Apples are the fruit of Malus domestica, and they are a very important food in all cooler climates. They are related to, but not interchangeable with crabapples. To a greater degree than other tree fruit, except possibly citrus, apples store for months while still retaining much of their nutritive value. Winter apples, picked in late fall and stored just above freezing in a cellar or "fruit room" have been an important food in Europe and the USA since the 1800s.
Domesticated apples have a firm flesh and thin, edible skin that is usually green, red, yellow, pink, or some combination thereof. The flesh surrounds a tough core, which contains the seeds.
Apples tend to be sweet with sour notes, depending on the cultivar. Apple cultivars specific for cider production tend to be too sour to eat on their own. Green apples may have a grassy flavor. Some unusual cultivars have unique flavor profiles, such as the Egremont Russet with its richly nutty flavor.
Most modern apple breeding has focused on high yield and commercial presentability—uniformity of color, size and shape, and the ability to withstand transport with minimal bruising—with little thought given to eating quality. Many newly developed apple cultivars are soft but crisp. Old cultivars are often richly flavored, but are commercially nonviable due to low yield, poor transportability, and poor appearance, often being oddly shaped, and russeted and have a variety of textures and colors. Some old cultivars are still produced on a large scale, but many have been kept alive by home gardeners and farmers that sell directly to local markets. Apple conservation campaigns have sprung up around the world to preserve such local heirlooms from extinction.
There are more than 7,500 known cultivars of apples. Cultivars are available for subtropical and temperate climates. Apples do not flower in tropical climates because they have a chilling requirement.
Some of the most common commercial apple cultivars include:
- 'Braeburn' (Australia, New Zealand)
- 'Cox's Orange Pippin' (Britain, New Zealand - old cultivar, but still very popular)
- 'Fuji' (Asia, Australia, North America)
- 'Gala' (Australia, New Zealand)
- 'Golden Delicious' (United States, Europe)
- 'Granny Smith' (Australia, California)
- 'Jonagold' (United States)
- 'Jonathan' (United States)
- 'McIntosh' (Canada, United States)
- 'Red Delicious' (Australia, United States)
- 'Winesap' (United States).
Most apple cultivars are sweet and colorful. 'Granny Smith' is tart; some people eat it fresh and it is popular for cooking. Its skin is a light speckled green. It requires a long growing season and a hot climate to mature fully.
Apple preference varies among individuals and has changed over time. As an example, the state of Washington (United States) made its reputation for growing Red Delicious apples. But in recent years other cultivars have steadily grown in popularity; many have come to regard Red Delicious as an inferior apple of excessively bland flavor and soft texture. Such people have gravitated toward crisper apples such as Fuji and Gala.
Apples can be processed and cooked in a variety of ways. The unfiltered juice of apples is known as apple cider, and it can be further processed into a clear apple juice. Apple cider can also be used to make fermented ("hard") cider, vinegar, and cider syrup. Hard cider can also be distilled into applejack and Calvados.
Whole apples are often eaten baked or stewed, and they can also be dried for later use. Cooked, puréed apples are generally known as applesauce. Apples are also made into apple butter and apple jelly, and are also used cooked in meat dishes. Apples are an important ingredient in many winter desserts, including apple pie, apple crumble, and apple cake.
|Seasonality tables|Autumn|Winter|Spring|Summer|All year|
In the northern hemisphere, the apple season starts in July with the early cultivars, which are harvested until August. Later cultivars are harvested until October. Since apples store exceptionally well under refrigeration they are available out of season without much effort or loss of flavor.
Apple recipes can be found in the apple recipe category.