Apple Appeal

Researchers Devise Ways to Make Fruit Red and Delicious
By Samantha Watters | Photo illustration by Stephanie S. Cordle

Mid-atlantic apple growers face a dilemma: Leave fruit on the tree to develop a beautiful (and marketable) red color, or harvest early to maximize flavor and texture and prevent spoilage—but be left with a load of ugly apples that don’t meet industry standards.

“The 50% to 60% of red skin color is difficult to achieve in the mid-Atlantic region because of our weather conditions,” says Macarena Farcuh, assistant professor in the Department of Plant Science and Landscape Architecture and a University of Maryland Extension specialist.

Now, thanks to a pair of UMD studies, farmers might not have to choose between looks and taste for much longer. In one, the National Institute of Food and Agriculture recently awarded Farcuh $300,000 to study using UV radiation to enhance beauty and safety for stored apples.

Lengthy refrigeration introduces potential hazards, says Rohan Tikekar, associate professor in the Department of Nutrition and Food Science and an Extension specialist.

“UV radiation is already what causes many of the pigments you see in fruits as a mechanism to protect the cellular machinery from the stress of light,” he says. “The idea is that UV radiation will then not only improve color, but will also kill listeria on the surface of apples.”

It should also bump up antioxidant content of the fruit, Farcuh adds.

In a second project supported by the Maryland Department of Agriculture, she will examine the effectiveness of a reflective ground to ensure the apples get as much UV light as possible before harvest.


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