Apr. 24, 2013 - Neal Carter knew he was on to something when he noticed that apples were not a large part of the foodservice industry when compared to other snack foods. He asked himself why, and thought that because apples turn brown when cut, consumers preferred snack foods like baby carrots, that stayed looking fresh longer.
"We thought that if we could cut apples and put them in a bag, we could compete with baby carrots – but the apples would always turn brown," says Carter, president of Okanagan Specialty Fruits (OSF), an agriculture biotechnology company in Summerland, B.C.
Carter founded OSF 17 years ago and has been working on solving that problem ever since, but may have finally figured it out thanks to a process entitled "gene silencing." These new types of apples, known as Arctic Apples, have won the 2013Golden Leaf Award from BIOTECanada for innovation in developing a new product.
"There's potential with what we're doing to create jobs and work for Canada," says Carter. "Winning the award lets me know that we are on the right track."
Arctic Apples are not the first apples on the market to boast reduced browning, they are the first that claim to never undergo enzymatic browning. "It's all-or-nothing," he adds. "Ours is all."
Enzymatic browning can occur very quickly once an apple has been cut and left out, and is what turns many people away from apples. The reaction is caused by the enzyme polyphenol oxidase (PPO). When bruising, biting or cutting ruptures an apple's cells, the browning process begins when the PPO in one part of the cell quickly reacts with compounds in other parts of the cell, causing the flesh to brown.
OSF claims that the new Arctic Apples prevent enzymatic browning, not bacterial or fungal. "A rotten fruit is still a rotten fruit," says Carter. "Bacteria have its own separate enzymes that we are not dealing with."
Carter says that the apples grow the same, flower identically and react to pests and diseases the same way any apple would. "They are exactly identical to the parent apple until you slice them open and see that they don't brown," he says.
Currently the only kinds of Arctic Apples the OSF has developed are the Arctic Granny and Arctic Golden – but they are currently in the process of developing Gala and Fuji varieties.
There is some concern about adding another genetically modified food to the market, but it doesn't discourage Carter and his team. "Like any genetically modified food being introduced there is bound to be some controversy," says Carter. "We like to think that what we've done is quite inoffensive, it's in every way still an apple, the same apple that consumers have always enjoyed, it just doesn't brown."
Although the OSF is still waiting on the regulatory approval process to be completed before Arctic Apples make it to grocery stores, Carter is hopeful to have the regulatory process approved in the U.S. by this fall and Canada by the end of the year. In the meantime, OSF is continuing similar studies for preserving cherries and peaches.
BIOTECanada presented the Golden Leaf Award to the OSF at the 2013 BIO International Convention in Chicago, Illinois on April 23, 2013.
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