I'm a bit obsessed with apples. To me, there is something magical about these sweet orbs just growing on trees. As a budding young farmer-philosopher (I was probably in grade school), I remember pondering the paradox of the money tree: why would I want to pick money off a tree when I could pick something useful and delicious? I suppose it is this passion for pome fruits that makes me cringe each time I hear distorted apple facts or unbridled negativity toward my childhood favorite variety, Red Delicious. In years past, winter was my time to eagerly peruse nursery catalogs for rootstocks and scionwood. This year, with a full nursery bed and dozens of potted trees buried under three feet of snow, I have elected to direct my apple passion toward clearing up a common myth: apples are apples.
Different Fruits for Different Pursuits
Believe it or not, there is more to apple selection than red or green. Sadly, most American grocery stores make little effort to display anything but standard commercial dessert cultivars (varieties). Ironically, the apples in your grocery store originally grew popular because they were outstanding but, after years of supposed improvements (selecting for redness, improved storage, or shifted harvest window) and months in storage, these varieties often don't hold up.
There are, in fact, hundreds of named apple cultivars, some of which are centuries old, and the best apple for your hand might not be the best apple for your oven. Most of the apples in American grocery stores are selected for fresh eating (dessert apples), but can serve double-duty as cooking apples.
There is occasional disagreement about the precise date or location at which an older apple cultivar was first discovered. Nowadays, most new apples are patented products of university research. Below is a short list of a few of my favorites you might not have tried. (For your own exploration, check out the excellent British apple website orangepippin.com!)
In this case, I'm not referring to the folks you call after dropping your iPhone in the toilet. Here are a few factors that dramatically affect your apple-eating experience:
Pardon the analysis, but phony apple facts drive me bonkers. On a strong suspicion that many apple nutritional claims are not based on evidence, I pulled some nutritional data from the USDA Nutrition Database. While these data could be viewed many ways, I opted for simplicity--a comparison of common cultivars to the baseline nutritional data for raw apples. I plotted values as percent difference compared to the baseline data (a value of 100% means that apple variety has 100% more of a particular nutrient than the baseline--i.e. twice as much)
That's some heavy enough analysis to make my branches sag. So, which apple should you choose? Probably the freshest one, the one you enjoy the most, or the one that makes you feel the best.
An apple a day? Maybe not, but taken in moderation and properly prepared (peel and cook if you are experiencing gut problems), these tasty little treats seem rather innocuous. Apple sauce was something that I could safely eat when my guts were badly broken and now I enjoy my apples whole.
In good health,
I'm Ethan, a guy whose life used to be controlled by ulcerative colitis. As I systematically tested diets, treatments, and all types of health advice to heal my colon, I learned a lot about my own biology and also how to cook without compromise. I'm here to share the best (and sometimes worst) of that journey with you.