It started off as a celebrated, gorgeous mutation in an Iowa orchard, spread across the land, and was then selectively bred to look redder, bruise less, and ripen on the truck — all at the cost of flavor and texture.
By the 1940s, the Red Delicious had become the country's most popular apple, with the broad shoulders and lipstick shine of a Golden Age Hollywood star. The cosmetic changes were a boon for industrial agriculturalists: Apples that turned rosy before they were fully ripe could be picked earlier and stored longer, and skins with more red pigment tended to be thicker, which extended shelf life and hid bruises. But as genes for beauty were favored over those for taste, the skins grew tough and bitter around mushy, sugar-soaked flesh. Still, by the 1980s, the Red Delicious made up 75 percent of the crop produced in Washington. By the time selective breeding had taken its toll, according to Burford, a few big nurseries controlled the market, planting decisions were made from the remove of boardrooms, and consumers didn't have many varieties to choose from. The Red Delicious became "the largest compost-maker in the country," he said, as shoppers routinely bought the apples and threw them away.
The Awful Reign of the Red Delicious [Sarah Yager/The Atlantic]
(Image: Red Delicious, Zajac, CC-BY)