The year 2017 has been marked as a first for many things.
In Washington D.C., we have many controversial things taking place for the first time.
In Washington state, there is a strange export coming from them… apples which taste like grapes!
Those aren’t new, but there is something else at the supermarket this year for the first time ever… GMO apples that don’t turn brown are now for sale.
America is the first to sell this but not create it.
Building a wall with our northern neighbor may be tempting, because the company responsible for it, Okanagan Specialty Fruits Inc., as well as the Arctic Apple inventors, John Armstrong and William David Lane, are all Canadians.
Should Trump wall those guys off, too?
Because they’re the ones in control of U.S. patent number 8,563,805. It was issued in 2013 for “Genetically modified reduced-browning fruit-producing plant and produced fruit thereof, and method of obtaining such” (1).
In 2015, the FDA ruled that “Arctic Apples” are safe for consumption (2).
The first ones quietly hit the supermarket shelves in 2017. Arctic Apples are not yet for sale nationwide, but in February, they began test sales throughout the Midwest.
Their exact rollout plans have not been publicly announced, so it’s unknown as to when every Kroger, Publix, Safeway, and Walmart location may (or may not) carry them.
It’s probably no coincidence they started in middle America first, rather than a place like Southern California. Here in Los Angeles, many shoppers would be up in arms over this product.
Then again, apparently there are enough people here buying other strange apples.
Meet the grape flavored apple, the Grapple fruit. This was seen for sale at Ralph’s (Kroger) in Manhattan Beach, California a few weeks ago. Surprising to see, given this small beach town is one of the most expensive zip codes in the nation where everyone seems to insist on natural, organic and non-GMO.
But is a Grapple a GMO? Let’s answer this in our who’d you rather challenge (as in eat, not sleep with) by comparing their pros and cons.
Round 1: GMO apples vs. organic or conventional
What is a Grapple fruit?
Pronounced grāpe-ul (not grapp-el), it’s described as looking like an apple, but tasting like Concord grapes. This trademarked brand is a collaborative effort between three growers from the state of Washington; C&O nursery, CMI, and Rainier Fruit Co. They’re made using Gala and Fuji apples and appear to primarily be marketed towards children. They’re sold as a 4-pack in clamshell.
As to what stores carry Grapples, we haven’t heard of them for sale at Walmart, but you might come across them at a traditional grocer. Whole Foods won’t have them since they try to stay away from artificial flavorings. Trader Joe’s doesn’t sell a lot of name brand produce like this, as they prefer private label to maximize their profits.
Surprisingly, we did find that you can order this big case of them on Amazon.
As far as the brick and mortar locations which sell them, we hear you can buy them more easily in the southeastern parts of the US.
How is a Grapple apple made?
It’s not genetically modified. The fruit itself is 100% natural as God created it, but they tinker with it another way.
U.S. patent 7,824,723 describes a process of bathing or spraying the fruit with a grape flavoring agent, which is absorbed through the skin and makes its way to the mesocarp (the flesh you eat) (3).
The flavoring agent used is not natural. It’s the same artificial flavoring used in many grape sodas and candies.
Grapple vs. Arctic apple?
While it doesn’t have any added flavorings, the apple which won’t turn brown (at least not quickly) is a characteristic made possible through DNA tinkering.
However, the Arctic is different than most other GM fruits and vegetables.
They didn’t use a gene from another species. Rather, the inventors “turned off” the expression of four genes responsible for producing over 90% of its polyphenol oxidase (PPO). When you slice a fresh apple on the counter, this enzymatic reaction is what causes it to rapidly oxidize and turn brown.
Grapple, if you were forced to choose. If you insisted on only eating a non GMO apple, then between these two, this would be your only choice.
Of course, any conventional or organic apple which does not have artificial flavoring added would be preferable versus the Grapple!
Round 2: Nutrition facts
The GMO apples list includes the following:
- Golden Delicious
- Granny Smith
Okanagan Specialty Fruits is the only company currently approved by the FDA for GMO apple varieties. Since they label all of theirs as Arctic, identifying them is easy – they will have a sticker with a logo containing that word.
Aside for the sticker, a GMO apple will look like a natural one.
Currently, the Arctic Golden is the only variety being sold, but their website states Gala is “next in line” and they’ve “got plenty more in the pipeline!” Aren’t you excited?
In terms of how much vitamins, minerals, calories, carbs, and sugars they have, are they any different than a non-GMO variety?
This is what their website states:
“Arctic® apples have the same nutrition as their conventional counterparts – an Arctic® Granny and an Arctic® Golden have comparable nutrient levels as the varieties from which they were developed.”
That makes sense. Turning off the genetic expression of polyphenol oxidase production wouldn’t be expected to alter nutrients. Apples only create that enzyme when they are exposed to air – either by cutting or damaged skin.
So when you normally eat one – without slicing or skinning beforehand – this enzyme really doesn’t have any impact one way or another on you. It’s only when you cut them up and allow them to be exposed to air that they turn brown.
Going back to the non-GMO we’re pitting it against, are Grapples good for you? Here’s what their website says about the nutrition facts:
“In making Grapple® brand apples, we add no sugars or additional calories. You get all the nutritional value of a premium Washington apple, combined with the delightful taste of Concord grapes.”
Tie, but only if you’re strictly going off the fields listed on a nutrition label.
Round 3: Taste
Aside from scenarios where it has been pre-sliced, if you were to bite into a genetically modified Arctic apple, it would taste the same as a normal one.
This is because of what we previously mentioned – the modified enzymatic activity – which wouldn’t really have time to occur when you’re just chomping away at the fruit in your hand.
However it would taste different after cutting. If you sliced up a normal Gala or Golden, it would oxidize and turn brown. At room temperature, that will begin within minutes. The fridge will slow the process down, but not stop it.
High temperatures, like baking at 350 degrees, can stop the process. Cooking neutralizes the ability for the enzymatic reaction, since that intense heat will kill the plant cells responsible for making it.
On the flip side, the heat of cooking will also destroy vitamin C content and other phytonutrients.
Natural alternatives to Arctic
There are natural ways to stop apples from browning. By changing the pH you can stop this reaction, even when they’re fresh and raw. Despite what you may have heard, the best method is not lemon juice. We have found this simple recipe works even better:
- 1/2 teaspoon of salt
- 1 cup of water
Combine and soak the slices in that solution for 15 minutes. After that, you can rinse off the salt water. Even after doing so, the apples will stay white because the enzyme has been shut down.
At room temperature, it can take up to several hours before they start browning again. By then you should have ate them anyway, because after that length of time, bacteria is now a concern.
But we digress. The long and short of it is that the Arctic apples taste the same when whole and actually better after cutting, assuming what you’re comparing it to doesn’t involve preservatives or tinkering (like how to stop the browning naturally, as we just discussed).
What does a Grapple taste like?
The scent of the grape on the apple is quite strong, but once you bit into it, the flavor on your tongue is more subtle. It has the same taste and texture as a normal Gala or Fuji, but with notes of grape soda or Kool Aid. This is because the artificial flavoring agent used – methyl anthranilate – is the same one found in those foods.
Grapple reviews by kids are more positive, while adults report mixed feelings – generally not claiming it to be a bad taste per se, but just something they’re not interested in buying.
The chemical methyl anthranilate is also a USDA approved repellent for birds and geese, no joke (4).
Aside from junk food like Jolly Ranchers, it’s used in many flavored tobacco products, too.
The New England Journal of Medicine published an interesting piece in 2014 titled “Candy Flavorings in Tobacco” with research done by Portland State University. Here’s their graph of how much artificial grape flavor they use per serving (5):
Is it just a coincidence that flavored cigarettes – which are considered gateway tobacco – use some of the same flavorings as common candies for kids?
How much is in Grapple fruit isn’t clear. Since it it’s soaked in the solution, the amount absorbed inevitably will vary slightly by batch. As far as an average amount, to the best of our knowledge they company has not publicized any numbers on that.
Of course, this grape flavored apple is a far cry from tobacco or candy (which arguably are both addictive).
Yes, it does use an artificial flavoring – methyl anthranilate – but that is the same natural compound found in real concord grapes. The only difference is that the food additive version was created in a lab.
If you looked at both the artificially created and naturally occurring molecule under a microscope, you would not be able to tell them apart. They are identical.
Still, frowning upon this artificial flavoring is totally understandable. You don’t know how it was made and what chemicals or solvents might have been used during production.
Though as far as the safety of the isolated 100% methyl anthranilate molecules, allergies or side effects in humans from eating them have not been documented in medical literature. In food it’s classified as non-toxic and generally regarded as safe (GRAS).
In an occupational setting, adverse reactions can include skin, eye, and respiratory irritation – including an asthmatic response – when exposed to prolonged or repeated contact (6). That’s not unusual though, as these relatively benign side effects are to be expected when you’re manufacturing or spraying large amounts of many chemicals, even natural ones like lemon juice and chili peppers.
The GMO apple. Controversy aside, at least the Artic apple tastes like a normal Golden Delicious or Gala. Mucking up the their perfect flavor, with something reminiscent of the grape Kool Aid you drank as a youngin, really ought to be considered a great travesty upon nature itself.
Round 4: Antioxidants
If the nutrition facts are identical for both of these, how about the phytonutrients which aren’t found on the label?
Vitamin A and C content are reflected, but those are only two types of antioxidants. They’re essential vitamins, which is why they’re on there.
What about all the other healthy antioxidants in apples like quercetin, catechin, phloridzin and chlorogenic acid? Research has suggested that some of these may help decrease the risk of cancer, heart disease, asthma, inflammation, and more (7).
Without ORAC testing, knowing exactly how much other antioxidant activity there is in the GMO Arctic and the Grapple fruit is a mere a guess.
But at least there are clues to make an educated guess.
Claim 1 of the the Grapple fruit patent describes dipping apples at 35° F (just above freezing) into a mixture of 2-4% methyl anthranilate for 1 to 3 minutes. Other examples cite 70° F.
The process for D’Anjou pears – which aren’t for sale – is described by the patent as:
“Approximately 1 pound of store purchased mix of both Green and Red varieties of ‘D’Anjou’ pears, were dipped in a 65° F. admixture. The admixture included the above discussed 2% methyl anthranilate admixture. The pears were dipped in the admixture for approximately 1 minute, and then allowed to dry outdoors at a temperature of approximately 90° F.”
If apples were made like that, set to dry in the high heat of 90° F, that would likely result in some antioxidant degradation.
Now the examples for the apples involve lower temperatures and we would not expect those to significantly impact antioxidant activity, but it’s definitely possible.
This is because of the act of respiration, which is the fruit trying to stay alive. Temperature, light, and especially air will effect how slow or fast the rate of respiration is.
To give you an idea, here’s what happens to the total anthocyanin content (a potent class of antioxidants) in blueberries when you compare day 3 to freshly picked:
The anthocyanin gets “burned up” as the berries try to stay alive. This is why we actually recommend frozen blueberries versus fresh. They save you money and have higher antioxidant content.
Blueberries are a sensitive fruit though and apples are quite hardy, even at room temperatures like those mentioned in the patent of 65° or 70° F.
If antioxidant content is compromised at all in the Grapple, we would expect it to be caused by the methyl anthranilate and not the temperature ranges used.
Unfortunately, there just is not good scientific documentation as to what impact, if any, adding methyl anthranilate to a food will have on natural antioxidants.
When an apple is “injured” or cut open, its natural antioxidant content goes to work to stave off the browning oxidation process. That means antioxidants – including vitamin C – get used up as they fight that oxidation.
At the earliest stage, when the white flesh begins to turn beige, most should still be intact. After it’s that disgusting rusty looking color, you can bet a significant amount of antioxidants have been spent and hence, it’s less nutritious for you to eat.
Artic apples, as they are healthier after they have been cut since more antioxidant content is preserved.
One round is a draw, while Grapple wins one and Arctic wins two. Whether you like to admit it or not, the FDA approved GMO apples are actually more healthy.
Not just against the grape flavored, either. The Arctic would even beat organic apples after cutting, in terms of antioxidant content.
Those are the benefits, but what about the drawbacks?
For years we have studied the scientific literature on the topic and continue to do so. While there are pros and cons of GMO foods, contrary to hype, there is not sufficient evidence of them having adverse effects on health.
The only exception is when they’re cross-species, which may transfer allergens. Like what happened when a gene was taken from a Brazil nut and added to soy (8).
Aside from scenarios like that, the only con we can conclude is the unknown factor.
Ultimately, no one can say with certainty what the long term repercussions are of playing Go. In some ways, we’re making our own species, since most GMO crops contain DNA that would never cross species in the natural world.
How a “Roundup Ready” canola-bacteria hybrid could ever occur in nature is virtually impossible (9). Yes, it’s still 99.9999% canola, but there’s that trace amount of DNA from something which is not even a plant.
At least with Arctic apples, the gene being modified is already in them. It doesn’t even come from another plant.
At least in theory, it’s possible that type of change could occur through a natural mutation. We think the Arctic is much better than the frankencrops made which combine totally different plants and beyond.
Why Honeycrisp apples are so expensive and patented is a different can of worms!