Apples: A Bushel and a Peck of Flavor

Photo: Scott Payne / Food Styling: Mary Valentin

The humble apple has been enjoyed throughout history, dating back thousands of years. A member of the rose family, the apple was considered a symbol of beauty in Greek mythology. The fruit made its way to North America in the 1600s. Soon after, John Chapman earned his famous nickname “Johnny Appleseed” by planting apple seeds from Ohio to Illinois.

More than 8,000 varieties of apples are grown worldwide, with about 2,500 cultivated in the United States and 100 of those grown on a commercial scale. Almost all apple trees today don’t actually come from seeds, but rather from a process called grafting, since most seeds will not produce the same apples from which they came.

When it comes to nutrition, there is some truth in the saying “an apple a day keeps the doctor away.” An unpeeled apple, that is. With the majority of its nutrients found in the skin, an apple is a good source of dietary fiber and vitamin C.

Typically in peak season from late August to October, apples are available year-round across the country. When purchasing apples, look for a smooth skin free of bruises, with a bright color and shine. Prolong shelf life by storing fresh apples in a plastic bag in the refrigerator or in a cool, dark place. Apples left on a countertop or table will ripen faster and should be consumed within a few days.

Because apples produce the natural gas ethylene, they can cause other fruits to ripen faster. Place a ripe apple with unripe fruits or vegetables in a brown paper bag and seal it. After a day or two, open the bag to see if the fruit or vegetables have ripened.

Every variety of apple has a distinct taste, color and texture. While some are considered “all-purpose” apples, good for snacking or cooking, others may be better suited for different culinary applications.

Red Delicious

Originally known as the Hawk Eye, the Red Delicious hails from Iowa and is known for its deep red color and tall stature. It has a mild sweetness with a crisp, juicy texture and tough skin. The Red Delicious is best eaten on its own or chopped in salads.


Originally from New Zealand, the Braeburn is undeniably crisp with a balance of sweet and tart flavor. Its skin is pale green with red and orange streaks. Braeburns can be eaten fresh, baked whole or used in tarts or applesauce.

Granny Smith

This Australian-born variety gets its name from Maria Ann “Granny” Smith, who discovered it in 1868. The Granny Smith has a thick and shiny green exterior, with a puckering sour taste. Its firm, crisp and juicy texture is ideal for baking into pies and sauces.


This New Zealand variety has quickly become the second most popular apple in the United States. Gala has a waxy reddish-yellow skin and golden flesh, with a snappy, tart flavor. Gala is an all-purpose apple, making it a good choice for eating and cooking.

Pink Lady

Also known as Cripps Pink, the Pink Lady is from Australia. Its pink exterior is speckled with white freckles and has a sweet-tart and almost tropical flavor. Resistant to browning when cut, Pink Lady apples are great for salads or cooking.


Originally from Minnesota, this variety is pink-red in color with juicy flesh. With a mild, sweet flavor and an undeniable crunch, Honeycrisp apples are best when eaten fresh or dried and often are used in baking.


Although it originated in Canada, the McIntosh has become the quintessential New England apple. Its texture is crisp and juicy at its peak, but it quickly softens. With skin that is bright red mixed with varying amounts of green depending on ripeness, McIntosh apples can be eaten fresh from the tree or used to make cider and sauces.


This barrel-shaped apple originated in Japan but is now enjoyed worldwide, especially for snacking. It has a yellowish-red skin striped with pink accents, a crisp and juicy texture, and a sweet, fruity flavor.


Hailing from New York, the Jonathan apple has a ruby-red exterior with gold spots, a spicy scent and a sweet-tart taste. Jonathan apples hold up well in baking, making them perfect for pies.

Golden Delicious

The Golden Delicious apple has soft, yellow skin speckled with brown spots. It has a mostly sweet, almost melon-like flavor and crisp texture. The Golden Delicious is an all-purpose apple, ideal for snacking or cooking.


Named for its home state of New York, the Empire is a cross between the McIntosh and the Red Delicious. Its shiny, red skin and sweet taste make it one of the top picks in the U.S. Best eaten fresh, Empire apples’ crunchy texture fades fast with prolonged storage.

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Emily Cooper
Emily Cooper, RDN, is a registered dietitian nutritionist based in central New Jersey. Read her blog, Sinful Nutrition, and connect with her on Pinterest, Facebook and Instagram.

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