M&S are launching the so-called "papple" this week – a species of pear that looks a bit like an apple. Keen followers of fruit industry PR stunts might glimpse in it a memory of the "pineberry", the polka-dotted German strawberry of a couple of years ago which supposedly tasted of pineapple.
The fruit was developed in New Zealand, where it has officially been known as PremP109 – a more clinical but rather less emetic name than "papple", if you ask me. In fact, the papple has no immediate apple ancestry at all: it's a hybrid of two European and Asian pear varieties. It is an almost fluorescent pinkish-red, and its skin is weirdly, plagueishly mottled. Eating it is thus a strange experience.
Since you expect the taste and texture of apple, you bite rather harder than is necessary. The flesh is much less tart than an apple; its sweetness is almost overpowering. It's also far juicier, so you end up having to glamorously chomp and suck your way through it as though it were a particularly wet burrito. For all that, it's a tasty, refreshing fruit.
Innovations such as this may seem unusual, but it's worth remembering that many of the fruits people enjoy today are either natural or intentional hybrids. Tayberries, loganberries and boysenberries are crosses of blackberries and raspberries. Citrus fruits are prone to hybridise: genetic study of the lemon shows that it's an ancient hybrid of the sour orange and the citron. A Barbardos farmer developed the grapefruit in the 18th century by crossing oranges and pomelos. Many grape varieties are also hybrids.
But it's hard to bring new hybrids to market – as few as one in 1,000 attempts are estimated to be successful. And because fruit trees take a long time to grow, it can take 10 or 15 years before a crop becomes commercially viable. One of the most innovative companies in this Frankenstein's orchard is a California outfit with the unpastoral name of Zaiger's Inc. Genetics. It's responsible for such painfully named creations as the "pluerry" (a mixture of plum and cherry, which sounds like an illness) and the "pluot" (plum and apricot, which sounds like a species of central Asian rodent).
Marks and Spencer promise a UK papple crop within a few years, assuming the market doesn't go pear-shaped. Until then, consumers are stuck with food miles and the New Zealand version, priced at £1 a pop.
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