Have you seen the “grapple” in the produce section recently? Anybody been brave enough to buy it?

GrappleA little inside information may build your consumer courage:  the grapple has grape’s smooth juiciness in the size of an apple. In fact it’s advertised with the line, “Crunches like an apple. Tastes like a Grape!”

Most consumers are surprised to find that, rather than a marketing ploy, the Grapple (pronounced GRAPE – L) was produced by a small family of growers in Washington State working in conjunction with UNICEF to deliver a high dose of vitamin C to citizens of developing countries. Despite the combination of names, the Grapple is not a true cross like the fruit below. The name certainly gets attention, however.

Hybridization or cross-breeding has been going on since the beginning of human civilization. Farmers and scientists alike have both selected for traits and crossed fruits, vegetables and livestock, all in the search for healthier, heavier and basically more lucrative species. An 18th century strawberry would die of fright seeing its enormous 21st century descendent.

But the strawberry has never been hybridized (crossed) with a different type or species of fruit, just selectively bred for taste and size. Not even the Grapple (again GRAPE-L; maybe they should have spelled it Graiple) is a true cross. Growers simply immerse Fuji apples in grape juice to impart the grape-y flavor. Contrary to a widespread belief, the nectarine is a variety of peach, not a cross between a fuzzy peach and its bald cousin, the plum.

The following fruits are a result of the often tricky process of true fruit hybridization.

Loganberry Cross BreedThe Loganberry:  In 1880s California, Judge James Harvey Logan crossed a blackberry with a red raspberry to make a berry he named after himself. Both sweet and tart, Loganberries add a little edge to lemonade and tone down the sugar when mixed with other berries.

Grapefruit:   The pomelo, a tropical fruit, crossed with an orange to result in the hybrid, grapefruit. While its true origins are a little shady and involve one Captain James Shaddock in 1700s Barbados, the grapefruit really never found commercial success until 1929 when producers developed and patented the Ruby Red strain.

Orangelo:  If you’ve ever been in the produce section and thought to yourself, “that’s a small grapefruit,” or “that orange is kinda pale,” you may have been looking at an orangelo.  Unlike the loganberry, this cross resulted from true love rather than human intervention. In other words, it cross pollinated itself.

First noticed by the Agriculture Extension office in Puerto Rico, growers saved the seeds and planted them quickly. Sweeter than a grapefruit but larger than an orange, the orangelo quickly caught on with Puerto Rican families.

Pluot:  A combination of the plum and the apricot, the pluot’s high sugar content makes it a favorite with kids who don’t ever have to know it carries a heavy dose of vitamin C as well. 70% plum and 30% apricot, the pluot has never been genetically modified. Instead, California fruit breeder Floyd Zaiger used a tiny brush to transfer pollen from the apricot flower to the plum. A bit of a shotgun wedding, but no genetic manipulation was involved.

Please don’t fall for online hoaxes such as the Limenut or the Lemato. Photos like these spring from the warped minds of bored graphic designers. No melon-bananas or avo-berries will arrive in your fruit basket anytime soon, but. . .

Plant breeding has been practiced since the beginning of human civilization. Carried out worldwide by gardeners, farmers, professional plant breeders, government institutions, industry associations and research centers, you never know what could come out of the laboratory next . . .