A Is for Apple and Ambrosia™

Ambrosia™ is a new variety and is already one of the top selling kinds of apples in America

Summer Whitford

Ambrosia™ apples are a variety of “club apple.”

A is for apple…and Ambrosia™, a new variety of “club apple” on the top 10 list of highest selling apples in the United States — and it’s a favorite for cooking, baking, juicing, and eating out of hand.

Washington State produces about 70 percent of the apples (14 billion annually) sold in the U.S. each year, but Wenatchee, Washington, the “Apple Capitol of the World” is ground zero for this sweet pink apple. So where did this super apple come from? 

A Seed Spawns a New Apple Variety
Kismet played a role in the cultivation of the Ambrosia™, which was a “volunteer” seedling Wilfrid and Sally Mennell discovered growing in the family’s orchard in Cawston in the Similkameen Valley in British Columbia, Canada. It was the late 1980s and this unidentified seedling just appeared in an orchard planted entirely with Jonagold apples.

Unsure about the apple variety, and curious to see if seedling would mature and bear fruit, Wilfrid nurtured it along and in 1990 apples appeared on the trees branches. When the apple reached full ripeness it was the pickers who first noticed this apple was different from the Jonagold apples around it. Each large, apple was perfectly shaped and free of any blemishes or discoloration, but proof of the apple’s worth was in its taste, which was exceptional. It was so sweet and delicious, and irresistible; the pickers stripped the tree of every single apple and ate them on the spot. And this of course caught Wilfrid’s attention.

A Canadian Apple Becomes an American Beauty
Despite everyone’s enthusiasm, Wilfrid took a wait and see attitude to be sure the apple was viable, could consistently produce high quality fruit, and was marketable. As he tells it, “You first of all start out with something that’s interesting, then you find it grows rather nicely, and then a number of people try it.”

Encouraged by the new apple variety’s taste and appearance, and interest from other growers, Mennell grafted cuttings from the mother tree onto new rootstock, and in 1993, with the help of the Okanagan Plant Improvement Corporation (PICO), took the first step to full scale production and registered the apple as a new variety. He named the new apple Ambrosia, which in Greek mythology means “food of the gods” and he hoped consumers would find the name enticing.

Join the Club
How the Ambrosia™ apple began in Canada to become one of America’s best selling apples is part of a new trend in apple growing and marketing that is changing consumer access to more, better tasting apples.  In 1999, the Mennell  family obtained a U.S. patent for Ambrosia and trademarked the name with a $1 royalty fee per tree or $1,000 per acre (whichever is the lesser) plus a franchise fee of $1,000 per acre.

A quick perusal of most grocery store produce sections includes familiar apple varieties like Red Delicious and Granny Smith but they are quickly being replaced by newer breeds like Pink Lady™, SweeTango®, Jazz™…and Ambrosia™. Yes, these new apples are tasty and attractive, but they have something else in common that’s more important: the trademark symbols next to their names.

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Anytime you see a trademark symbol next to an apple name (or cherry, pear, etc.) it indicates the name is proprietary and an orchardist must pay a license fee and adhere to strict growing, harvesting, processes, and marketing requirements if they want to grow and sell the apple. These “club apples” are carefully bred by genetic scientists to ensure they are perfect specimens that look as good as they taste. For the last 15 years club fruit, like Ambrosia™ has been making significant inroads into the market and because it offers premium, consistent quality consumers are willing to pay more.