New apple variety at U of G may juice up cider industry

A hand holding a Providence crab apple


By Cate Willis

A University of Guelph researcher has developed a new apple variety that holds promise for the cider industry.

Dr. John Cline, a professor of pomology and tree fruit physiology in the Department of Plant Agriculture at the Ontario Agricultural College, bred and developed Providence, a crab apple that has crimson-coloured flesh and produces crimson-coloured juice when processed or fermented.

Providence’s distinctive features make it ideal for the cider industry.

“Providence is fairly unique – there are not many apples that generate red juice,” he says. “My interest in the cider industry and the possibility of producing a rosé cider inspired me to see if there’s a market for this.”

Cline’s research began in 2001 at the Ontario Crops Research Centre – Simcoe in southern Ontario. He cross-developed several crab apples, including Providence.

He selected Providence over the other varieties because of its red leaf, showy pink bloom and crimson fruit flesh. In 2007, he established a research orchard with other crab selections in Simcoe. At the time, Providence was designated “B17Crab7,” and Cline had yet to realize its full potential.

“We discovered there actually could be uses for this apple that we really didn’t consider at first,” Cline says. “It was rather serendipitous in the sense that I started to get involved in cider research, and I was looking at other cider-specific apples and Providence was sitting there right in front of us.

“There are several potential commercial opportunities for it that we’ve started to pursue.”

Cline says there’s a demand for rosé cider in the United States, but few apples can produce this juice colour. Rosé cider in Canada is often made using other red fruit juices such as cranberry, raspberry or strawberry.

While the apple is too tart and high in tannins to eat as a fresh market apple, these traits are ideal for cider.

“Those qualities are why it’s particularly good for cider and processing,” Cline says.

Providence is larger than most other crab apple varieties, but is noticeably smaller than the fresh market apple and is more like a plum in size and shape.

Cline thinks Providence might be used to make a non-alcoholic juice or a sour that can be mixed with other juices. He’s still studying fermentation processes.

Currently, he is working with the U of G Research Innovation Office (RIO) to secure plant protection in the United States.

“We’re looking at making trees available to the U.S industry to grow this variety,” Cline says. “RIO has licensed a Canadian nursery to produce the trees and now they are commercially available to the apple industry in Canada.

“This apple has so much potential.”

The Government of Canada's Research Support Fund is an important source of funding for support of research facilities, research resources, management and administration of the University of Guelph's research enterprise, regulatory requirements and intellectual property and knowledge mobilization.