early 1990s, has proven that consumers will pay more for an apple they like. But what is it specifically that they like about Honeycrisp?

“What’s the deal with Honeycrisp? Everything,” said Dr. Carolyn Ross, food science professor and manager of Washington State University’s Sensory Evaluation Unit.

Ross works closely with WSU’s cherry and apple breeding programs, using trained sensory panelists and consumers to map consumer preferences and identify the drivers of consumer acceptance of fruit (sweetness, color, size, juiciness, firmness, and such). Breeders can then use the sensory attribute information in their work to make selections that have consumer appeal and acceptance.

For example, her evaluations have shown that for cherries, color is the most important trait to the consumer, followed by shape and size, and that flavor and juiciness are more important than firmness.

For apples, consumers fall into two groups—those that like apples sweet and hard and those who prefer juicy and acidic apples. Firmness and sweetness are the strongest predictors of overall acceptance, followed by sourness and juiciness. Trained panelists rated Fuji the highest for sweetness and Granny Smith as the lowest, not ­surprisingly, as Grannies are tart apples.

When panelists compared Honeycrisp and Gala apples, she found that they liked everything about ­Honeycrisp. “It wasn’t just the texture. There was not any one thing that they liked best—they really liked the flavor, crispness—everything about the variety.”

Ross shared her information during the Washington State Horticultural Association’s annual meeting in December.