WSU-bred Cosmic Crisp apple ranked tenth bestselling apple nationwide

Cosmic Crisp apple was introduced to the market in December 2019

ERIN MULLINS, Evergreen reporter

WSU Cosmic Crisp® apples were the tenth best-selling apple by volume in the second half of 2022, according to Proprietary Variety Management. 

In the United States, Cosmic Crisp® apples are grown exclusively in Washington state, said Kate Evans, WSU Tree Fruit Research & Extensions center professor. 

“It is a Washington-only apple. Washington-only in terms of where it’s grown within the U.S. That doesn’t mean that horticulturally it couldn’t grow anywhere else. It’s just that it’s restricted by license to give that advantage to Washington state growers. It fits with our WSU land grant mission,” Evans said. 

Cosmic Crisp® apples are the first ever apples developed for the soil and climate of Washington, said Kathryn Grandy, Chief Marketing Officer at Proprietary Variety Management. Washington grows nearly 70% of the nation’s apples. 

Cosmic Crisp® apples are a cross between Enterprise and Honeycrisp apples, she said. Enterprise apples are naturally disease-resistant while the Honeycrisp apple brings the crisp, juicy flavor. Cosmic Crisp® apples are less likely than other varieties to have growing issues, like the inside becoming watercored or bitter pit, which causes dark spots on the apples.  

Cosmic Crisp® apples were created by crossing the two apple varieties, Evans said. A few months later, after the crossed apple develops, you get seeds. The researchers then evaluated thousands of seeds to find the ones that have the best attributes.

“So for the Cosmic Crisp® apple, it took about 20 years from making that cross to do all of the evaluation and to actually have trees out for growers in commercial production,” she said.

If grown from seeds, it takes apple trees “quite a while” to grow, Evans said. But if the grower gets a seedling from the nursery, it takes just a couple of years before the fruit is able to be sold commercially.

Apples have both male and female parts, which is the same as most flowering plants,  she said. The male part is the pollen while the female part is the stigma, the bit in the middle of the flower. Pollen from a different variety of apple fertilizes the stigma of the Cosmic Crisp® apple, which is what starts the flower from turning into an actual apple.

Grandy said the Cosmic Crisp apple tastes great and is very flavorful.

“What defines flavor in an apple is the level of tartness. It is perfectly balanced right between sweet and tart. That does a number of things. It makes it an extremely versatile apple for fresh eating out of hand, slicing, baking. Also, it gives that enormous crunch and crispness,” she said.

Grandy was happy about the ranking for the apples.

“I don’t want to say I was too surprised, but I was very happy. Last year mid-year we did a consumer study with Nielson and category partners,” she said. “We’re looking for brand awareness. How many people know about this apple? And so we found we have 27% brand recognition. That is absolutely unprecedented in the short time that the apples have been on the market.” 

Being highly crispy, juicy and flavorful are among the top qualities that consumers want in an apple, Grandy said. When you bake a Cosmic Crisp® apple it holds its shape and becomes tender but does not become too mushy. The apple bakes very sweet, so you can reduce sugar in recipes and make healthier desserts.

Cosmic Crisp® is a bicolored apple, which is primarily a deep red due to the amount of sunshine the apple gets, with lighter star-shaped spots called lenticels, Grandy said. The apple tends to be bigger than other varieties and is very circular and symmetrical. 

Cosmic Crisp® apples were the first apples in the world to be named by a consumer focus group, Grandy said. Someone in the focus group suggested that the apple looked like the night sky because of the star-shaped lenticels and another participant suggested that the apple looked like the cosmos. 

Over time in the focus group, the name evolved from cosmos to cosmos crisp to Cosmic Crisp®, she said. While initially there were worries that the name was too different for an apple, it “actually turned out to be really wonderful.”