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May 22, 2018  |  Login
Discovering Organic Food
By Jeff Cox

The best apple I ever tasted was a Stayman Winesap. I bought it at a small mom-and-pop market in Hereford, Pennsylvania, one warm autumn afternoon years ago. It was prime apple time in the Pennsylvania Dutch dairy country.

The first bite hooked me. The skin was dark red, almost black on the shoulder, with a slight russetting where it had received the most sun. Each bite came off the apple with a satisfying crack, like chips from a flint. The flesh was snowy white, with a slight reddish tint just under the skin. It snapped and crunched as I chewed it, the juice spilling generously into my mouth. The flavor was sweet and sappy, with a tangy tartness that focused my attention.

That Stayman Winesap was the single best apple I’ve ever eaten in my life, right up to the present day. I don’t suppose I’ll ever find its like again—subsequent Winesaps from that store were disappointingly mealy or lacked the flavor punch. Fresh Braeburns come close but fall short. Cox Orange Pippins are wonderful and perfumey-flowery, but they don’t have the flavor impact that the Winesap had. It’s only in hindsight that such moments of perfection identify themselves, and then they become wrapped in associated memories and enshrined in one’s personal mythology, whereupon it becomes ever more difficult to dislodge them from their pedestal.

Now compare that Winesap with a store-bought Red Delicious. No comparison. The proliferation of the inferior Red Delicious is due to two primary marketing factors. First, the apples have deep red skins and consumer preference tests show that people associate a deep red apple with quality, even if, as with Red Delicious, there’s precious little quality to the flavor. Second, they are called “delicious” even though they aren’t. What has caused the popularity of Red Delicious has nothing to do with how good they taste. Although today we see more flavorful apples showing up in stores—Gala and Fuji and Braeburn among them—Red Delicious still reigns.

There are over 8,000 varieties of apples in commerce around the world! Many if not most are far superior to even the best supermarket apples. In addition, scientists have recorded over 15,000 plants that have been used by human beings as food over the millennia, but there are only about 150 commercially important food crops worldwide these days. And in the large corporate food systems that provide foods to our supermarkets and big commercial stores, only a few of these 150 commodities are typically available to the consumer. These are chosen not because of their qualities of flavor or texture but mostly because of their ability to survive long-distance shipping and in-store display and still look good enough to eat.

Besides good cosmetic appearance and long shelf life, another goal of large food corporations is standardization of product. They want every Kraft Single to taste the same, every loaf of Iron Kids bread to taste the same, every Dole pineapple to taste the same. That way brand identification is assured. That’s the way quality is “controlled.” No matter where you are in the world, a Coke is a Coke is a Coke. more



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