In April 2000 Mark Christensen and friends discovered a unique seedling apple tree in a remote part of central North Island New Zealand.

Mark and friends were on a road trip and came across an apple tree with apples that were big, clearly disease resistant, crisp and had a wonderful flavour.  These characteristics were amazing considering the obvious age of the tree which had the biggest girth of any apple tree they had seen and was obviously very old.

The chance occurrence that had led us to this tree was to lead us on a journey. A journey that meant we were to look at the tree from a scientific direction, for assisting in preventing cancer, and from the sociological point of view to look at growing communities of heritage fruit tree enthusiasts.

The impetus for this research also came from seeing so many people affected by cancer and noticing how modern treatments can be so difficult and ineffective. It was going back to the old way of looking at food as medicine and embracing the ability of plants to keep us healthy.

Message from Mark Christensen Research Director

If people in New Zealand (and eventually throughout the world) ate more high health apples such as Monty’s Surprise, over time this would have the effect of lowering the overall incidence of chronic disease within our communities.

This is a wellbeing concept. We want to keep people healthy so that along with an increased enjoyment of life, less pressure will be placed on our existing health services.  In medieval times there was a saying ‘Ate an apfel avore gwain to bed makes the doctor beg his bread’, which we now know as ‘An apple a day keeps the doctor away’.

We have begun, firstly with the identification of Monty’s Surprise as a high health variety, and secondly with the distribution of these apple trees throughout the Whanganui region and further afield, a model that we hope will turn this ancient saying into a reality, once more.

We are excited by the enthusiasm of people from all walks of life to grow this marvellous apple tree.

Mark Christensen introduces this heritage variety of apple that is fast becoming a favourite around the country. Filmed as part of the Localising Food Project.

This video looks at the original tree, its history, present orchards and distribution.

Murray Jones from TreeLife Organic Nursery in Whanganui demonstrates how to prune the Monty’s Surprise apple tree.

Montys Surprise Research Journey

The skin of Monty’s Surprise apples contains the highest levels of total quercetin flavonoid compounds found in the world, and the second-highest levels of total procyanidin compounds. It is the oligomeric procyanidins (proanthocyanidins) in Monty’s Surprise that appear to be the effective compounds at inhibiting cancer cell proliferation, demonstrated through in vitro testing.  We know that plant compounds do not work in isolation, they exhibit medicinal effects through a synergistic interrelationship with other compounds in the plant. We therefore believe that the particular effectiveness of Monty’s Surprise comes from the combination and amounts of compounds that exist in this unique apple variety.

The research suggests that the Monty’s Surprise apple variety contains a combination of phytonutrients that can work with the body’s immune system to prevent cancer cells in the body from becoming activated and initiating a disease process.  This has exciting potential for the prevention of cancer.  Human beings are complex individuals, living diverse lifestyles, and one approach cannot be guaranteed to work for everyone.  However, the potential for this variety to assist many people means that the Trust is committed to continue researching its effectiveness and ensuring that the variety is distributed as widely as possible.

It is important to have an understanding of the disease that you wish to prevent or treat. Many research sources have concluded that cancer can be an hereditary disease and can also be activated by environmental factors. We believe that if people can be empowered to grow the Montys Surprise Apple and consume this  medicinal fruit they can improve their health outcomes.

Research done at Cornell University identified the ability of Red Delicious apples to inhibit cancer cell proliferation. Work had also been done in Finland that identified in a long-term human population trial the reduced incidence of chronic disease, including cancer, in those individuals who ate the most apples. These studies encouraged researchers for the Heritage Food Crops Research Trust in New Zealand to find out how apple varieties growing in New Zealand might compare to apple varieties tested elsewhere in the world for their levels of polyphenolic compounds and ability to prevent cancer.

Mark Christensen (Heritage Food Crops Research Trust), Dr Frances Raul (Ircad, Strasbourg, France), and Dr Tony McGhie (Plant and Food Research)

The services of Dr Tony McGhie at the Plant & Food Research Institute were employed to chemically analyse over 250 apple varieties. Because many of New Zealand’s modern commercial apple cultivars had already been chemically analysed, this study focused principally on heritage varieties. The data readily confirmed that superior levels of beneficial polyphenolic compounds existed in these old heritage cultivars. From the 250 apple cultivars tested, three were selected as having the most likely potential for benefiting human health and reducing the incidence of cancer. These varieties were Monty’s Surprise, a unique and versatile New Zealand seedling variety; Hetlina, an old European eating apple; and Fuero Rous, a traditional European cider apple.

In September 2006, 12 powdered extract samples of Monty’s Surprise, Hetlina and Fuero Rous, apple cider and cider vinegar, were sent to Dr Francis Raul of the French National Institute for Health and Medical Research in Strasbourg. In February 2007 we received communication from Dr Raul that of all the samples he tested, the procyanidins extracted from the Monty’s Surprise cider showed the most potent antiproliferative effects on a human colon cancer-derived metastatic cell line (SW620).

We were absolutely delighted to hear of these results, as they provided evidence for us to focus our research upon this unique New Zealand seedling apple variety. Dr Raul and his team had earlier published their results (in October 2004) on the effectiveness of procyanidin compounds from the skin of a French cider apple on colon cancer cells. He then found that procyanidin compounds in cider made from Monty’s Surprise apples were more effective than his earlier findings, at an in vitro (or cell culture) level.

Procyanidin Compounds
Comparison of Flavonoids
Total Phenolics

In April 2007 we collected sufficient Monty’s Surprise apples to make 70 litres of Monty’s Surprise cider. Once made, this was delivered to Dr Tony McGhie at Plant & Food Research for conversion into powdered extract. This process was completed in October and the resulting 35 grams of powdered extract was sent to Dr Raul. In January 2008 we received communication from Dr Raul that his in vitro testing showed that 0.02 grams per ml of powdered extract had produced an 80% growth inhibition on the colon cancer cells, thus further demonstrating this variety’s significant antiproliferative activity.

In late 2007 Dr Izabela Konczak at Food Science Australia (part of the CSIRO), tested our Monty’s Surprise samples and found those samples with high procyanidin levels (being the cider and apple samples) exhibited inhibition of cancer cell proliferation in a dose dependent manner, against both colon cancer and stomach cancer cell lines. Dr Konczak compared this very favourably with similar effects exhibited by procyanidin-rich grape seed extract.

Since this date, the Heritage Food Crops Research Trust has concentrated on giving away thousands of Monty’s Surprise apple trees throughout the community.

2008 – 2020

The HFCRT wondered if our Monty’s Surprise Apple tree distributions would be embraced by the general public and would they understand the concept of food as medicine and grow the Monty’s Surprise Apple tree for their health? Furthermore would they be able to communicate the vision and use the tree to help set up food forests in their communities? These questions were answered over the following years with the enthusiastic community uptake of 12,000 Monty’s Surprise Apple trees (as at 2020). The vision also started to be community driven with the HFCRT noticing that people would take the trees and thengive them  to families along with the story and information on planting and care.

We recognise that the best method to confirm the effectiveness of consuming Monty’s Surprise apples as a means of preventing cancer will be by completing a long-term human study.  At the beginning of July 2020, we started working with scientists at Massey University and Otago University to initiate this study. Meanwhile the Trust believes that it has sufficient scientific evidence to enable it to say with confidence that the consumption of this particular apple variety will be of benefit to many people for the prevention of cancers.

The Trust has also started to explore whether seedlings from the original Monty’s Surprise Apple could evolve, to become even more beneficial for human health than the mother tree. Following testing of a number of these seedlings,  selections have been made of ones that show superior levels of polyphenolic and triterpenoid compounds. These continue to be trialled and this research is ongoing as each year new seedlings reach their initial fruiting stage.

Brad Christensen helping pick Monty's Surprise apples from the mother tree for research.

Brad Christensen helping pick Monty’s Surprise apples from the mother tree for research.

Brad Christensen helping pick Monty's Surprise apples from the mother tree for research.

Monty’s Surprise apples, cider and apple jelly.

Brad Christensen helping pick Monty's Surprise apples from the mother tree for research.

The original Monty’s Surprise tree.

Monty’s Surprise Apple being prepared for dehydrating

Monty’s Surprise biscotti made by Melinda Hatherly-Jones.

Joy Bristol and Sharon Duff with one of the Monty’s Surprise apples about to be pressed for juice, cider or cider vinegar.

Members of the Fraternités Ouvrières in France holding Monty’s Surprise grafting wood.

International Research


Apples are a widely consumed, rich source of phytochemicals.  Epidemiological studies[1][2][3][4] have linked the consumption of apples with reduced risk of some cancers, cardiovascular diseases, asthma and diabetes. In the laboratory, apples have been found to have very strong antioxidant activity, to inhibit cancer cell proliferation, to decrease lipid oxidation and to lower cholesterol. Apples contain a variety of phytochemicals, including quercetin, catechin, phloridzin and chlorogenic acid, all of which are strong antioxidants[5].

National Public Health Institute in Helsinki, Finland

One of the studies referred to was conducted by the National Public Health Institute in Helsinki, Finland[6]. It involved 10,054 Finnish men and women. This cohort epidemiological study researched the association between dietary intake of flavonoids and the risk of several chronic diseases.   The researchers concluded that of all the main flavonoid sources, apple intake is associated with a reduced risk of almost all of the chronic diseases considered.

Overwhelmingly, the Finnish researchers pointed to the flavonoid quercetin, a plant-based phytonutrient found most abundantly in apples, onions, tea and red wine, as the flavonoid with the best potential health-promoting capabilities.

Furthermore, according to extensive research over many years, those study participants who ate the most apples and the flavonoid quercetin, had the lowest risk of total mortality; that is, they had the lowest risk of dying of any cause during the decades-long study.

Cornell University, USA

Research was conducted at Cornell University using Red Delicious apples grown in New York State to provide the extracts used to study the effects of phytochemicals. The researchers compared the anti-cancer and anti-oxidant activity in the apple flesh, and also studied the fruit’s skin.

Using colon cancer cells treated with apple extract, the scientists found that cell proliferation was inhibited. Colon cancer cells treated with 50 milligrams of apple extract from the skins were inhibited by 43 percent. The apple flesh extract inhibited the colon cancer cells by 29 percent. The researchers also tested the apple extract against human liver cancer cells.  At 50 milligrams the extract derived from the apple with the skin on inhibited those cancer cells by 57 percent. The apple extract derived from the fruit’s fleshy part inhibited cancer cells by 40 percent.

A more recent 2005 Cornell Study[7], found that breast cancer incidence was reduced by 17, 39 and 44 percent in rats fed the human equivalent of one, three or six apples a day, respectively over 24 weeks.

New Zealand Research

As previously mentioned, these Cornell studies both used Red Delicious apples. In 2003, the Central Districts Branch of the New Zealand Tree Crops Association (whose research is now conducted through the Heritage Food Crops Research Trust) decided to find out how New Zealand apples would rate in comparison to the New York Red Delicious.

In investigating which apple varieties to test they discovered that Plant & Food Research had already tested most New Zealand commercial cultivars, and that they, like Cornell, considered Red Delicious to be one of the top varieties in terms of levels of health-promoting compounds.

The Central Districts Tree Crops Branch therefore decided to concentrate its efforts on an investigation into a large number of previously untested heritage apple varieties (varieties that were no longer in commercial production). Many of these had been identified in its heritage apple recovery programme which involved accessing a number of specialist collections and investigating remnants of old orchards around the country.

In this 2003 study, 59 varieties were tested. The chemical analysis work was conducted by Plant & Food Research so that results could be compared directly with the previous Plant & Food Research data on New Zealand commercial varieties.

We believe that the results have several significant implications for the health of New Zealanders.

‘Benefits of Monty’s Surprise Apple’

  • The results showed that every apple variety is different. Every variety has different levels of compounds and the levels between varieties can differ substantially.
  • It became apparent that modern apple breeding programmes that have resulted in today’s commercial varieties have never used nutrition as a major criteria in their breeding programmes.
  • Modern commercial apple varieties appeared to have less, and in some cases considerably less, beneficial compounds in them than some heritage apple varieties.
  • Some heritage apple varieties contain substantial levels of compounds that give them the potential to be far superior varieties for human health
  • Subsequent in vitro cancer cell testing has shown Montys Surprise as having the greatest potential to inhibit disease.

Monty’s Surprise has very high levels of oligomeric procyanidins which are very active polyphenolic compounds that inhibit cancer cell activity. We now believe that this activity will be most effective in working with the human body’s own immune system to prevent cancerous cells (that are already within the body, through the hereditary nature of cancer) from becoming active and thereby initiating a disease process. We believe that Monty’s Surprise works very effectively as a natural preventative approach, rather than as a cure once the disease has been diagnosed, by which time there will be a full-blown disease in progress.

Comparison of Levels of Health-Promoting Compounds

Total Flavonoids

Apple flavonoids are found almost entirely in the skin and are composed of glycosides of quercetin. Quercetin glycosides are powerful antioxidants but have other biological properties such as anti-cancer activity that may be beneficial. In several populations apple is the major source of quercetin after onion. Apple is a good dietary source of quercetin.

Skin (ug/cm2) Flesh (ug/g FW)
Monty’s Surprise 398.8 20.9
Red Delicious 108.9 4.5
Pacific Rose 111.2 4.1


Although there is little evidence that procyanidins are absorbed into the body there is direct evidence to support their use for enhancing health. Procyanidins are effective antioxidants and have other activities such as inhibition of platelet activity. Several successful antioxidant products are based on procyanidins including grape seed extract and pine bark extract (Enzogenol and Pycnogenol). Some other fruits also contain substantial procyanidin concentrations such as grape, and persimmon. Additionally, the health properties of cocoa (and chocolate) are promoted due to the high procyanidin content.

Skin (ug/cm2) Flesh (ug/g FW)
Monty’s Surprise 722.0 1426.5
Red Delicious 452.5 546.7
Pacific Rose 233.7 323.5

Effectiveness of Monty’s Surprise (procyanidins) at inhibiting colon cancer cell proliferation

The following chart was a communication from Dr Francis Raul. It shows that after nine days in a cell culture, the Monty’s Surprise cider extract of concentrated procyanidins (D185-3) performed better at all levels of concentration tested, at inhibiting the colon cancer cell proliferation, than the positive control.

Effect of apple extracts on the growth of
human colon cancer-derived metastatic cells (SW620)

7 days of treatment IC50 # 40μg/ml
The IC50 is the measurement of the concentration needed to kill half the cancer cells. The lower the number, the better (meaning that more cells are killed at a lower concentration).
Note: this interactive graph has been generated based on the original bitmap image. Data points are estimates.

Uses of Monty’s Surprise apples

Monty’s Surprise Apple Pips and Flowers

Our understanding is that the three most beneficial parts of the Monty’s Surprise apple tree for human health are the apples (particularly the skin); the pips and the flowers.

Monty’s Surprise Apple Pips

Testing of the pips (seeds) to identify and quantify their levels of polyphenolic compounds identified very high levels of the compound Phloridzin in Monty’s Surprise apple pips.

  1. Phloridzin, are a type of flavonoid know as dihydrochalcones. Apple pips are a dietary source of these compounds. Although phloridzin, and the related compound phloridzin-xyloside have antioxidant activity they are also believed to modulate sugar transport in the intestine and can slow the absorption of sugar.

Apple pips do contain amygdalin. Amygdalin is a naturally occurring cyanogenic glycoside compound present in fruits and seeds of fruits like apricot, peaches, bitter almonds, plums and apples. Consuming amygdalin will produce hydrogen cyanide. Cyanide is toxic, but it is quite alright to eat the pips in the apple you consume, as such a small amount is completely harmless to humans. Human bodies have a compound called rhodanese whose primary function appears to be cyanide detoxification.

Click here for seeds graph for Monty’s Surprise

Monty’s Surprise Flower Essence

Apple flowers taste bitter, but the compounds within them can be utilised in the form of a Flower Essence. We prepared a Monty’s Surprise flower essence and sent it away for chemical analysis to find out what compounds the flowers might contain. We were advised that the flower essence contained the same compounds as found in the apple, as well as additional compounds that might have potential health benefits.

Monty’s Surprise flowers.

Monty’s Surprise flowers infused in Monty’s Surprise apple cider vinegar.

Part of the process for making a Monty’s Surprise flower essence.

Monty’s Surprise seeds.

Monty’s Surprise Seedlings

The Trust has also started to explore whether seedlings from the original Monty’s Surprise Apple could evolve, to become even more beneficial for human health than the mother tree. Following testing of a number of these seedlings,  selections have been made of ones that show superior levels of polyphenolic and triterpenoid compounds. These continue to be trialed and this research is ongoing as each year new seedlings reach their initial fruiting stage.

Monty’s Surprise seedling named ‘Remarkable’.

Laurence Gareau holds a Monty’s Surprise seedling named ‘One Love’.


  1. Willett, W.C. Diet, nutrition, and avoidable cancer. Environ. Health Perspect. 1995, 103, 165-170.
  2. Eberhardt, M.V.; Lee, C.Y.; Liu, R.H. Antioxidant activity of fresh apples. Nature 2000, 405, 903-904.
  3. Le-Marchand, L.; Murphy, S.P.; Hankin, J.H,; Wilkens, L.R.; Kolonel, L.N. Intake of flavonoids and lung cancer. J. Natl. Cancer Inst. 2000, 92, 154-160.
  4. Xing, N.; Chen, Y.; Mitchell, S.H.; Young, C.Y.F. Quercetin inhibits the expression and function of the androgen receptor in LNCaP prostate cancer cells. Carcinogenesis 2001, 22, 409-414.
  5. Boyer, J.; Liu, R.H. Apple phytochemicals and their health benefits. Nutritional Journal 2004.
  6. Knekt, P.; Jarvinen, R.; Reunanen, A.; Maatela, J. Flavonoid intake and coronary mortality in Finland: a cohort study. Br. Med. J. 1996, 312, 478-81.
  7. Liu, R.H.; Liu, J.; Chen, B. Apples prevent mammary tumors in rats. Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry. 2005.
  8. McGhie, T.K.; Hunt, M.; Barnett, L.E. Cultivar and growing region determine the antioxidant polyphenolic concentration and composition of apples grown in New Zealand.

Associated Research Papers