Fruit to bowl buyers over: a sumo mandarin, eye-healthy corn, and an apple that won't brown

Esther Han
Crunchier and tastier: The Romanesco Cauliflower originated in Italy 500 years ago.
Crunchier and tastier: The Romanesco Cauliflower originated in Italy 500 years ago. Photo: David Gomez

Bumpy skin and a strange topknot might put off some buyers, but the grower behind a new mandarin variety promises it ticks every other box: it is easy to peel, very sweet and generally has no seeds.

The sumo mandarin is the latest in the string of new fruit varieties to hit supermarket shelves and grocery stands this year. The demands of consumers have pushed growers to also release the green star apple that doesn't brown and develop superyellow sweetcorn, which contains high levels of an anti-ageing nutrient.

''People are always looking for something new,'' said Frank Mercuri, a citrus grower in Leeton in southern NSW.

The Sumo Mandarin: An Orange and Mandarin hybrid.
The Sumo Mandarin: An Orange and Mandarin hybrid. Photo: Rocco Pirrottina

The sumo will be in supermarkets for the next four weeks.

Bringing it to market has been a decade-long effort for Mr Mercuri, who first brought the budwood from Japan in 2001 and planted thousands of trees in 2006. The mandarin and orange hybrid was developed 40 years ago in Japan, where buyers are willing to pay $10 for one piece of fruit.

Mr Mercuri said demand for certain features in fruits and vegetables was driving the development and cultivation of new breeds.

The interest is also a boon for retailers. Research by Colmar Brunton and AusVeg, the peak vegetable growers' body, showed retailers could increase sales if they provided more varieties and information on how they differed.

Another survey of 500 consumers found 74 per cent were not aware of cauliflower varieties. The Romanesco cauliflower, developed in Italy 500 years ago, is an example of a variety unknown to most people. It could become a hot seller.

"It has a sweeter, nuttier taste, crossed between broccoli and cauliflower," AusVeg spokesman Andrew White said.


In January, a University of Queensland team introduced the superyellow sweetcorn. It is high in zeaxanthin, which can fight age-related macular degeneration.

ProFruit's Frank Petulla, a wholesaler for 41 years, has witnessed growers travelling the world in greater numbers in search of varieties to satisfy consumers. "It's in direct response to complaints in consumer surveys,'' he says.

This year for the first time he sold the green star apple. Its flesh does not brown because of its high Vitamin C levels. It was naturally bred in Belgium a decade ago using granny smith apples and planted in Western Australia's Manjimup region in 2008. "It was sold as gourmet product to high-end buyers at $9.99 a kilo this year and didn't do too well,'' Mr Petulla said. ''Next year we're going to sell bigger quantities at a reasonable rate.''

ProFruit salesman Frank Cremona said 30 years ago there were five key apple varieties: the granny smith, delicious, Jonathan, red delicious and golden delicious. There are now 11 staples, including the fuji and pink lady.

''Overseas growers come up with new lines and offer them to Australia and all of a sudden farmers are putting them in and gambling,'' he said. ''Some just don't work."

The facts

SUMO MANDARIN - A orange and mandarin hybrid
Origin: Bred in Japan in 1972
Key features: Large, generally seedless and easy to peel
First planted:  2006 in Leeton, New South Wales
First commercial sale: This week in NSW

GREEN STAR APPLE - A Delbarestival apple and Granny Smith hybrid
Origin: Bred in Belgium in 2003
Key features: Flesh doesn’t brown
First planted: 2008 in Manjimup, Western Australia
First commercial sale: March this year

ROMANESCO CAULIFLOWER - Difficult to classify, carrying both broccoli and cauliflower features
Origin: Appeared in Italy 500 years ago
Key Features: Crunchier and tastier than regular cauliflower
First planted: Early 2013 in Currency Creek, South Australia
First commercial sale: April this year

Have you tried any of these new varieties? If yes, jump on the comments and let us know what you think.