Sunday, October 9, 2011

Honeycrisp vs. Topaz smackdown

Two modern varieties, products of breeding programs rather than chance.



At left towers Honeycrisp, the popular sugar bomb that is taking the market by storm. The much-less-well-known challenger at right is Topaz, David to Honeycrisp's Goliath.

I pit them against each other because both bring outstandingly crisp, juicy flesh--and fundamentally different flavors.

In this match I am no neutral arbiter, having a mild antipathy to Honeycrisp that has only grown with news that Nova Scotia is paying farmers to rip out McIntosh trees to make room for the big new guy. (Apparently a trade war may spread this practice to the U.S.)

Furthermore, I have an agenda: as my Topaz review suggests, I seek nothing less than a champion to carve out a market niche for the less-than-sweet-toothed. With that warning, here's the story.

Honeycrisp is quite large, broad (even blocky) and attractively formed with a slight bit of ribbing. Its blush is streaky red with a slightly orange cast, over yellow green with light lenticels.

Topaz runs from medium to large (if not as big as Honeycrisp), though my sample is on the small end of that range. Also a little ribbed, its shape is less regular (though like Honeycrisp these run a big broad and squat).

Topaz's blush is more saturated and a prettier shade of red, accented by light lenticels. Consumers really value a nice blush, but both are attractive apples.

So, let's check under the hood.

Honeycrisp has yellow flesh, coarse and juicy sweet and, as advertised, very crisp. Topaz is similarly coarse and crisp, and may be a shade lighter yellow. Both hold a lot of juice, but Honeycrisp is juicier.

Topaz has the sharper and more nuanced flavors of the two, more tart with spice and noticeable acidity. Both have a lively crisp juicy texture that seduces the mouth to take another bite.

Unlike some other pairings, neither of these fruits benefits from the presence of the other, or is in any sense an agreeable foil to the other's qualities. Honeycrisp comes off as especially narrow and two-dimensional, a parody of itself.

Topaz, meanwhile, which has some briny mineral notes by itself, presents a distinct shellfish flavor in the wake of each sugary bite of Honeycrisp. I can't say I like that, though it is interesting and unusual (and the shellfish are very clean and fresh). The flavor fades with successive bites, then returns anew after sampling Honeycrisp again.

I suppose there is something admirable about Honeycrisp's amazing consistency, but there is something almost creepy about the way it just ignores other flavors and crushes them, a cheery psychopath high on sugar. Honeycrisp has absolutely nothing to say beyond sugar and crisp.

It is very hard to like either variety under these circumstances, and I think the victory is going to lie in the mouth of the taster. Topaz is undeniably the more interesting, but the clash of flavors in that first bite following Honeycrisp is not winning.

Curious readers may get a truer sense of either apple by tasting them separately, or from my original solo reviews of Honeycrisp and Topaz.

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