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"You only see a winner like Kanzi once every ten years"

Kanzi celebrates 25th birthday

When considering apple varieties you might immediately think of the classics such as the Jonagold and the Granny Smith. But real apple fans have undoubtedly tasted the Kanzi before now. This Belgian apple with university roots is now celebrating its 25th birthday, KU Leuven reports.

Feel free to call the Kanzi a designer apple. A luxury apple, specially designed for the trend sensitive but quality conscious consumer. It is also sold for a higher price: sometimes more than three Euro per kilo. But you are getting quality for this, says Professor Wannes Keulemans of the Department of Biosystems of the Faculty of Bio Engineering Sciences. "Kanzi is Swahili for 'hidden treasure'. The Kanzi is a crispy apple literally bursting with juice when bitten. The sweet sour balance is good and the apple also looks attractive: pinky red, tight and shiny. And the apple maintains this quality for a long time."



The Kanzi is the most planted new apple variety in Europe and is now also grown in the United States, South America, Australia and New Zealand. A big journey for a Belgian apple that was only a seed 25 years ago. Keulemans stood at the cradle of the Kanzi. "I worked on breeding fruit, particularly plums and I came into contact with tree grower Johan Nicolaï, who was looking for a new, exclusive apple variety. We travelled the world together to visit breeding projects all over to then decide that we were going to do it ourselves."

Sweet/sour sister
Keulemans and Nicolaï started cross breeding and the Kanzi was born in 1992. "It's a Belgian child with New Zealand parents: the Gala and the Braeburn, also two decent apples. Those parents brought on other interesting mixes: the Jazz apples is a little brother - or sister - of the Kanzi."

"One of the great advantages of the Kanzi is the good fruit quality, which is very constant. It can also be stored for a long time. This is important when trying to get the apple in store. A downside to the Kanzi is its sensitivity to fruit tree cancer in the orchard. This is a fungal disease in which cells die and the juice flows in the branches are disrupted from the infection point. The fungus can also affect the fruits, but this can be fixed with the right cultivation measures."

Wannes Keulemans: A winner like Kanzi only comes around every ten years. But the genetic insights raise the chances of creating anther one.

Creating a cross one thing, but this doesn't put a new apple variety on the shelves. "First you have to create the cross and then you judge the offspring it produces. You then have to make sufficient trees from the best offspring by grafting. When you plant those trees it will take another two years before they bear fruit. They won't reach maximum production until a few years later. And then you still have to convince the stores and supermarkets. There is easily twelve to fifteen years between crossing to commercialising the new variety. And the apple won't be in stores for another five years."

Members only
To get all of this running along the right tracks, the spin-off Better3Fruit was founded in 2000 and quite quickly, in 2005, the Kanzi was for sale. The apple at least. Planting your own Kanzi tree isn't allowed. The Kanzi is a club variety: that means that the variety is patented and is grown through a club system with a limited amount of growers. "Growers are always hit in years it goes badly with free varieties. The club system means that their incomes from the Kanzi apples are more stable." This means Kanzi can help growers through the drought. 


Kanzi means hidden treasure in Swahili 

According to Keulemans we can expect more new varieties. Genetic research will play a large role in this. "We are now fully mapping out what genes are important: not just for colour or flavour, but in particular for characteristics like disease resistance or quality control in storage. Better3Fruit will definitely be able to use this knowledge in breeding programmes within five years.


Source: KU Leuven

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