Despite an early and unjust reputation as the forbidden fruit, apples have been an integral part of a healthy diet for thousands of years. Burdened with the task of keeping the doctor away, most would agree that a delicious apple is the quintessential snack for health conscious eaters. Healthful, crisp and juicy, this fruit has it all, doesn’t it? Or, at least, it did. If you think you’re the only one who’s noticed that our once reliably firm and flavorful friend has been a little different lately, you’re not alone. In fact, taking that first bite of what is supposed to be a tasty, crispy apple is sometimes nothing more than a big mouthful of mushy, mealy disappointment. Just what is to blame for this change in our much revered fruit, you ask?
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Well, according to Japanese researchers, the sinister culprit is, unsurprisingly, climate change.
Following a four-decade long study (from 1970 to 2010), fruit-tree specialist, Toshihiko Sugiura of the National Agriculture and Food Research Organization, and his colleagues have discovered that apples have undeniably fallen victim to the affects of rising temperatures caused by climate change.
The study, published in various reports, focused on evaluating the blooming periods of two different Japanese orchards (Fuji and Tsugaru) in the Nagano and Aomori prefectures. The typical blooming time of these varieties is March through April. However, the study found that the increase in temperatures (between half and two-thirds of a degree) in these regions has affected the bud breaking and bloom times.
Due to this early bud breaking and blooming bought on by rapid climate change (nearly one to 2.3 days per decade during the study period), both apple varieties had distinct changes in texture, taste and consistency.
Five maturation indexes (calendar date, number of days after full bloom, blush rating, ground colour rating and starch concentration rating) are used to judge mean and temporal changes in taste and textural attributes. Sugiura’s study showed a decreased acid concentration, firmness and watercore rating levels and an increase in the soluble solid levels, conclusively affecting the structural composition of the popular fruit.
“These results suggest that the taste and textural attributes of apples in the market are undergoing change from a long-term perspective, even though consumers might not perceive these subtle changes,” the researchers wrote. “If global warming continues to progress, the changes in the taste and textural attributes of apples could be more striking as blooming dates become even earlier and temperatures increase during the fruit maturation period.”
Similar global warming studies and results have been found for wine grapes and pears, among other fruits and crops. In fact, researchers worldwide are reporting similar outcomes from studies involving pistachios, walnuts, plums, peaches, and cherries, which depend on a cold winter to keep trees dormant as a way to protect themselves from freezing. Due to increasing temperatures and milder winters around the world, trees are not able to properly break dormancy and flower as they should.
The result is not only a lack in overall quality and consistency of our crops that leave us with mushy apples, but also drastically lower crop yields for farmers. And, by the way, the American fruit and nut industry is responsible for about $93 billion in annual income. So, yeah, how `bout them apples?