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Kiku Apples: The Elevated Fuji

Kiku apples are part of a push to make apples more relevant by introducing a new, highly cultivated variety of apple that emphasizes the best elements of its parent apple.  The creators protect their investment by making the tree unavailable to all but a few select growers. Keep reading to learn all about this new Fuji sport apple.

Raw Red Organic Kiku Apples
Raw Red Organic Kiku Apples Ready to Eat
Table of Contents

    What are Kiku apples?

    Kiku apple producers tout their fruit for having a uniquely sweet flavor with a pretty, ruby-red striped exterior.  Most consumers note that they taste much like a regular Fuji apple but have a brighter exterior. They are a club apple under trademark restriction, so you will not find these trees in your local nursery.

    History Of The Kiku Apple

    In 1990, Italian apple grower Luis Braun visited an orchard while on vacation in Japan.  He noticed that one Fuji apple tree had an unusual branch, a natural mutation called a sport, that produced an apple different from others on the tree.  

    The sport branch had striped ruby red fruit, so Braun bought the rights to the branch, took it back home to Italy, and then grafted it into the trees of his orchard.  

    Braun introduced his Kiku to the United States market in 2010.  Kiku is the Japanese word for chrysanthemum, the symbol of the Japanese emperor. 

    Red and Yellow Kiku Apples
    Red / yellow apples (kiku variety) on white working board, photo from above.

    Trademark and Legal Restrictions

    Unlike other fruit trees widely available for purchase, Kiku apples remain under trademark restriction. 

    The Braun family has licensed only a few growers around the world to grow the Kiku.  In the United States, only three companies have a license to grow and sell Kikus – CMI Orchards, Rice Fruit Company, and All Fresh GPS.

    Club Apples

    Apples like the Kiku that are under trademark restriction are commonly called club apples because only a limited number of specially selected growers are permitted access to them.  This ensures quality control but also limits the supply to prevent the prices from being driven down by many competitors.

    Apples commonly found in supermarkets are non-club apples, or open apples, like Gala and Red Delicious.  Most apples resulting from hybridization like Honeycrisp and Cortland are also open apples.  

    Kiku apples are one of a handful of new club cultivars beginning to land in supermarkets after finally reaching commercial production since being developed in the 1980s and 1990s.  Jazz and Envy apples are also club apples.  

    How does a Kiku apple taste?

    Kiku Apples in a Bowl
    Raw Red Organic Kiku Apples in a Bunch

    Kiku apples take after their Fuji parent tree by providing a sweet, juicy (rather than watery) flavor, and many people just liken them to a more intense Fuji taste. After all, Kikus are simply the branch of a particularly good Fuji tree grafted onto rootstock and then reproduced en masse. 

    Some taste testers and apple connoisseurs report that the flavor of the Kiku and Fuji are indistinguishable, and that a Fuji picked at just the right time will surpass the flavor of a Kiku.  Because Fuji apples are widely grown across the United States, you can easily get a freshly picked Fuji that was harvested at the perfect time, whereas your Kiku will likely be shipped from Washington State or Michigan.

    Expect the apple to taste sweet. The Fuji is quite high on the Brix scale compared to other apples. The Brix scale is used the compare and measure the level of sugar in foods. Most varieties consistently fall within the range of a few points in the scale, and a Kiku should always fall at the top of the Fuji range.

    How to Use a Kiku Apple 

    Choose Kikus for fresh eating to best enjoy the pretty exterior and sweet, crisp flavor!

    Because Kikus are a crisp apple, they maintain their shape and texture for baking or food preparation. Because they are most known for their ruby red exterior with light stripes, you may want to save them for fresh presentation where you can highlight their pretty appearance. Consider using them sliced on a fresh food fray or use them as a gourmet candied apple where the exterior is still visible.

    Red Taffy Apples
    heap of appetizing red taffy apples outdoors

    To make the most of the sweetness of the Kiku, you can also pair it with sharp cheese for a tasty contrast. Make your slided apples pretty with thin, even slices that you can accomplish with a 20-wedge apple slicer.

    Nutrition

    The nutrition of Kiku apples is similar to that of any other apple.  One apple will meet one-fifth of your daily fiber needs, and it also contributes 13 percent of your daily Vitamin C needs.  Apples will always be a favorite healthy, portable snack, and the Kiku is no exception.

    Similar Apples

    Basket With Honeycrisp Apples
    Close up of basket with ripe apples with farmers crate in the background.

    Many other apple trees accessible to home growers will yield sweet, crisp fruit that holds up well for baking.  Consider the AmbrosiaHoneycrisp and Cortland trees for excellent fruit production at home. 

    Your closest match will be a simple Fuji tree that is widely available in person and from online nurseries like FastGrowingTrees.com and Ison’s Nursery and Vineyards.  A Fuji picked at the perfect ripeness will be delightfully sweet and juicy, and may even taste better than your store-bought Kiku picked slightly before peak and shipped across the country.  

    Where to Get Kiku Apples and Kiku Apple Trees

    Kiku apple trees will not be available to home gardeners.  Orchards interested in planting the tree must get a license from the Braun family.  Luis Brauns sons continue his apple operation today.  

    Apples on a Tree
    Apple (Malus domestica), on the tree, in japan

    Kikus are available September through March.  They are not as widely available as more well-known non-club apples like the Gala or Honeycrisp.

    Many chain grocery stores allow you to search for products online and check the inventory at your local store.  This will be your best bet to find Kikus near you without driving from store to store.  Try Sam’s Club or other grocery stores for local availability.

    To order the fruit online, visit Sweet Kiku for Fresh Direct for online ordering options. 

    How to Grow Kiku Apples

    Planting

    Nurseries cannot legally sell real Kiku apple trees, and any saplings claiming to be Kiku are most likely a similar but not identical tree.  Nurseries do sell other Fuji sports that are not trademarked, and they look very similar.  Unpatented Fuji sports to look for are BC-2, Desert Rose Fuji, Nagafu 2, Nagafu 6, Nagafu 12, Redsport Type 1, and Redsport Type 2.

    Pollination and Grafting

    Unfortunately, getting Kiku apple trees for yourself is not as easy as simply planting the seed of an apple that you bought from the store.  

    Apple trees require pollination of the blossoms in spring from nearby apple trees.  The resulting fruit maintains the characteristics of the tree that it grows on.  The seeds from that fruit will be a new apple that combines the traits of the fruit-bearing tree and the other tree that supplied pollen. 

    The botanists that create brand new cultivars carefully limit each tree’s pollen exposure to specific other trees to create a consistent new tree, and this process is repeated over and over again to develop new strains that have desirable characteristics from each parent plant.

    Additionally, many fruit trees are created by grafting, and we know that Luis Braun began with only a branch that he grafted onto his own trees.  When fruit trees are grafted onto other rootstock, the fruit will be that of the grafted portion.  

    Live cuttings at grafting apple tree in cleft with growing buds, young leaves and flowers.
    Live cuttings at grafting apple tree in cleft with growing buds, young leaves and flowers. Closeup.

    Apple trees are commonly grafted onto dwarf rootstock to limit the size of the tree.  The seeds of the resulting fruit may contain dominant genes from the grafted strain that lead to a tree that is different than expected.  

    Harvest

    Currently, Kiku apples are not available year-round due to the limited number of growers of the apple.  We may see additional availability as acreage expands in South Africa, South America, and New Zealand, and those apples reach international markets.

    Kiku Apples FAQ

    How should I store my Kiku apples?

    Kiku apples keep well, up to 3 months, in the crisper of your refrigerator.  To maximize your fruit’s life in a crisper drawer,  add  drawer liners to cushion the fruit to prevent bruising and also absorb moisture to maintain quality as long as possible.  

    Why are Kikus more expensive?

    When you see Kiku apples in grocery stores, they may be more expensive than other apples. This is because the growth and harvest of Kikus are restricted to just a few growers. As a result, there is less supply, which increases the cost. They also have to be shipped further. Additionally, the patent holders want to recoup the cost of developing a new strain of apple.

    How will I know whether I have a Kiku or regular Fuji?

    A regular Fuji apple cannot be marketed under the Kiku brand name, so look for a small sticker with the Kiku brand. You may find the taste indistinguishable. The Kiku apple will have a peel that is a bit brighter red than the Fuji.

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