Friday, November 16, 2012

Sweetango (Sweet Tango, Minneiska) **

Sweetango's fame exceeds its availability, but I've finally got some promising examples.

This medium-sized apple is conical and slightly ribbed. The blush can be stunning, red saturated in streaks and tinged with orange. On some samples this darkens to whole solid sections.

Large brown lenticels are prominent on the glossy peel. The apple is firm to the squeeze and has a sweet cider-laced aroma.

What does it do in your mouth?

Crisp juicy coarse yellow flesh bursts with an exceptional crunch. Sweetango also provokes a peculiar lingering physical sensation, as if something dry were coating my tongue.

Think of it as a kind of astringency, as there is nothing dry about this apple. (It's not super juicy, though, just regular juicy.)

Flavors are sweet but well balanced by some generically citric tartness, with faint hints of malt and maple, honey and spice. There is sweet raw carrot in the aftertaste.

You have to hunt for these blended flavors, but the good news is that they harmonize very well.

At last, a decent Sweetango example. Now I can honestly praise this apple as an advanced example of the breeder's art, bearing interesting if subtle flavors. The texture is great.

There can be considerable variation in physical appearance. Some Sweetangos are elongated and some have an intense saturated blush that is almost jewel-like. Others I have found are big and round and wear a more subdued hue.

Sweetango, a Honeycrisp x Zestar cross, is the latest blockbuster apple from the University of Minnesota's apple-breeding program.

Both parents are also UMinn grads. Sweetango was launched into the marketplace when Honeycrisp's patent expired.

Honeycrisp's child is really not much like its famous parent, though each boasts an impressive crunch. It is a so-called club apple, tightly controlled by a consortium of UMinn and select growers.

Sweetango of 2011
This approach is controversial. The club is a monopoly that maximizes profits by restricting availability: it also funds the marketing program that brings new varieties into stores and supermarkets.

By the time Sweetango arrived in my area last November, it had devolved into something generic—sweet and crisp, but unexceptional. (Here's my review.)

Illegal Sweetango
Some bootleg Sweetangos earlier this year proved interesting but inconclusive.

Meanwhile the licensing fees from this variety were funding a ferocious marketing campaign that whipped up serious buzz—even as restrictions kept quality Sweetangos locked out of New England.

Frustrating, but now that I have some good examples (from New York), all is forgiven. And though Sweetango's stupendous crunch is perhaps its most notable characteristic, this is also an apple with some unusual flavors.

What does it say in this day and age when people prize an apple for its taste? Could it be a gateway fruit to other apples with distinctive flavors?

If that's what you like about this apple, you have barely scratched the surface. Try Crimson Gold and Liberty, to suggest but two, and let your palate be your guide.
A few other notes. John Seabrook, a huge Sweetango fan, wrote about this variety and apple clubs in a 2011 New Yorker story called "Crunch." My take on his account is here.

Seabrook also observes the oddly dry astringency, which he calls (in this radio interview) a powdery texture. I don't think it is texture, exactly, but his is an apt description.

Second, Sweetango is, evidently, a fragile apple, so handling matters. If you find these as I did, late in the season and hundreds of miles from the orchard but still good, thank your grocer and supply chain.

Finally, Sweetango's handlers are losing the battle of the too-precious name. In the real world people are referring to this as "Sweet Tango," two words. That's even how the sellers advertise this apple.

Next Best Thing, the apple cartel or "club" that grows and controls all rights to this fruit, prefers that the "T" in Sweetango be capitalized.

Marketers love to play clever games with brand names (and SweeTango® is a trade mark, the little-used variety name is Minneiska) but they do not always know when to quit.


  1. Im not sure why these apples get so much buzz. I had about a dozen of them last year, and the buzz seems to be driving the number or people wanting to graft these. Im not certain the grafters have tasted one. They cant legally graft them without a license. The flavor is very average, texture and snap of the Honeycrisp with a little more depth from the Zestar! A well ripened Gala is superior in terms of supermarket varieties IMO. *shrugs*

    1. It took me a long time to find some really good Sweet Tangos, but now that I have I can appreciate why they are so popular.

      It's also clear that these are, by the standards of modern commercial apples, unusually fragile. Their best qualities can deteriorate fast.

      My first take on this variety, based on less-than-stellar samples, was a lot like yours: what's the big deal?

      It's not so easy to get good Sweet Tangos where I live precisely because the cartel that controls them is so restrictive.

      Personally I am glad to see an apple win fans for more than just redness and sugar sugar sugar.

  2. This is old news now, but...
    This year here down under the loudest apple in the world is receiving a lot of advertising, for an apple that is. Radio adverts on rock stations, etc.


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