New Zealand Tree Crops Association — Archive

Central Disricts Branch



an attractively presented dish of various enticing apples...

Project Co-ordinator: Mark Christensen


Cancer Prevention Research and Health

  1. Identification of Monty's Surprise, a New Zealand seedling apple variety as having potential for inhibiting disease in humans.

  2. Initial testing of a "Bach" flower essence made from Monty's Surprise flowers opens up a completely new area of research, with potential health benefits.

  3. Fuero Rous, a traditional French cider apple identified as having substantial levels of phytochemicals, with medicinal potential, in the skin and flesh of the apple.

  4. Hetlina, a heritage European eating apple recognised as having very high medicinal potential.

  5. One high quality "medicinal" apple can equate to eating four modern "supermarket" apples. Justifying the age old adage that "an apple a day keeps the doctor away".

  6. Growers of heritage and seedling apple varieties have always believed that they are a treasure, needing to be preserved. Flavour in fruit is an indicator of nutritional content. This research has uncovered simply what people have known and been saying for years - that modern apples do not have the flavour like the old varieties used to. We can now attribute this loss of flavour with the lower levels of health promoting compounds within "modern" fruit.

    Diabetes Research

  7. Our 2003 research found that Russet apples contain very high levels of the related compounds phloridzin and phloridzin-xyloside. Our latest research identified another variety - just called "Otoko House No. 1" at this stage, that also tested with very high levels. Since these compounds are known to slow down the rate of sugar absorption in the body, we will continue to research their potential benefits for diabetes sufferers in the 2006 year.

    Apple Breeding Implications

  8. The poor nutritional quality of modern commercial apple varieties, is highlighted by this research.

  9. A flaw in modern breeding programmes is alluded to, where amateur breeders and roadside seedlings have higher nutritive value and medicinal potential, than modern commercially bred varieties.

  10. At the very least, future breeding programmes for new varieties of food plants should include as a pre-eminent selection criteria, the levels of health-promoting beneficial compounds in the varieties selected.

  11. The pre-eminence of Seedling varieties, implies that the rootstock selection is very important in obtaining the maximum phytochemical content in apples. In particular growing a variety on its own roots, should assist in that variety attaining its maximum attainable level of health promoting compounds.

  12. It appears that the full extent that a rootstock can influence and moderate the levels of compounds in apples, has not yet been fully appreciated.

  13. Also implied by this research is that phytonutrient content may well increase with the age of the tree - with very old trees having the maximum available levels of compounds for that variety. The value in trees being able to reach their full maturity, is another factor that is not currently appreciated.

    Biodiversity Implications

  14. No two apple varieties are the same - all test with different levels of compounds. There is a strength in maintaining diversity of apple cultivars within the country. New Zealand apple growers have been persuaded over many years to remove old varieties and replace them with supposedly superior modern varieties. From a health aspect, this advice has been wrong. The outstanding varieties identified by this research are all seedling or heritage varieties. This proves the vital importance of maintaining a diverse gene pool of material, in apples as with all plant material.

    Tree Crops Potential

  15. The potential exists for amateur enthusiasts to grow apple pips and produce more superior varieties than commercial breeders.

  16. The medicinal potential of traditional cider apples, (far in excess of modern apple cultivars), identifies a niche for boutique cider and cider vinegar production.

  17. Previous research on Red Delicious apples has highlighted how significant the flavanoids and other compounds present in the apples may be on reducing the incidence of cancer, heart disease and stroke. With this report we have identified varieties that have considerably higher levels of the beneficial compounds that influence these diseases. Hence these particular varieties could be grown for their medicinal qualities.

The latest chemical analysis of 126 apple varieties collected by the Central Districts Branch provides insight into the wonderful phytonutrient value of traditional cider apple varieties plus further evidence of the strength from a phytochemical perspective of seedling varieties.

A little known French cider apple called Fuero Rous has tested with the highest levels of procyanidins in the skin and flesh. This specialist cider apple variety has tested even higher than Monty's Surprise, although Monty's Surprise still has the highest levels for an eating apple.

Most of the beneficial health compounds in an apple are found in the skin, rather than the flesh. (Note: Hort Research does use different methods for measuring the levels of compounds in the skin and flesh, therefore the higher numbers showing for compounds in the flesh are not directly comparable to the skin numbers).

Having said this however, what our latest data shows is a substantial level of compounds in the flesh of traditional cider apples.

  µg/cm2 µg/g FW µg/cm2 µg/g FW
Total Procyanidins Total Phenolics
Skin Flesh Skin Flesh
Fuero Rous Cider 866 5797 1664 11078
Bisquet Cider 473 4402 1358 11305
Knotted Kernel Cider 552 3940 1534 11586
C'heuro Ru Bienn Cider 383 3188 963 8747
Monty's Surprise Seedling 722 1426 1676 3773
Hetlina Heritage 585 1182 1475 4154
The above numbers become significant when compared to a fairly typical modern commercial apple:
Pacific Rose (selection) 234 324 543 1158

Given the nature of cider making and the fact that these cider varieties are not palatable, it would be difficult to develop a better use of these apples than cider (or cider vinegar), where all the benefits of these nutritional and medicinal compounds can be captured in a liquid form that for all intents and purposes should have powerful anti-cancer properties.

It is interesting that a Croatian study (… winning-the-war-on-cancer… ) of over 3,000 skeletons of people who died between 5300BC and the mid 19th century could find no evidence that any one individual had died from cancer. Perhaps the popularity of cider in Europe over this period, was a factor?

When one considers the amazing knowledge base that ancient indigenous peoples possessed (and in some cases still possess), it is open to conjecture whether this knowledge of the inherent benefits of these cider varieties was in some way known, at the time they were originally chosen and cultivated. It is however regrettable that in the main, New Zealand cider is now made from inferior modern cultivars, hence the full potential of cider as a medicinal drink is currently being lost.

Our 2005 research reinforced our 2003 findings that 'Heritage' and seedling varieties tested with far higher levels of all types of phytochemicals than modern commercial cultivars.

Our consistent findings on the very high levels of compounds in seedling apple varieties, appears to indicate that the rootstock may have a much greater effect on the phytochemical composition of apple fruit, than has previously been considered. The implication from this, is that to grow a tree, to achieve the maximum health benefits for its fruit, then it should be grown on its own roots.
(It is possible that budding or grafting low to the ground, onto a rootstock, and then moulding or replanting above the graft union, may achieve the desired result - once the roots are established from the grafted scion, - but this will need to be confirmed with further research.)

Another factor to consider is the age of the tree. As a tree gains great maturity, (for instance 80 to 100 years), it appears to exhibit greater levels of compounds. This may in fact be a gradual process as the tree ages. We can however, only discern from our research data, that specific trees that are very old, test with high levels of compounds. Thus apple trees should be allowed to grow to a great age - to realise their full potential - (having been planted on their own roots in the first place !)

The following page contains a comparison for the total phenolics found in ten New Zealand commercially grown varieties, tested from three main growing regions. When compared to our data of 185 apple varieties tested (combining our 2003 and 2005 data), it can be seen that our top ten heritage and seedling varieties exceeded the levels of phenolics in the skin and flesh of all the commercial varieties, with one exception. That exception is the skin of Red Delicious that tested higher than that of Sweet Alford (our tenth variety). Red Delicious of course originated from a seedling rootstock found in about 1870 in the USA - further evidence of the quality of these seedling apples.

It can be further seen that if you were to substitute a variety such as Monty's Surprise in place of a 'supermarket' commercial variety, you would receive 3.4 times the amount of phenolics in the skin and 5.9 times the amount in the flesh. Hence one Monty's Surprise apple a day would be comparable to eating at least four modern apples.

Chemical Analysis Data - New Zealand Apple Varieties

Comparison of Top New Zealand Apple Cultivars against Commercially Grown Cultivars

  Total Phenolics
Skin (µg/cm2) Flesh (µg/g FW)
Commercially Grown* Hawkes
Braeburn 319 467 274 348 337 395 388 368
Cox's Orange 208 231 392 277 578 448 565 530
Granny Smith 278 307 510 330 485 533 998 597
Pacific Beauty 550 546 543 546 816 630 1001 815
Pacific Queen 292 666 720 612 719 775 1103 895
Pacific Rose 439 479 665 500 819 735 1089 840
Pink Lady 306 305 471 376 395 489 728 564
Red Delicious 750 861 808 806 864 832 750 815
Royal Gala 484 380 461 441 556 485 610 550
Jazz 442 460 427 443 582 444 590 544
Mean 423 539 543 497 590 579 752 638
Top Cultivars Tested  
Otoko House No.1 1832 6657
Monty's Surprise 1676 3773
Fuero Rous 1664 11078
Knotted Kernel 1534 11586
Hetlina 1475 4154
Otoko House No.2 1432 4882
Bisquet 1358 11305
Makaranui Apple 1155 3420
C'huero Ru Bienn 963 8747
Sweet Alford 734 4707
Commercially Grown Mean 497 638
Monty's Surprise Comparison 1676 3773
Factor Difference 3.4 5.9

* Commercially grown apple data from:
McGhie Tony K, Hunt Martin, Barnett Laura E "Cultivar and growing region determine the antioxidant polyphenolic concentration and composition of apples grown in New Zealand".

We were very pleased this year to have the opportunity to test apples from Neville Sinclair in Canterbury (Appendix 1). Neville has been an avid enthusiast for many years, growing apple trees from seed. His efforts have paid off for him with the enjoyment of a number of very good varieties that he has grown. We tested eight of Neville's seedlings (numbered one to eight), and when we look at the top apples in each category the Sinclair Seedling name keeps reoccurring.

For instance, "Three", "One" and "Five" are very high in quercetin arabinopyranoside; "One" is high in an unknown quercetin compound tested; "Seven" and "Eight" are high in quercetin rutinoside; "Four" is high in quercetin galactoside; "Three" is high in phloridzin in the skin. "Three" and "Five" are very high in phloridzin-xyloside in the skin and flesh. "Four" has high levels of phloridzin-xyloside in the flesh; "Six" is very high in cyanidins 3-0-galactoside. "Six" is an interesting apple because it had a slight red tinge to the flesh close to the skin.

Of the eight cultivars tested, only one variety - Number Two - did not show up as having significantly high levels of any one compound. Clearly Neville is on the right track, since he has grown apple varieties high in nutritional content, far superior to commercial varieties grown by professional breeders and scientists. Neville says that he only selects the 'mother' and leaves the remainder to chance. He then selects the offspring that are healthy and survive as young trees.

Perhaps professional breeders, in attempting to control the whole process, are in fact interfering with the natural process involved. It is possible that this "interference" in the process, may be evidenced by the decrease in the levels of compounds detected in those commercially grown varieties.

Hence if we are to advance the cause of apple breeding, we may need more people to plant their selected apple pips. This is a wonderful opportunity for amateur enthusiasts.

A real find this year was the Otoko varieties tested. These are some very old trees. Five apple trees were tested from this location and two tested exceptionally well. The variety called Otoko House No.1 tested the highest for chlorogenic acid in the skin, as well as for quercetin glycoside and quercetin glucoside, the highest for catechin for the skin and the flesh, very high for epicatechin and B2 for skin and flesh, as well as procyanadins, phloridzin and phloridzin-xyloside.

Otoko House No.2 also tested very high for chlorogenic acid, catechin, epicatechin and B2 and total procyanidins as well as phloridzin, all in the skin and flesh.

Both these varieties are old trees growing in a paddock. They are possible seedlings, but this has not yet been confirmed. The apples from the Otoko House No.1 tree displayed a lot of variation in colour and a lack of uniformity that would discount them being regarded as a commercial apple prospect. The Otoko House No.2 apple is a green apple and also probably not a commercial prospect, yet apples have many uses as our ancestors proved with the choice of specific apples for cider. Our current predilection for dessert apples, belies the fact that an apple's superficial beauty is no match for medicinal quality when you're looking for a healthy apple, and if that apple is processed in some way - into baking or cider for instance - its outward appearance becomes irrelevant.
It would be interesting to grow both of these varieties on new rootstocks (or on their own roots), to produce new trees, in order to re-evaluate the fruit, and any future potential that they may have.

In our latest research we also tested a number of roadside apple seedlings, to determine their levels of compounds (Appendix 2). The best of these seedlings was the Makaranui apple. This was chosen as a bit of an oddity because of its unusual stalk. It tested with extraordinarily high levels of phloridzin in the flesh, and very high levels in the skin.

Skin Flesh
Takapuna Russet 117.1 41.6
Otoko House No.1 97.6 144.5
Makaranui Apple 83.2 225.4
Otoko House No.2 75.3 89.3
Comparison - Pacific Rose (selection) 5.6 6.6

In comparing these roadside apples, we can say that there would appear to be a more than 50% probability that any 'side of the road' seeding apple will have higher levels of beneficial compounds in it than a commercially bred apple purchased from the supermarket. That probability appears to increase if the 'side of the road' variety chosen is red in colour.

So next time you drive past an apple tree on the side of the road you may just consider stopping, to have a better look!

A comparison was made between three Granny Smith trees, one grown in Canterbury, one being a regrowth from a rootstock in Wanganui and the third a very old tree in the North Island (Otoko variety). Both the Canterbury tree and the Wanganui rootstock trees were grown under organic management and the Otoko tree was spray free.

The rootstock variety tested with consistently higher levels of compounds than the Canterbury variety, however the very old Otoko tree had even higher levels. This appears to indicate the very real possibility that the age of the tree may be an influencing factor in increasing the levels of beneficial compounds available. (We will attempt to confirm this further, with our proposed 2006 research.)

This year we tested apples from three "Captain Kelly" apple trees grown on the same property. Captain Kelly was a sea captain who brought an original tree to New Zealand in the 1830's or 1840's. A seed from this original tree was planted fifteen years ago and is listed here as "Captain Kelly Back Lawn Seedling". From this seedling tree a pip was planted to produce the "Captain Kelly Orchard Seedling", which is about 7 years old. A graft from the "Back Lawn" tree, also produced the "Captain Kelly 5 Crown Pippin" tree, which fruited for the first time in 2005. The trees are all grown on Horotui sandy loam, with comfrey around the base of each tree. Hence soil and climate are not differentiating factors. The data on these three trees appears to be of importance because of its consistency. The "Black Lawn" seedling tested highest in every compound analysed except for two (and those differences are not material). The "Five Crown Pippin" grafted tree, tested second in all but a few categories, and the Orchard seedling tested last with the lowest levels of compounds in almost all categories. As to why these trees appear in this order, is still a matter of conjecture. The Back Lawn seedling is better established than it's rivals. This, plus the fact that it is a seedling, and seedlings tend to be stronger growing trees, with higher levels of compounds generally, may well account for it being superior to the grafted tree. The third ranking of the younger seedling, may well be a factor of it's relative immaturity. It would be interesting to see, whether it's levels of compounds increased with say, another 10 years of maturity?

A Flaw in Modern Breeding Practices?

We have identified this year the very high levels of compounds appearing in some seedling apple cultivars. Whether they are roadside seedlings, or bred by amateur enthusiasts (such as the Sinclair apples) they stand-out when compared to modern commercial varieties that have evolved through standard breeding programmes. These stand-out seedlings, were all planted as a pip. Only the one parent was 'known', the other - having arrived on pollen borne by a bee, from an unidentified source. Conventional wisdom would seem to assume that this unknown other parent is the sole source determining the balance of the genetic makeup of the tree. But is this true? If the choice of parents was the only determinant in breeding a better, more nutritious apple, then one would have thought that professional breeders would have achieved better results with their commercial cultivars.

We know that these professional breeders have bred for criteria relating to commercial saleability and storage, with flavour being a very secondary consideration. Knowing this, we still would have expected better results. Those few modern cultivars that scored very well come more within the realms of the chaos theory (appearing as seemingly randomised events) rather than as an intentional expression. Could there possibly be another factor that science is missing? Something elusive and difficult to measure and therefore outside the realms of current scientific knowledge.

This is one of the biggest issues, for those interested in apple and plant breeding, to emerge from this research.


Monty's Surprise is a New Zealand seedling apple variety discovered growing in April 2000. The original tree is estimated to be about 90 years old. It is an excellent eating apple as well as a cooking apple. It is disease resistant and ideal for a home garden or organic situation. It is predominantly a tip-bearing variety.

This is a unique apple variety with exceptional medicinal qualities. This variety's unique status is evidenced by the size, shape and texture of its leaves, that appear different to all other apple varieties.

We believe that every part of this tree has the ability to inhibit disease in humans. Tree Crops' research is concentrating on the three areas that should provide the most disease-inhibiting effects - the skin of the apples, the flowers and the pips.

If you are going to eat an apple a day to stay healthy, then we advise you to eat Monty's Surprise, as we believe it to be the highest quality eating apple in the world.

In 2005 we began researching the flowers of Monty's Surprise to unlock their medicinal potential. We looked at the origins of Bach flower essences, as well as their method of preparation. This resulted in eight batches of Monty's Surprise flower essence being produced. Although the medicinal qualities of flowers have been known for thousands of years, this may be the first time that apple flowers have been used in a Bach flower essence.

The next stage of our research was to prove that compounds in the apple flowers had transferred into the spring water in which they had been infused in.

You will find in Appendix 3 (below), four chromatograms - the first one is of the Monty's Surprise flower essence, with flowers taken from the "mother" tree; the second one is of the Spring Water used; the third one is a batch of Monty's Surprise flower essence, with flowers taken from a grafted tree; and the last one is a standard apple chromatogram of the fruit.

When you look at the chromatogram for the sample of Spring Water, (ignoring the initial peaks, as the machine calibrates itself), you can see that no further peaks arise, meaning that no compounds have been detected.
When compared with the Sample of Monty's Surprise Flower Essence taken from the "Mother" tree, compounds are clearly detected. Thus proving, that the method of preparation, (soaking the flowers in Spring water, in the sun, for a time), has worked, in transferring compounds from the flowers to the water.
The sample of Monty's Surprise Flower Essence taken from a grafted tree, also shows detectable compounds, but what is interesting is that they show as lower concentrations, than from the "mother" tree.
There are a number of variables that could contribute to this difference in levels of compounds. It is felt that the most important differences in this case are firstly, that the "Mother" tree is on its own roots, and that the MM106 rootstock used for the grafted tree, will be moderating the levels of compounds available to the flowers (and presumably also the fruit). Secondly, the age of the "mother" tree may also be having an effect. This tree is estimated to be at least 90 years old, compared to 6 years for the grafted tree. (This coincides with the comparison made of Granny Smith trees tested, where the apples with the highest levels of compounds, came from the oldest tree).

A comparison between the chromatogram of the flower essence sample from the "Mother" tree, and a standard apple chromatogram, shows that compounds in the skin, also appear in the flower essence. What is exciting is that there are further compounds in the flower essence, that do not appear in the apple. At this stage, we don't know what these compounds are, or what they do. But they may well have specific health benefits, for humans.

Earlier work: APPLE CANCER RESEARCH PROJECT Information Pack, April 2004