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MSU professor changing cider's taste, breeding Red-Fleshed Apples for juice

MSU professor Steven Van Nocker has been breeding apple trees for 20 years. He's now creating a valuable taste for apple growers.

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — Spring is just a few weeks away, but this story is about a familiar taste of fall, and what unique experiment a Michigan State University professor is doing to enhance that taste, while helping apple growers add a valuable commodity.

We're talking about apple cider, both the hard and sweet variety.

"What I'm doing is really different," said Steven Van Nocker, Ph.D., who is a horticulture professor at MSU. "I'm just focusing on the juice character."

Credit: YouTube
Michigan State University horticulture professor, Steven Van Nocker, Ph.D. is breeding Red-Fleshed Apples for their juice, only.
Credit: Steven Van Nocker, Ph.D.
MSU Professor, Steven Van Nocker is collaborating with various producers around Michigan to breed the perfect juice from the Red-Fleshed Apples.

Van Nocker has been breeding Red-Fleshed Apples at the university's research facility in Clarksville for several years, but says he's now become a self-proclaimed, "Red Juice Breeder."

"Bitterness and sourness is considered a plus," Van Nocker said. "I think this experiment has a lot going for it."

A few years ago, Van Nocker traveled the world in search of different Red-Fleshed Apple varieties. He went to Canada, England, upstate New York and Columbia.

"In the end, I looked at about 5,000 different varieties and identified about 100 with a specific trait," said Van Nocker. "I wanted to analyze them in terms of the amount of Anti-Cyanine was in the juice."

Van Nocker says not all apples produce juice, so as he continues to work at getting the perfect genetic cross between the apple trees, he'll continue creating this unique flavor and sharing it with Michiganders.

"My ultimate goal would be to create a juice that could be diluted with the juice that's already going to be out there from the second-rate fresh market apples," said Van Nocker. "That would allow growers to take all of their excess juice, which is worth almost nothing to them, and create something that's really valuable."

Van Nocker says this year's Clarksville crop will ripen sometime between mid-August and late October. He's currently collaborating with two different Michigan producers - 'Left Foot Charley Winery' in Traverse City, and 'Robinette's Apple Haus & Winery' in Grand Rapids.

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