Hating on Apple

Why I hate the McIntosh Apple

Posted: March 29, 2022

Origin Story

The McIntosh apple is not a good apple. The skin is tough and gets stuck in between your teeth, and then the flesh is mushy and sour. Overall, it is an inferior apple to most modern cultivars. It is only marginally better than the Red Delicious, an apple with a blasphemous name.

The original McIntosh apple tree was discovered in 1811. Then, it was just a random apple tree growing in a farmer's field in what would later become Cannada. The McIntosh family noticed that the apples of the tree were spectacular and continued to cultivate it. The tree spread across the US and Canada. Due to the fact that this apple variety is still kicking around over 200 years later, it is inarguable that it was a good apple. The McIntosh apple is still undoubtedly popular. So popular that there is an entire line of personal computers named after them.

But first, we need to talk about Genetics

Apples do not grow true to seed. This is true of pretty much every fruit tree (and potatoes). Simply the life cycle of these plants is too long to be able to be bred for homogeneity. How then do all McIntosh apples taste the same. This is because of a process called grafting, where a branch of good apple is shoved onto a strong, apple tree base. The brach will grow out and bear it's own fruit.

As this one variety of tree spread around the country, mutations of it started popping up (bound to happen with so many identical plants). These mutations are often inconsequential, but sometimes a single mutation or a series of mutations can fundamentally change the plant. Over time, these positive or negative changes to the McIntosh slowly accumulate and change it's genetic code. With market economy, the customer only wants to buy non-bruised, red apples. The taste is now an afterthought and begins it's decline.

Silver Fox Domestication Experiment

In Siberia, an experiment is underway: to test the hypothesis that by only selecting for tameness, the silver fox could be domesticated. To make a long story short, after maybe a few dozen gererations, the foxes began to develop floppy ears and more dog-like characteristics. Currently, the foxes are as sociable as puppies.

This is unexpected and loops back to genetics again. The researchers knew that the tameness they sought would be the result of incredibly complex genetics. Consider this hypothetical:

As predators, the ears of the foxes must stand up and be alert. It could follow that genes coding for alert ears trait are partially controlled by predation genes. In selecting for tameness (against aggression and therefore also against predation), that alert ear trait would have been selected against. The floppy-eared trait, previously unseen in nature could now express itself.
From this simplified example, you should see that every single trait, selected for or against, will have trickle down effects on many other seemingly unrelated traits.

Fundamentally, it is impossible to select for only one trait in any breeding effort. Most genetic traits are controlled by many different genes, and as such do not follow simple Mendellian laws of inheritance. This is called Polygenetic Inheritance, where many different genes help to control one characteristic.

Back to the McIntosh

Evidently, the McIntosh apple tree has been being selectivley bred for shipping qualities, and color. The tough skin that always gets stuck in your teeth would be beneficial for shipping. The Red Delicious apple "fell off" because of just this problem. The flavour was bred out while selecting for the deep red color, in a process that unfortunatley resulted in good looking but terrible tasting apples. In my research, I found that the most recent graft of the original McIntosh is only third "generation" and exists at Ontario's Upper Canada Village. Someday, I would like to try an apple from that tree to see if my hyopthesis as to the downfall of Canada's favourite apple is indeed correct.

Despite my distaste for the McIntosh apple, when they are the only option, I will still eat them. After all, an apple no matter the taste will always be infinitley better for you than candy or processed food.

Stay tuned for another blog post where I discus why I hate the MacIntosh Laptop

Aditional Reading

Youtube Red "Delicious" aren't delicious. Here's why.