Autumn is officially ‘apple season’ in the UK and during September and October, hundreds of thousands of delicious, nutritious ‘cookers and eaters’ will be harvested from trees in commercial orchards and home gardens. For any individual who has one or more average-sized trees, the glut of apples produced after a moderately good spring and summer can be wonderful, but a bumper harvest presents the problem of what to do with the surplus? After all, no matter how delicious your apple crumble, there’s only so much that you can eat in a short space of time!
For commercial apple producers the challenge is to store the fruit efficiently so that it can be sent to supermarkets throughout the year. For the public, a constant supply of fresh fruit, preferably home-grown, is desirable and we’ve come to expect it, especially if we aim to achieve our government recommended ‘5-a-day’ targets to stay healthy.
Karen Thurston, a postharvest research assistant and facility manager at NRI's Produce Quality Centre (PQC) at East Malling in Kent, is working closely with colleagues Dr Richard Colgan, Dr Debbie Rees, Clare Hopson and Ros Fisher, to find solutions to good apple storage.
Karen explains: “generally we can make fresh produce last longer by storing it in the cold, as we all do with our weekly shop when we pop certain items in the fridge at home. At the PQC, we are also looking at slowing down the ageing process of apples by putting them into ‘hibernation’, effectively making the apple ‘go to sleep’ to make it last longer.”
Karen and the PQC team are experimenting with changing the gases or atmosphere that the apples are stored in and each variety of apple has its own needs and preferences. The job of the researchers is to discern the perfect condition under which each apple will hibernate most efficiently and stay fresh for longer.
Currently they know that it’s possible to successfully store some varieties such as Bramley, for up to 12 months without any detrimental effects to taste or appearance. For the other members of the apple family the team is experimenting with reducing the level of oxygen and increasing the level of carbon dioxide to provide their ideal long-term storage environment.
For Karen and the PQC team the research is ongoing as she explains: “we hope that we can use our expertise to help the apple industry to increase quality and reduce waste and to provide the consumer with delicious and nutritious British apples throughout the year.”
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