Yes, there are over 7500 different apple varieties available and this time of year you may find 10 different types of apples in your grocery store. How do you decide which apples to buy to make your grandma’s caramel apple recipe, which taste best in Aunt Martha’s apple pie and what types of apples taste best just to eat like they are? While you may think it doesn’t matter (it is true that you could use any apple for any of these applications), it does make a difference. It’s the difference between your recipe tasting AMAZING or just kind of okay.
Why are there so many different types of apples? No, it’s not to make you stark raving mad…although it most definitely could if you’ve made a favorite apple pie recipe and you thought the filling didn’t taste quite right (it was probably all due to the type of apple you used). Apples are bred for specific purposes like baking, eating fresh or pressing into cider. The different characteristics that each apple has lends itself to that particular use.
I thought I’d take you through a few of the more common varieties of apples (although there may be some you’ve never heard of) and what their best used for. The apples aren’t listed in any particular order.
You’ve probably seen this Braeburn apple at your local supermarket. It’s got a fairly long season, here in the states, from October through April. When you bite into a Braeburn apple you’re hit with a slightly tart yet sweet flavor and plenty of juice. This is an apple that you can eat right out of your hand. Since it holds its shape really well, when heated, it’s also a good apple to cook with.
Cortland Apples are an heirloom variety that came from the McIntosh apple. Biting into this apple gives you a bright crisp sweet flavor with just a hint of tartness. This type of apple is perfect for eating just like it is or for baking. It holds its shape as well as it’s bright flavor when cooked. The Cortland Apple probably isn’t one that you’ll regularly find at your grocery store, but would find at a farmer’s market or produce stand.
You’ve definitely seen Gala apples at your local grocery store. Of all the apple varieties available, this one consistently ranks in the top 3 best sellers every year. It’s got a mild flavor (not too sweet and not too tart) and works for both eating as is as well as a cooking apple. It’s also available year round (because they grow this popular apple all around the world). While the Gala apple doesn’t have any particularly outstanding characteristics, like some of the heritage varieties do, it really is a good all around apple.
The Granny Smith apple was one of the very first grocery store apple varieties available (along with red delicious apples). Its very recognizable bright green color helps it to stand out amongst the piles of other apples. It has a tart/acidic flavor that’s refreshing, as it’s not cloyingly sweet like some varietals. This one can also be eaten straight out of hand or in baked goods. The granny smith apple is one of the least sweet types of apples that is commonly available.
The honeycrsip apple is one of the newest types of apples to hit the grocery store produce aisle. Developed in Minnesota, its release has been seen as a success. Its well balanced flavor has made it a very popular choice of apples for lots of people. While most will just eat this apple variety right out of hand, it does lend itself to cooking (it makes a delicious apple sauce as well as cider).
I’m a bit partial to the Jonathon Apple, having grown up on these back in Ohio. It’s got a fantastic balance between sweet and tart and makes for one of the best apples for caramel apples. It has a relatively short season so if you blink, you may miss them at the store. While cooking with Jonathon apples is fine, they aren’t the best candidate for baked apples.
The Pink Pearl Apple that looks so quiet and unassuming on the outside has a little secret. It’s hot pink on the inside. This apple variety is slowly disappearing due to the fact that only a few farmer’s are still growing this variety. Aside from its beautiful color, it’s got a sharp sweet/tart flavor that works for both eating straight out of hand as well as for cooking. Keep your eyes peeled for this one.
The Rome apple or Rome Beauty apple is one of the best types of apples for cooking/baking. The heat from cooking the apples actually enhances their flavor. This is one of the apple varieties that tastes better cooked than raw.
Yes, I realize that I have not included many of the types of apples that are available in the market today (Fuji, Golden Delicious, etc.). If I included them all, this would be a multi-page post that would probably make your eyes glaze over faster than they did in your high school history class.
I will mention this one other apple variety though: Gravenstein apples. This little apple is another one that is slowly disappearing due to the fact that there are very few farmers growing it. It too has a short season but Gravenstein apples are one of those types of apples that are spectacular baked into pastries. This recipe for a French apple tart gets made every year in my kitchen and I only use Gravensteins for it.
By the way…if you are lucky enough to live in an area that has a Sprout’s Market, you can pick up some heirloom apple varieties starting later this week. Frieda’s, a great specialty produce company is bringing lots of these very special apples to market. This is a great time to stock up on apples and to try some new one’s that maybe you’ve heard of, but never tried (that Pink Pearl would makes some gorgeous pink applesauce or get your hands on a juicy Cortland for your daily apple fix).
I’m not really going to do a recipe today because I’d rather you get out of your comfort zone a little bit and try some of these different apples in your favorite recipes, but I will leave you with this link to my crockpot applesauce recipe. Leave out the cranberries and make it with a variety of apples to get a really flavorful version of applesauce you’ll never get from a jar.
If it were only as easy to pick the people we like as it is to pick our produce.
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