SweeTango Apples

By Nancy Smorch

SweeTango apples – have you had the pleasure and the experience of tasting one of these amazing apples?  Biting into one of these has been described as “an almost religious experience (and a very loud one),” by Rowan Jacobsen in his book, Apples of Uncommon Character.  He’s actually not far from the truth here.

I had heard rumors of the apple last year, but never came across one until I was in, of all places, a Fresh Market grocery store in The Villages, Florida.  It was pretty good… but the one I bit into from a vendor at the Holland Farmer’s Market this past Saturday, was truly amazing.

I like a sweeter, crisp apple and this, for me, was a perfect combination – not too sweet, not too tart, and just the right amount of crispness and juiciness.

I went to the Holland Farmers Market on Saturday with my brother and sister-in-law, who were visiting from Flint.  They wanted to pick up some Honeycrisp apples (which are also tasty!), and I suggested they pick up some SweeTango, promising they would like them even better than the Honeycrisp.  I explained to them they were hard to come across (there are only a few licensed growers), and even though they were a bit pricey, it would be well worth it.  The SweeTango didn’t disappoint – as was evidenced by a text I got from my sister-in-law yesterday, asking if I could pick up some more from the market to bring with me on my visit to Flint this weekend.

So, today I picked up a good supply for both of us.  This prompted me to do a little research into where they came from and why they were relatively scarce.  I knew that only certain orchards were allowed to grow them and you had to be approved as a commercial orchard by the “Next Big Thing Co-op” – the trees aren’t available for the average person to buy and grow.

Turns out, the SweeTango is a cross between the Honeycrisp and the Zester apples.  The tree which produces them is called the Minneiska tree and it was developed by researchers at the University of Minnesota, apparently by asexual reproduction by means of budding and grafting.  The University of Minnesota has a patent on this variety and The Next Big Thing Co-op, which was formed in 2006, sub-licenses the SweeTango apple variety to a select group of members (orchards).

According to the official SweeTango website (yes, they have their own website), I count 37 orchards who are members of the Next Big Thing and thus are licensed to grow, market, and distribute the apples.  Fourteen of the orchards are in New York, 3 in Minnesota, 16 in Michigan (yay Michigan!), 1 in Wisconsin, and 3 in Washington state.  This group of growers were selected to carefully cultivate the SweeTango in the hopes of maintaining the quality and integrity of the variety.  Their concern is that, without such strict licensing and growing standards, the variety would follow in the foot steps of the Honeycrisp, where there are a lot of low quality Honeycrisps flooding the market.  With the Next Big Thing having control over who can grow the SweeTango, where it is grown, and how it is marketed and shipped, they are hoping to prevent such a “dilution.”  Members of the Next Big Thing pay a membership fee and also royalties on producing trees.

Aside from the taste, some of the other benefits of the SweeTango are that it has a long storage life (3-4 months) and ripens early in the Fall – even before the Honeycrisp.

I love this time of year -the cooler weather, the crispness in the air, the abundance of squash, potatoes, apples, and cider, and now, the SweeTango apple!  When you are out and about at the farmers markets or roadside stands, have some fun and try some of the lesser known varieties of apples and, if you are lucky enough to come across the SweeTango – definitely snatch them up and savor the sweetness of the season!