carol_milesWashington State University researchers are gearing up to test apple cider qualities this year, thanks to a $40,000 grant announced this month by the university’s College of Agricultural, Human, and Natural Resource Sciences.

Carol Miles, horticulture professor at WSU Mount Vernon, leads the team of three researchers who received the award.  The grant is one of the university’s eight “Emerging Research Issues” projects which are designed to support innovative approaches to resolve significant issues – including social and economic factors — faced by the state’s agricultural industries.

Her WSU project collaborators in Pullman are Peter Tozer, research associate with the School of Economic Sciences; and Carolyn Ross, associate professor in the School of Food Science.

Cider
Cider qualities are evaluated in the WSU Mount Vernon processing lab. (Photo by Kim Binczewski)

“In my part of the project, I will evaluate the quality of fruit from several cider varieties harvested from four orchards in Washington to see if there are differences due to environment,” said Miles, who has been investigating cider apple production at WSU Mount Vernon since 2007. “I will also use a mechanical harvester to pick fruit in our research orchard at WSU Mount Vernon to see if mechanized harvest has a negative impact on fruit and juice quality.”

According to Miles, Tozer will determine how cider makers value certain juice qualities, such as tannin level. Tannin is a bitter-tasting organic substance present in some plant tissues. Cider apples have high levels of tannin compared to dessert apples, but it is uncertain if cider makers pay more for juice that is high in tannin.

Ross, who is manager of the CAHNRS Sensory Evaluation Unit, will evaluate the sensory qualities of cider made from juice from Miles’ experiments to see whether consumers can detect differences due to location or harvest method.  In her analyses, Ross will compare two evaluations methods: a traditional human sensory panel and the electric tongue technology.

Once the research results are in, the team hopes both growers and consumers can savor the benefits. “The cider industry will gain a better understanding of the impact of growing environment, location, and harvest method on fruit quality — and whether or not these differences are valued by the cider maker or detectable by consumers,” Miles said.