CO-Horts Blog

Friday, October 6, 2017

The Honeycrisp Apple: A Favorite for 20 years

Posted by: Alison O'Connor, Larimer County Extension

I remember the first time I ate a Honeycrisp apple. And no, I'm not one of those people who remembers a lot of first-time food items, but the Honeycrisp was different. I bit into it and nearly broke my jaw taking a bite. I thought to myself--"Now THAT'S an apple!" and I loved it. (As an FYI, the trademark crunch comes from larger cells and cool growing climates.)
Kaboom! Explosive crunch of the Honeycrisp apple (photo from the University of Minnesota).
Everyone has different apple preferences. Some like them sweet, some tart, some softer, some firmer. To me, the Honeycrisp really has it all with the sweet-tart taste. And the crunch is what put the apple to the top of the charts for me. It also doesn't hurt that the University of Minnesota introduced Honeycrisp. Being a proud Minnesotan, we love to claim fame to people and things--Prince, Post-it Notes, being "Minnesota Nice", Bob Dylan, giant mosquitoes, etc. Honeycrisp is a cross of two other Minnesota cultivars, Keepsake and MN1627 (which never made it to the market).

I'll admit I was shocked to read that the Honeycrisp turns 20 years old this year. I can't believe it's been around that long--but then on the other hand, it feels like it's always been a part of our lives. But really, Honeycrisp has been around a lot longer than 20 years. The first breeding crosses for the apple started back in the 1960s, with the first trees released to apple growers in 1991. It's now the Minnesota State Fruit and even has a following in Europe, where they call it the "Honeycrunch" apple.

Honeycrisp finally debuted to the mass public in 1997 when Minnesota grower Pepin Heights Orchards delivered apples to a local grocery store. In just twenty years, it has become one of the top five apples produced in the United States and its name is as common as Granny Smith and Red Delicious. It's considered a mid-season variety, with a harvest starting in September, but because of its long storage life (up to 10 months!), you'll see them in grocery stores for months.
Fall is apple season! (photo from Penn State University)
For Colorado, it's a great apple because of the cold-hardy genetics. When I'm asked about what apple cultivars are best for Colorado gardens, I often suggest Minnesota introductions, since they are winter hardy (to Zone 4) and can do better in cooler locations (Cornell also has some great options). But be patient upon planting Honeycrisp, since it can take a few years to get a good crop of fruit. Like most apples, they are grafted onto root stock, which can help control height and disease resistance. For backyard orchards, stick with smaller trees, for ease of pruning, such as dwarf or semi-dwarf. Standard trees can grow to 30+ feet tall, which makes pruning, picking and spraying a challenge. The University of Minnesota recommends a semi-dwarf root stock.

And now, as Honeycrisp turns 20, it is also the proud parent of other University of Minnesota apple introductions, like SweeTango (a cross of Honeycrisp and Zestar!). But because of patents, SweeTango trees will not be available commercially until 2026. You can find the apples in the grocery store, but expect to pay a lot (Honeycrisp also sell for a premium).

What's funny to me, as fall makes everyone go crazy over everything pumpkin, I've seen Honeycrisp products...namely the Method cleaning products who released Honeycrisp dish soap and spray cleaner (it was a limited release and is no longer available). I've also seen applesauce and cider. Fortunately, it's not to the frenzy of pumpkin, but it is a fun tribute to a truly great apple.
Celebrating 20 years of the Honeycrisp apple. Yum.


  1. Alison - we had our first honeycrisp apples while visiting family in Coeur d'Alene, ID in September of 2004. We still talk about that first taste - we've been enjoying them since then. Thanks for the history lesson!!

  2. This is a great story about my second favorite apple. My favorite is Sweet Tango. Maybe I shouldn't say this but I saved some Sweet Tango seeds last yearand have 3 small trees. Can you tell me how long it will take for my trees to have fruit? I have always wondered why more people don't grow seeds from these great apples. Thank you

  3. Good question. Apples are heterozygous, and grown from seed, will not form fruit that is true-to-type. That means while your seeds will produce an apple, it will not be SweeTango. That's why apples are vegetatively propagated (from cuttings) so the stock is identical. The length of time it will take to get apples from your seed will vary, but probably several years.

  4. My dad ("Big D") just told me that the Washington state apple growers are planting 'Cosmic Crisp' (replacing a lot of Red Delicious trees), which is a cross between Honeycrisp and Enterprise. Washington is planting 12 million trees and expect to see the apple in larger quantities in 2019. Because Red Delicious has fallen out of favor (and flavor) with consumers, they are hoping Cosmic Crisp will replace that market share. Looking forward to trying one!

  5. Great info, Allison. I like the Honey crisp as well. Will be watching for the "new" red delicious.