Monty's Surprise


The chemical analysis of over 250 apple varieties has identified a unique New Zealand seedling - the Monty's Surprise apple. This apple contains very high levels of procyanidins as well as quercetin flavonoid compounds. In vitro cancer testing conducted in France and Australia on this variety has shown its potent effectiveness at inhibiting cancer cell proliferation. We believe that this apple is the best in the world for human health, and can be eaten as a preventative measure to reduce the incidence of disease in the human body.

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

Murray Jones from TreeLife Organic Nursery in Whanganui demonstrates how to prune the Monty's Surprise apple tree. Narrated by David Hughes and filmed by Phil Thomsen.

Apple Cancer Prevention Research Project - Update: December 2015

Following work done at Cornell University, which had identified the ability of Red Delicious apples to inhibit cancer cell proliferation, plus work 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, researchers for the Heritage Food Crops Research Trust in New Zealand decided 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 New Zealand researchers at the Heritage Food Crops Research Trust employed the services of Dr Tony McGhie at the Plant & Food Research Institute 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; cider vinegar and seeds, 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 attention 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 has now found that procyanidin compounds in cider made from Monty's Surprise apples are more effective than his earlier findings, at an in vitro (or cell culture) level.

Procyanidin CompoundsComparison of FlavonoidsTotal 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 him to convert 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 those 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 has 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 in partnership with the Whanganui Regional Health Network around the Whanganui region.

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

Monty's Surprise apples, cider and apple jelly.

The original Monty's Surprise tree

The original Monty's Surprise tree.

The Role of Monty's Surprise

It is important to have an understanding of the disease that you wish to prevent or treat. Our research has come to the conclusion that cancer is an hereditary disease, largely activated by environmental factors. The disease also exhibits the characteristic of being able to skip a generation. The genetic nature of the disease means that many people will have an hereditary predisposition for cancer, which in the absence of modern environmental factors would remain dormant (as it did pre-1850, as evidenced by examination of human remains from bone crypts in the UK and Europe).

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 the in vitro testing. However, plant compounds do not work in isolation. They exhibit their respective effects through their synergistic interrelationship with other compounds in the plant. We believe that the superb effectiveness of Monty's Surprise comes from the combination of compounds (of which some will be at micronutrient levels) that exist in this unique apple variety.

Our understanding is 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 is the exciting potential that this variety has for the prevention of cancer. Naturally 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 means that we are committed to continue researching its effectiveness and to ensure that this variety can be distributed as widely as possible.

Preparing apple for dehydrating for eating as dried apple rings later in the year

Preparing apple for dehydrating for eating as dried apple rings later in the year.

Monty's Surprise biscotti made by Melinda Hatherly-Jones

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

Monty's Surprise flowers

Monty's Surprise flowers.

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

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

Monty's Surprise flowers floating in spring water as part of the process for making a Monty's Surprise Bach flower essence

Monty's Surprise flowers floating in spring water as part of the process for making a Monty's Surprise Bach flower essence.

Monty's Surprise flowers infused in Monty's Surprise apple cider vinegar

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

Monty's Surprise flowers infused in Monty's Surprise apple cider vinegar

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

Research Background

International and New Zealand research has indicated that apples contain substances capable of reducing the risk of some cancers, cardiovascular disease, asthma and diabetes. This research has been carried out on commercially produced varieties of apples.

The Heritage Food Crops Research Trust, in conjunction with the Central Districts Branch of the New Zealand Tree Crops Association has, over recent years, played a leading role in locating, identifying and propagating heritage apple varieties. Six years of research were completed to evaluate the levels of beneficial compounds in these heritage apple varieties and to compare the results with those of commercial apples.

Several of the heritage varieties proved to contain levels of beneficial compounds well in excess of any currently grown commercial apple. Two rare heritage eating apples, Monty's Surprise and Hetlina, contain levels of quercetin flavonoids and procyanidins (compounds known to inhibit the growth of cancer cells) several times greater than that of the most beneficial commercial apple.

Similarly, several traditional European cider apples have been identified as having very high levels of cancer inhibiting compounds.

This research has been able to identify certain types of varieties, in particular seedling varieties, with more likelihood of containing substantially higher levels of compounds than other varieties. Over 250 apple varieties were collected and chemically analysed, in these attempts to find the best apples high in medicinal potential and anti-cancer effectiveness.

Local Whanganui people growing Monty's Surprise apples

The weight of evidence indicating the superior medicinal qualities of the Monty's Surprise apple variety has seen Trust members initiate the free distribution of thousands of these trees to residents of Whanganui and surrounding districts. Whanganui has been our starting point, and as funding has become available, we have been able to ripple outwards, with distributions throughout the region (to the townships of Waverley and Patea to the north, Ohakune, Raetihi and Taihape to the east, and Hunterville and Marton to the south).

We are very excited by the enthusiasm of people from all walks of life to grow this marvelous apple tree. Not only are trees spreading rapidly throughout New Zealand, but we have also supplied nurseries in Australia and the United States with grafting wood. Australians can now buy a Monty's Surprise apple tree, and in the United States, their trees will soon be out of the quarantine and then numbers can be bulked up for supply to the public. For inquiries we suggest contacting Michael Dolan from Burnt Ridge Nursery.

In December 2015, Monty's Surprise grafting wood was sent to members of the Fraternités Ouvrières in France for propagation.

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

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

Phil Thomsen shows some of the ways in which Monty's Surprise apples can be cooked or processed to enjoy all year round.

Community Partnerships

We work very closely in partnership with the Whanganui Regional Health Network (WRHN) with the distribution of high health Monty's Surprise apple trees throughout the community and region. The involvement of WRHN has been wonderfully positive and enabled all schools, kindergartens, Koanga Reo, Maori preschools, iwi (Maori tribal groups), as well as Pasifika groups within the Whanganui region to receive trees. Distributions have also gone out through GP's (general medical practicioners), and been offered to our hospital staff. We try to assist those most in need as well as having distributions to the general public, so that everyone may benefit from the health-giving potential of this tree. We also work with Murray Jones and Melinda Hatherly-Jones of TreeLife Organic Nursery in Whanganui, and they expertly graft the Monty's Surprise trees for us for these distributions. We are very fortunate to have a local organic nursery in Whanganui and one that shares so closely our own ethos for nature and the environment.

We also partner with local community funding organisations - the Powerco Wanganui Trust, and Whanganui Community Foundation. Both of these organisations have assisted us greatly with our community-based initiatives.

Our aim with the identification, propagation and distribution of these medicinal apple trees, is to ensure the survival of a valuable but endangered bio-resource as well as provide a high level of availability within the region of a dietary element that should, in time, see an improvement in community health.

Recent International Research

Evidence suggests that a diet high in fruits and vegetables may decrease the risk of some serious illnesses such as cardiovascular disease and cancer, and that phytochemicals including phenolics, flavonoids and carotenoids from fruit and vegetables may play a key role in reducing chronic disease risk.

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].

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 on the association between dietary intake of flavonoids and the risk of several chronic diseases reported 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 analysis of an extensive body of data 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.

For a number of years research has been done at Cornell University using Red Delicious apples grown in New York State to provide the extracts 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.

  • 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.

Two heritage varieties in particular were identified in this study as having the most potential as high health 'medicinal' apples. These were Monty's Surprise and Hetlina.

In 2004 we took the opportunity to send these top two apple varieties to Cornell University for testing against cancer cells. The results indicated their potent anti-proliferative activity against both HepG2 liver cancer cells and Caco-2 colon cancer cells.

In 2005 we had another 126 apple varieties chemically analysed, for the first time including a selection of traditional European cider apples. These unpalatable cider apples tested with substantial levels of compounds in the flesh, making them ideal for juice, cider and cider-vinegar production. One variety, Fuero Rous stood out for it's medicinal potential.

Initial testing of the flowers of the Monty's Surprise variety, in a flower essence, established that they contain the same compounds as found in the apple, as well as additional compounds with potential health benefits.

Monty's Surprise flowers

Testing in 2006 to identify and quantify the levels of polyphenolic compounds in apple pips continued to identify the high levels apparent in the Monty's Surprise variety. This variety tested with a very high level of phloridzin in their pips.

In 2006 powdered extract samples of Monty's Surprise, Hetlina and Fuero Rous (apple; cider; cider vinegar and pips) were sent to Dr Francis Raul of the French National Institute for Health and Medical Research in Strasbourg for cancer studies. The Institute's researchers had discovered that another set of compounds, the procyanidins (or proanthocyanidins) - were also effective in killing cancer cells (in a rat model). When they found out about the very high levels of procyanadins in Monty's Surprise and Fuero Rous, they asked us if they could obtain powdered extracts of these apples for their studies.

The French researchers identified the sample of Monty's Surprise cider as having the most potent antiproliferative effectiveness against human colon cancer cells, with their in vitro testing.

In 2007, Monty's Surprise samples were also sent to Dr Izabela Konczak at Food Science Australia. Her in vitro testing against colon and stomach cancer confirmed that the samples of cider and apple that contained high levels of procyanidins did exhibit inhibition of both types of cancer cells in a dose dependent manner.

In 2008, Dr Francis Raul conducted a 12 month in vivo study of our Monty's Surprise cider powdered extract on rats with colon cancer. This has greatly assisted us to see where Monty's Surprise is likely to be most effective for the prevention of disease. This variety 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 can work very effectively as a natural preventative approach, rather than as a cure once the disease has been diagnosed, at which time there will be a full-blown disease in progress.
The most effective method to establish the effectiveness of consuming Monty's Surprise apples as a means of preventing cancer will be a long-term human study. We believe that we have sufficient scientific evidence to enable us to say with confidence that the consumption of this particular apple variety will be of benefit to many people for the prevention of chronic disease (and cancer in particular). We will focus our future efforts upon the wider distribution of this wonderful variety, in the hope that as many people as possible may be able to benefit from its very high levels of medicinal compounds.

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 Surprise398.820.9
Red Delicious108.94.5
Pacific Rose111.24.1


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 Surprise722.01426.5
Red Delicious452.5546.7
Pacific Rose233.7323.5

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.

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

Our Vision

Plant & Food Research in their own research have concluded that "to maximise intake of apple polyphenols it is necessary to consume apples of cultivars with high polyphenolic concentration...".[8]

This suggests that if people in New Zealand (and, in time, throughout the world) ate more high health apples such as Monty's Surprise this would, over time, 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.

Mark Christensen
Research Director
Heritage Food Crops Research Trust


  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

Monty's Surprise Photos