TL;DR: The Cosmic Crisp is a very good apple, with more complexity than Honeycrisp and spooky keeping qualities. You should try a couple if you see them in a store.
Plenty of other folks (including The Allusionist, Helen Zaltzman) have written and talked about the unprecedented hype surrounding the December 2019 release of this new apple. I bought two Cosmic Crisps at my first sighting, which was at the Trader Joe’s on Colesville Road in Silver Spring, Maryland, on Saturday, January 12, 2020.
Heft: Both of my samples were huge (8/10ths of a pound)—larger than I typically want to eat in one sitting, but that doesn’t matter (see below re. its qualities after cutting). Feels dense and heavy in the hand. [EDIT: Beginning in the winter of 2022, I began seeing smaller examples, including bags of snack-size apples (approx. four to five ounces each vs. the 13-oz. monsters that hit the market first).]
Visual impressions: This apple is gorgeous. You need an apple for a new version of Snow White? Here’s your star. Broad-shouldered, narrowing at the base. Deep ruby-wine color, like a Tempranillo or a Cabernet Sauvignon, freckled with small pale lenticels. This combination reminds some people of stars in the night sky (which according to this episode of The Allusionist is where the name came from.) This striking background is further enhanced by elegant flamelike shademarks—the dapples in an apple’s color that happen because a piece of fruit has a leaf or twig that keeps a portion out of the sun. My two samples also had a surprise bit of bright green in the cavity (the dimple around the stem).
First bite quality: Surprising, impressive, made me smile. Satisfying bite pressure with a nice shear: The first bite broke away from the rest of the apple in an almost flat cleavage, like splitting a sheet of slate. Skin is thick enough to have presence, but doesn’t feel like a barrier. The ongoing crunch was softer than I expected—less explosive/shattering than the first bite suggested, and not as crunchy as Honeycrisp, SnapDragon, or GoldRush. It’s juicy, but not run-down-your-chin like some Honeycrisps can be.
Flavor: Needs a frame of reference, because we all like different things. I like a complex flavor with an arc. I am completely bored with apples with no notes that aren’t “apple-y” or “sweet” (looking at you, Envy and Kiku). [EDIT: The estimable Adam of the excellent Adam’s Apples blog characterizes our apple era as “the tedious Age of HoneyCrispySweetieCrunch®“, which I find accurate and hilarious.] My three current favorites are GoldRush, SweeTango, and Crimson Crisp. I was a Braeburn loyalist for years before the recent apple renaissance really hit its stride. I’m looking for underlying tartness; noticeable other-fruit or flower flavors (like pear, gooseberry, elderflower); or a spice (like the cinnamon note in Autumn Glory or the coriander in Grimes Golden). For me, Cosmic Crisp starts sweet, low-acid. Then some red plum and light honey. Toward the end, hints of black tea from the skin. Head to head against GoldRush and SweeTango, it suffered by comparison; its lower acidity made it feel insipid. Tasting it again later, on its own, I enjoyed it much more. It’s lovely on its own merits (made me think “Mmmmm, this is a good apple”), and more flavor notes came through—honeydew melon, sugar snap peas, hints of flint and grapefruit that made me think of a French Chardonnay/Chablis.
After cutting: The flesh is very pale yellow, with a coarser grain than SweeTango but not as coarse as GoldRush. I noted above that it’s too large to eat all at once, but that’s not a problem: This apple does not brown. It’s almost disconcerting. Its flesh stays almost completely un-browned for at least 5 days with no acidulation or other anti-browning measures. Here it is immediately after slicing at 5pm on Sunday, Jan. 12, and again after 48 hours in the fridge, uncovered and unwrapped. After a week in the fridge it had started getting a slightly spongy/leathery layer on the outside, but that’s easily trimmed off (or is fine to eat—it dries out rather than turning mealy or mushy).
My Opinion: It’s not in my top tier, but I was impressed. On Feb. 8, I tasted it head-to-head against Honeycrisp and I strongly preferred Cosmic Crisp (as did my friend Lillie, who said “This apple is sparkly. I normally think apples are boring. This apple is not boring.”) To rank it more precisely as a snack/dessert apple, I’d want to have a test against Braeburn, and maybe Fuji and Jazz. I’d also like to see how it works with different cheeses and raw in recipes (I think it would be great in a turkey salad or Waldorf salad). [EDIT: I have started comparative cooking tests, but have had some “I lost my notebook and then there was a pandemic” delays.]
I don’t think Cosmic Crisp is going to eclipse Honeycrisp, but apparently it’s a sturdier tree and a better keeper—so if it takes over the economic niche currently held by Red Delicious, that would be for the greater good.
I am pleased to meet you, Cosmic Crisp. I don’t think we’re going to be best friends, but I’d be happy to see you at a party. I’m sure you’ll find your crowd, and I wish you well. [Three years later: I am always happy when I see you, and I usually buy a few of you when I do. The availability of snack-size organic versions is winning me over.]