The Opal Apple Tree is a wonderful cultivar discovered by accident in a Czech orchard in the 1990s. Opal apples offer excellent flavor and texture for both baking and eating out of hand, and they’re among the tastiest apples available when they’re in season.
Did you see bags of golden yellow apples in your local grocery store during winter and spring and wonder what they were and why they disappear in summer? Those were Opal apples you saw.
History of the Opal Apple Tree
It wasn’t that long ago that the only yellow apples you could find in grocery stores were Golden Delicious apples, often derided for their softer texture but desired for their sweetness in baked goods. The Opal apple is a direct descendant of the Golden Delicious, with the Topaz apple as its other parent.
The hybrid of these two yellow apples was discovered in 1999 in a Czech orchard, saved, and tested in over 60 European orchards. The Opal apple became commercially available in markets in 2010.
A couple of fun facts: First, this Opal apple is not related to an apple from the 1930s that was also called the Opal. Second, the Opal apple’s parent, Golden Delicious, is descended from the Grimes Golden, which is still available today.
Did you know that the Opal apple is non-GMO? Not only was the original hybrid a naturally occurring one, but the apple has been tested and grown naturally, with no GMOs. It became the first apple to receive verification from the Non-GMO Project.
If you’re worried about genetically modified organisms in the food chain, you don’t have to worry about these apples. They’re often available in organic form, too.
Opal Apple Characteristics
This apple has a bright golden yellow skin with crisp but slightly tender creamy white flesh. You’ll usually find a small brownish patch near the stem; this effect is called russeting. The taste is sweet-tart, and it’s a terrific snack and salad apple.
One of the Opal apple’s best characteristics is its resistance to decay. You can store it in the fridge for a couple of months easily, and the apple is naturally low in an enzyme called polyphenol oxidase. This enzyme causes browning when exposed to oxygen and is the reason why cut apples have to be submerged in lemon juice or other liquids to prevent that brown color from forming.
Informal experiments by reporters and blog writers showed that an Opal apple that’s been cut open can resist most browning for about eight hours – and even then, it really doesn’t turn that brown. That’s a slightly longer time than it took Golden Delicious apples to start turning brown.
The amount of polyphenol oxidase varies in each apple, but in general, Opal apples resist enzymatic browning very well.
The Opal Apple tree is not commercially available, however. For now, it’s grown in one orchard in the U.S. and a few in Europe, and you can’t buy the trees at nurseries.
In the United States, FirstFruits Farms in Washington is the only grower of Opal Apple trees. Older sources list Broetje Orchards; however, Broetje was bought by the Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan in December 2018 with the involvement of FirstFruits Marketing. FirstFruits Farms is now the orchard’s name.
It’s unclear when the Opal Apple tree will be available for home growers. Until then, you can review how to grow apple trees so that you’ll be ready, just in case Opal Apples make it to commercial nurseries like Nature Hills. Also check out information on how to prune apple trees.
Opal Apple Tree Diseases
Another great quality of Opal Apple trees is that they are relatively disease-resistant. This doesn’t mean that the trees never have problems, but that they are typically very healthy and strong and fight off pests and disease.
That means that if the Opal Apple tree does becomes available to home gardeners, they’ll have an easier time caring for the tree and won’t have to fight off waves of pests – as long as the gardeners take good care of the tree.
Common Uses for the Opal Apple
As mentioned, the Opal apple is great for eating raw. It’s sweet, like the Golden Delicious, but it has tart undertones provided by the Topaz Apple side of its parentage. The flavor is cool and clean, with some comparing it to a combination of pears and coconut, and occasionally very sweet bananas.
Because it doesn’t brown easily, it’s also a wonderful addition to salads and other recipes that call for raw apples. It’s an especially good choice for salads and dishes whose presentation relies on the apples maintaining their original color.
For example, the Opal Apple website has a recipe section with many salads; one of these is the Opal Apple Winter Salad. This salad contains slices of opal apples mixed with sliced fennel, mint, and pomegranate seeds. The white expanse of the fennel slices and the cream-colored pieces of apple serve and a cool, neutral backdrop to the bright green of the mint and the jewel-toned red of the pomegranate arils. The salad would not look nearly as good with apple chunks that quickly turned brown.
The apple holds up very well when used in mixtures like Opal Apple Salsa, where the cream-colored apple is joined by purple strips of red onion and bits of green cilantro, or Opal Crostini With Honey Thyme Goat Cheese, in which the chopped apples top a tasty cheese spread. Browned apples would look old and might make you question the age of the dish itself.
The Opal apple also cooks and bakes up remarkably well, and it’s a great choice for pies, dump cakes, and other desserts like caramel stuffed apples. Try Opal Wreaths, in which a slice of cored apple is topped with nut butter, dried fruit, and slivered almonds. The light, sweet flavor of the apple will complement the heavier flavor of the nut butter while the tart component of the apple will go nicely with the dried fruit and nuts.
You could also try drying apple slices in your oven or in a dehydrator, too; the Opal apple is so versatile that you could probably substitute it in any apple recipe. Its sweet and tart notes make it acceptable in recipes calling for everything from the sweetness of Honeycrisps to the tartness of Granny Smiths.
Health Benefits of Opal Apples
Like other apples, the Opal apple contains vitamins and minerals necessary for good health. The fruit contains fiber and is a relatively low-calorie food. Keep a bunch washed and ready to eat, either on your kitchen counter or in the fridge, so you and your family have a healthy snack immediately available when anyone gets hungry.
Apples have been shown to lower bad cholesterol when eaten daily, giving the fruit heart-protective benefits. There’s no reason to doubt that Opal apples also offer this advantage. The apple is a minimally processed food (picking the apple off the tree actually counts as some processing), so if you’re trying to avoid overly processed snacks and added sugars, the Opal apple is a delicious choice.
Like other fruits and vegetables, apples and their fiber help lower your risk of diabetes and other diseases. They could have a beneficial effect on beneficial gut bacteria – not something you think about a lot, but it is part of your body’s system for keeping itself healthy.
Interestingly, apple peels may help you reduce your chances of developing asthma. The peel contains quercetin, which is known to reduce inflammation, a factor in asthma.
Quercetin and pectin fiber also have a beneficial effect on your cardiovascular system. Exactly how eating apples can help humans control or ward off heart disease is still under investigation, but in lab studies, the results have been promising.
For more information about the health benefits of apple, read “10 Amazing Health Benefits of Apples.”
Where to Buy the Opal Apple Tree
Again, the Opal Apple tree is not commercially available. Planting the seeds you save from the apples you eat won’t really work; any resulting tree will not produce the exact same fruit — if you manage to get the flowers pollinated properly.
Chances are, you won’t, and you’ll end up with just an extra plant in your yard. Not to mention, it can take years for a tree grown from seed to even begin to produce flowers, let alone be pollinated and set fruit.
Any fruit that does eventually grow may be of poor quality, too, and the tree could be relatively weak. Many fruit trees are actually branches of the desired variety grafted onto rootstock from another variety that has healthy growing characteristics.
This means the tree grown from seed could be susceptible to diseases that the orchard-grown trees are not. It’s better to wait for the growers of Opal Apple trees to release trees to nurseries.
Where to Buy Opal Apples
However, you can buy Opal apples themselves at more and more markets. Local chains often carry them (for example, Basha’s in Arizona), and national chains such as Trader Joe’s and Walmart have offered them, too. The apples are typically sold in pre-packed bags instead of loose in bins.
The apples are popular but seasonal. You can find them between November and March in most places.
Whether the trees will be shipped to orchards in the Southern Hemisphere (so the apples will be available during the summer in the Northern Hemisphere) is unknown at this time.
Wrapping up the Opal Apple Tree
The Opal Apple tree apple is an amazing fruit that you can use in just about any food-based situation. It’s a great snack, it cooks and bakes well, and it lasts a very long time. These yellow apples are quickly gaining acceptance across the country, and it wouldn’t be surprising to find them in more and more markets as the years go by.
If you want a crisp but tender and sweet but tart apple, the Opal apple is the best choice. While the Topaz and Golden Delicious apples still have their merits, the Opal has taken its place among the more popular apples in markets and show no signs of dropping in those ranks.
Keep an eye out at markets as November approaches so that you can pick up a few bags of Opal apples when they arrive in stores.