The Honeycrisp apple has been around commercially since 1991 but only recently is bursting onto the apple scene. Take one bite and you'll know why.

"It's a great apple . . . a very exciting variety," says Shannon Schaffer, spokesman for the U.S. Apple Association, a nonprofit industry trade association based in Vienna. "It has a unique flavor and a unique crunch."

The Honeycrisp is sweet and fresh-tasting, tangy but not overly tart. Above all, it's juicy and crisp. It's fine for cooking but is most memorable when eaten out of hand.

"Many apples are dense, firm, hard -- that's what gives them texture," says James J. Luby, a professor of horticulture science at the University of Minnesota who, with David S. Bedford, helped develop the Honeycrisp. "The Honeycrisp is not so firm. The skin kind of fractures instead of being cleaved apart by the teeth, and it releases its juice with kind of an explosion, a crack."

The Honeycrisp's large cells are what make it so juicy. Minnesota horticulturists knew they were onto something when they took their first bite in their experimental orchard in the 1960s. Records showed that the Honeycrisp was a cross between the Macoun and the Honeygold. But more recent DNA testing revealed it to be the offspring of the Keepsake and an unidentified experimental species. "Groups of seeds could have been switched around," Luby says.

The Honeycrisp has a long ways to go to break into the top-selling varieties. But it's now carried by supermarkets (through November, averaging $1.99 per pound) in addition to the specialty stores and farmers markets where it started out. One of the vendors at the Dupont Circle farmers market last weekend, on the hand-lettered sign describing each apple's attributes, added to the Honeycrisp's: "Everybody's Favorite."

Waldorf Salad

6 servings

Yogurt replaces mayonnaise in this version. Slow-to-brown Honeycrisp apples are well-suited. Adapted from "Healthy Homestyle Cooking," by Evelyn Tribole (Rodale Press, 1994).

2 apples, preferably Honeycrisp, peeled, cored and chopped

11/2 teaspoons lime juice

1/3 cup chopped celery

1/4 cup raisins

3 tablespoons chopped walnuts

1/3 cup nonfat vanilla yogurt

3 to 4 tablespoons nonfat half-and-half

1/2 teaspoon grated lime zest

1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg

In a medium bowl, toss apples with lime juice. Add the celery, raisins and walnuts and mix.

In a small bowl, combine the yogurt and half-and-half, then fold in the lime zest and nutmeg. Spoon some of the dressing over the apple mixture and stir to blend, adding more as needed. Serve immediately, or cover and refrigerate 1 hour.

Per serving: 136 calories, 2 g protein, 21 g carbohydrates, 5 g fat, 3 mg cholesterol, 1 g saturated fat, 18 mg sodium, 3 g dietary fiber

Recipe tested by Marcia Kramer; e-mail questions to food@washpost.com

Honeycrisp apples, at right in the basket, aren't the offspring of the Macoun, at left, after all.