Smoked apple snacks are ripe for the picking

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smoked apples
Could smoked apple snacks revive West Virginia apple industry? The technology is there, say WVU experts, and now it's just a matter of finding entrepreneurs who will put the science into action. (WVU photo)

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — A few West Virginia University faculty are exploring the potential for West Virginia’s apple growers to develop and market a unique food item that could become the hottest new snack — dried, smoked apple chunks.

Growers and other interested parties will soon learn about producing, marketing and selling the snack, thanks to faculty from the WVU Extension Service, WVU Davis College of Agriculture, Natural Resources and Design, and the WVU School of Social Work. The WVU team received a USDA grant to develop and later deliver workshops around the state.

Smoked apples?

On the surface, the snack is a nutritious offering that combines the natural sweetness of West Virginia’s apples with a savory, pleasant smokiness.

But, the bigger opportunity it provides is the ability for growers to reduce apple waste and crop spoilage, while increasing overall sales, by preserving the fruit and selling the shelf-stable product during the offseason.

WVU Extension Service’s Food Safety and Preservation Specialist Litha Sivanandan said it’s a perfect opportunity that addresses two key areas — economic empowerment and nutrition.

“As we develop production techniques to ensure product quality of smoked apple snacks, we’re doing it with those in mind who wish to start or expand a food business,” she said.

“There are areas within West Virginia where nutritious snacks may be hard to find, so by helping a local farmer consistently and safely produce a desirable product that they can sell within the community helps everyone take the right step forward.”

WV apples

According to the project’s researchers, West Virginia ranks ninth nationally in apple production but doesn’t have the access and the connections to sell fresh apples on a large, national scale.

While growers sometimes struggle to sell fresh apples, only 2 percent of the apples grown in West Virginia are turned into value-added products. The snacks can help fill the void and give growers a unique product to market and bolster profits.

We have the technology. Advanced technology is one key to executing the potentially profitable plan.

“Now that we have developed these delicious snacks and the production recipe, we are developing technology that is both commercially viable at the small-business scale and very easy to adopt,” said Kaushlendra Singh, associate professor of wood science and technology.

“We hope that adoption of our technology will reduce import of dried apples in the U.S., which was approximately 41 percent, or roughly $25 million worth, of total consumption in the past decade.”

Taking it to the people

The final piece of the puzzle to successfully delivering this program stems from feedback from Sivanandan’s previous workshops in food preservation — many participants are females who experience childcare or transportation issues that prevent them from attending workshops or applying what they learn.

That’s where Leslie E. Tower, a professor from the WVU School of Social Work, comes in to help.

“This project is a chance to improve economic conditions, particularly for women in the agriculture industry,” Tower said. “The trainings and resources will help women create good-paying work for themselves.”

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