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Apples are delicious on their own or cooked, as dessert or snack.

If you haven't spent a lot of time in the apple growing regions, you may not know how versatile this fruit is. Apples come in all sorts of shapes, colors, and tastes; not just the two or three you may know from your local grocery store's bagged produce department. Apples grow in just about every corner of the globe. Apples can be used in a variety of dishes from appetizers to main dishes to desserts. Let's get down to the core and see where apples come from and how they earned their rightful place in almost every aspect of our dietary lives.

Apples are the fruit borne from, well, apple trees, of course. They come in various shades of red, yellow, and green - colors range from pale yellow to vivid green or deep red - and most have a white flesh that varies in texture from crisp to soft. Some aples are simple, with uncomplcated flavors, while these flavors become more complex in others. There are sweet apples and tart apples, tender or crisp, apples with flour-like flesh and very juicy apples, apples for cooking and dessert apples. Spanning the taste spectrum from sugary sweet to pucker-up tart, apples are one of the more versatile foods in the marketplace.

Apple History and Trivia

Apples have been around in one form or another for over 4,000 years. They were first brought to the United States in the early 1600's by explorers and settlers. Apples were highly valued and became a staple food in most households because they stored well fresh and were easily dried, then became the star of the home-canning world. Today, apples are still treated the same way - with appreciation for their versatility in recipes, ease of storage, and variety of preservation methods. For these reasons, apples are enjoyed by thousands around the globe.

Apples grow in temperate zones and are harvested in autumn and then is when they are best, although they are available all year round. Apple trees can live for many years; sometimes well over a century. The number of varieties runs into the thousands. There are more than 7,500 varieties of apples grown in the world and about 2,500 of those are grown in the United States. Red Delicious is the most popular and well-known apple in the USA, with Golden Delicious following behind in a close second. Granny Smith apples are fast approaching these two powerhouse apples in popularity. The average American eats more than 70 apples a year, and considering apples are free of fat, salt, and cholesterol, as well as being a good source of dietary fiber and vitamin C, it's no wonder our doctors are trying to get us to eat one a day.

Nutritional Value

Apples have proven to be beneficial in every health aspect from bone protection to alzheimer's prevention, and even diabetes management and cancer prevention. The reason apples are linked to all of these health benefits is because of the two integral layers - the skin and the pulp - both being an excellent source of vitamin C, just to name the most obvious and well known nutrient. Along with the added nutrients, the things that are missing from apples also make them noteworthy under the 'health benefits' tag; namely, apples are fat free, sodium free, and cholesterol free.

Pectin in the meaty part of the apple helps manage diabetes by supplying galacturonic acid which lowers the body's need for insulin. Phloridzin, a flavanoid found only in apples, may help protect menopausal women from the frightening occurrence of osteoporosis. A nutrient found in apple skins, boron, has been found to strengthen bones.

Preparation and Cooking

Buy fruit with a clean, fresh smell and smooth skin, free of bruises - although a brown patch on the skin not always affect the flavor. Choose varieties depending on taste and intended use - deseert apples perform worse than cooking apples in pies and other cooked dishes. Some varieties prefer lengthy cooking and others do better whit a light hand.

Store apples in a cool, dark place. They do well in the fridge inside a bag.

Eat preferably the whole fruit. Most fiber is in the skin and the beneficial quercetin is extremely reduced in apple juice. Eating a raw apple is as simple as diving teeth-first through the crisp skin right into the sweet or tart insides, and letting the juice run down your chin. If you wish to give your teeth a more gentle approach, and keep a neater smile, you can also core and cut the apple into wedges. Once you have these juicy little wedges, you'll be looking for goodies to dip them into. You don't have to look much further than peanut butter for a classic snack.

Apples can be diced and added to a fruit salad, tossed into a crunchy tuna salad with celery, or dipped in chocolate and caramel and topped with nuts. There are hundreds, if not thousands, of ways to eat a raw apple. If you are lucky enough to be around an apple orchard, then there is nothing like picking a ripe apple from a tree, still warm from the sun, and enjoying each bite right in the shade of the branches of the apple tree.

You can get as fancy as you want or as down-home simple as can be with apples. From apple pie to apple crisp and apple pastries to apple omelets, cooked apples are a favorite food around the world. Looking for something simpler than a pie? Just simmer the apples until they get soft, throw in a little sugar and cinnamon, and mash them into, you guessed it, applesauce. Eat it as it is or serve over ice cream.

What if you don't have a sweet tooth? Apples are often found in side dishes with cabbage, collard greens, spinach, or other savory vegetables. You will find a delightful mix of flavors when you add apples to a skillet full of harvest vegetables, onions, and a splash of balsamic vinaigrette. And, don't forget to try your hand at an apple glaze for your next pork tenderloin. Think beyond apple pie and you'll discover a whole world of recipes for your next bag of apples.

No matter how you decide to eat your apples, just remember the old adage, 'an apple a day keeps the doctor away.' Now we have the scientific studies showing all the nutrients there are in apples, so there's no excuse not to add this versatile fruit to your diet. Of course, that cool, crisp crunch of an apple alone should convince you to take a bite!

A serving is 1 cup (110 g) sliced or one small apple - 53-60 calories. A large apple would yield two servings.

Nutritional Advantage

Apart from their content in vitamin C, apples are a good source of substances that promote heatlh and help fight disease. You will find quercetin, rutin, pectin and glutathione.

Pectin is a type of soluble fiber. Pectin is what makes preserves thickne and jell. Among ohter benefits, fiber helps to control cholesterol.

Quercetin is a flavonoid with anti-inflamatory properties. Medical research link it to better lung function, less respiratory problems and it is thought to prevent development of cancer.

Rutin is an antioxidant that helps to keep blood thin. Rutin together with vitamin C help to maintain healthy blood vessels.

Glutathione is also and antioxidant. It promotes the good functioning of the other antioxidants, removes toxins from cells and has influence in cellular regeneration. Glutathione is supposed to battle cancer and enhance inmune function.

You don't need to know all these names to get the benefits. Just eat an apple a day - An apple a day keeps the doctor away.

Eat apples raw - Wash well and eat whole as snack or dessert. Slice and eat with a dab of peanut butter as a healthy snack. Add apple chunks to salads and you will produce delicious dishes similar to our curried coleslaw with apples and raisins or Irish potato salad with apples.

Apple sauce can be served on the side of roast meat or used to sweeten cakes, especially for dairy free diets, where it can replace butter, see these carrot and apple sauce muffins if not. On their own, baked, apples make a delicious dessert but they can become sublime in apple pie. Have apple appetizers or apple gazpacho to open a meal, have red cabbage with onions and apples as a side dish, and have apple crisp, a classic apple pie or a fancier lattice apple pie to close another. People on a low sugar diet suffer not, there is no sugar apple pie.

Amaretto apples and honey baked Bramley apples are simple desserts that produce spectacular results. You can tempt, however, the more refined palates with French apple cake or apple pie with Grand Marnier.

Make mincemeat of them or make them into apple and onion stuffing. Turn apples into condiments and preserves such as apple butter, apple BBQ sauce, curried apple-cranberry chutney, or apple ketchup.

Apple - malus domestica (Rosaceae)

Golden Delicious, Granny Smith, Royal Gala, Pink Lady, Braeburn.