Sunday, November 27, 2011

Sweetango (Minneiska) *

No new apple has had the buildup and ballyhoo enjoyed by today's variety. I have been hearing about it for years.

Today we'll learn if Sweetango lives up to its reputation.

Sweetango is breathtakingly beautiful. The glazed red blush of many of the the samples I saw ran strikingly deep and dark on the sunward side, though elsewhere the color is more of a pink wash tinged a bit orange, no doubt from the underlying yellow of the peel.

This lovely apple, on the smaller side of large, has a classic shape with a little ribbing.

Light and distinct lenticels provide some dramatic decoration, and there is some fractal russetting that to my eye only adds to the visual appeal.

Sweetango feels firm and has a nice cidery aroma, not bad for a supermarket apple.

Okay, the moment of truth.

The flesh is a medium-coarse-grained yellow, breaking into delightfully crisp chunks. It is quite sweet but there is enough balancing tart to allow some floral flavors to show along with a clean refreshing character.

This flavor set suggest that of Braeburn or Gala and puts this variety squarely within the pack of modern hard sweet apples that vie for market dominance. Sweetango's crunchy texture is its best asset.

It's hard to see Sweetango as the Honeycrisp-slayer its growers tout, though its flavors are better. Maybe this is the "Honeycrisp" for people who care about taste. (Texture not quite as dramatically good, though.)

If you prefer this to the great sugar bomb I'll bet you'd like some other varieties too; see this guide if you are interested.

Sweetango, whose real name is Minneiska, is a Honeycrisp x Zestar cross, like its parents a product of the University of Minnesota's apple-breeding program. It was unveiled in 2009, the year after Honeycrisp's patent expired.

Maybe this was just the variety that was readiest for release at the time, but in any case the marketing demons have spared no ink positioning this variety as Honeycrisp's more-flavorful heir. A sexy stage name and presto, a star is born!

Despite all that hoopla, Sweetango showed up without fanfare in my supermarket in October, and I've seen bags of smaller ones at Trader Joe's. These might tempt me in February but in early November, as I write this, I've got better apples to munch.
Author John Seabrook loves this apple (and wrote about it this month in the New Yorker). I think he enjoyed better-quality samples, with better texture and flavor.

Maybe Sweetango just doesn't travel well. Many wonderful apple varieties do not. Fragility is only a problem if the growers hope to crack the elite wholesale market, where reliable durability is important.

Unfortunately, thanks to licensing restrictions, no one is allowed to grow Sweetango in New England at all. So my judgment, based on the only examples the Sweetango cartel will let me have, must stand. Live by the apple club, die by the apple club.

Update: Here's a review of some better-quality samples. But don't miss the comments below! People really care about this apple.

5 comments:

  1. Hi Adam,

    Thanks for trying SweeTango! We have been following your blog over the course of the season, and we're glad to see that you were able to snag one of the last SweeTango apples.

    We weren't surprised to hear your thoughts on the texture of the apples, as we're at the end of our season. We hope you'll try SweeTango next fall at the beginning of the season, so you can enjoy the texture and flavor that you have been hearing so much about!

    Thanks again for the support and discussion this season!

    Best,
    The SweeTango Team

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  2. We had some in our grocery store up here in Wisconsin also but I may just wait until next year and try to get one earlier in the season. I would prefer to find some from a local grower also but I have not seen any growers around the Madison area yet. I will keep my eyes open. I love H.C. (the sugar-bomb apple) but not too excited about the Zestars that I have had. But you never know what you're going to get when you mix it up!

    I am all for the club apples if they are managed (grown) in a way that is respectful to the land and if they are truly trying to compete with processed junk (food). My concern would be two-fold: pushing profit/yield and creating more mega-orchards and destroying the smaller diverse growers. My other concern would be with the managed insistence on uniformity of size, color and shape. The commercial grocery industry and we as conusmers have made choices that have eliminated so many great varieties because of percieved flaws. Taking out the cultivars that do not store/ship well, there are still hundreds of varities that don't make it to our stores because of percieved flaws. I would not want that list to get any smaller, although I would rather see a H.C. in the store than a Red or Yellow Delish. Ultimately I think "managed" varieties will lead to greater discovery in the apple world as people look to see where their favorites came from.

    From a marketing standpoint, like it or not, this controlled process is exactly what McFast Food has used for decades. The idea being that you can go have a burger and fries in N.Y. and then step on the plane and 7 hours later have the exact same tasting and looking burger and fries in Seattle. We as humans like what is familiar. How else could the Red Delish still be a favorite grocery apple for so many folks? I only liked the Red Delish and the Granny Smith until I tried something else.

    I think H.C. apples are sweet and tasty but don't forget about the classics! The marketing departments working on these various new club apples may do well to spend time/money on their cultivar's family tree, connecting the great traits of the classics with the benefits/improvements of the new cross.

    All in all, I don't mind the naming of the Minneiska as SweeTango! If it were my product I would have renamed it also! Look forward to trying one.

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  3. "Next Big Thing" (above) is the name of the apple club that holds all the licenses to Sweetango. Congratulations! And thanks for giving us a new apple.

    I share your wish that I find fresher examples of this variety next season.

    I hope it is not churlish of me to point out that whether I am able to do so is largely up to you, Next Best Thing.

    Your licensing restrictions and distribution contracts determine how available this variety is to consumers like me, (and how fresh, and in what condition).

    There are currently no orchards licensed to grow Sweetango anywhere in New England.

    Meantime I am grateful to commenters like Matt and others, both here and in the comments to my Honeycrisp review.

    They are able to sing the praises of this variety based on their direct experiences with fresh Sweetangos of the very best quality.

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  4. Personally, I like the flavor better than Honeycrisp, but I wasn't totally bowled over by its sweetness either. I don't really think it kills Honeycrisp, at least until more inferior grown crops of Honeycrisps start showing up in a few years.

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  5. Having my own apple tree collection, I was happy to pay a high price fo 6 Sweet Tango apples at Sam's Club in Augusta, Maine. Boy did I throw away $8.00 for some tasteless apples. The apples were over ripe, mealy,and left a bad after taste in your mouth! Shame on the U of Minn. for using public money to create this apple and then only let a select few growers grow this variety. I will never purchase this or any other controlled variety that is not grown locally. I can see this variety and others going no where with this marketing model.

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