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AAFC researcher breeding for better smelling apples

Canadian researchers are exploring whether breeding can be used to get rid of undesirable odours and enhance desirable aromas in apples.

February 26, 2020  By AAFC

Arctic apple.

Fall is a beautiful time of year to wander grocery stores aisles, filled with the smell of freshly picked apples from Canadian orchards.

Smelling apples is part of the job for Charles Forney and his team as they sniff out Canada’s next best-selling apple.

“Whether food is desirable or not usually depends on our senses—mainly, the flavours, aromas, appearance, and textures of the foods we buy”, explains Forney. This is especially true when people choose fresh fruits and vegetables.


The aromas in apples are as complex as those in wine. In studying two popular apple varieties from Canada and the United States, Forney and his team found odours ranging from sweet, fruity, spicy and floral to burnt toast, onion, garlic and even skunk.

Forney, a postharvest physiologist at Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada’s Kentville Research and Development Centre in Nova Scotia, explains that “our team is exploring whether breeding can be used to get rid of undesirable odours and enhance desirable aroma in apples. It’s one thing to identify aromas but it’s another to identify the genes behind them.”

Monitoring gases apples release as they ripen may also help predict how long the fruit will store. Forney and his team recently found a relationship between volatile chemicals released from Ambrosia apples and the likelihood of them developing “soft scald”, an undesirable browning condition.

“The apples release compounds that indicate the fruit will breakdown in storage. We often try to control this by adjusting the temperature at which we store apples, but if we can determine what genes are actually controlling the breakdown and breed them out then we are really off to the races. Apples will be able to last longer in storage and on our shelves.”

Less food waste and tastier apples —an environmentally friendly solution all based on a good nose.

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