Shimla: Looks can be deceptive. And this also holds true for apples from Himachal Pradesh, at least this year.
The deep crimson apples hitting the market from the state are said to be devoid of natural sweetness due to the prolonged monsoon and overcast conditions.
According to horticulture experts, the red apples, especially large and super large size, this year appear attractive but are not as crisp, crunchy or juicy. They blame the rain gods for the poor quality.
The continuous fog-like conditions, coupled with poor sunlight over a period extending over two months, have severely affected the apple crop.
"Prolonged cloudy conditions in the entire region in August and September have hampered the normal process of photosynthesis," S.P. Bhardwaj, former joint director at the Solan-based Y.S. Parmar University of Horticulture and Forestry, told IANS.
Photosynthesis is the process that converts of carbon dioxide into organic compounds, especially sugars, using the energy from sunlight.
"When the fruit approaches maturity, it releases ethylene that enables the fruit to ripen. Starch is broken down into sugars, increasing the sweetness. Acids are neutralised making it less sour. For this process, sufficient sunlight is required," he said.
An official of the horticulture department said delayed picking of fruit due to heavy rains coupled with non-availability of cartons and trays, shortage of labour, transport facilities and poor market rates have also contributed in retention of apples in orchards. This resulted in the over-ripening of fruit.
"The crop that is reaching the market these days is over-ripe. In any over-ripe fruit, the sugar content reduces and its food value also gets impaired," he added.
Bhardwaj said early flowering of the apple crop this season by 20 days and drought conditions during the early stage of fruit development have also affected the quality.
According to him, the crop harvested in the state before July was more juicy as compared to the crop that was harvested in August and September.
He said even this year, when the state is heading towards an all-time record of apple production of over 4.5 crore (45 million) standard boxes of 20 kg each, the problem of fruit rotting is also more.
Till date, over 3.5 crore boxes of apples have been sent to various markets.
"Continuous moist conditions provide more water for the biochemical reactions to occur that lead to a rise in the fruit rotting problem," Bhardwaj added.
According to the meteorological office in Shimla, the prominent apple belts in Shimla, Kinnaur, Mandi and Kullu districts have seen heavy rains during the monsoon.
Manmohan Singh, director of the meteorological office, said: "The monsoon has been plentiful this year as compared to last year. The state saw 858.9 mm of rain against the average of 769.9 mm from June 1 to Sep 22, which is equivalent to 12 percent surplus rainfall."
According to him, the monsoon normally starts retreating by the second week of September but it`s still prevalent in the region.
Himachal Pradesh`s apple boom is credited to Satyanand (Samuel Evans Stokes, Jr). Stokes, an American missionary, first introduced high-quality apples in the Kothgarh-Thanedar belt in upper Shimla in the early 1920s.
The entire belt is known for producing apples of Royal Delicious, Red Delicious and Granny Smith varieties.
The economy of the state is highly dependent on apples, besides hydropower and tourism. The state`s apple industry is worth Rs.1,500 crore ($330 million).
Apple is a highly nutritive, low fat and salt-free fruit. It contains minerals and vitamins in abundance and is a low calorie fruit. It is known to possess anti-oxidant and anti-carcinogenic properties.