Crisp, crunchy apples are highly versatile. They can be eaten raw, juiced or cooked to accompany meat or baked in pies and tarts. More than 100 varieties are grown commercially around the world and in Victoria they are available year round. Apples contain dietary fibre and vitamins A, C and folate.
What is an apple?
People have enjoyed the crisp, crunchy flesh of apples straight off the tree for thousands of years. The versatility of this fruit is on display in deserts, salads and apple sauce, where the sweetness adds another dimension to savoury dishes such as pork.
The first apples originated in the mountains of Western Asia, where their wild ancestor is still found today. Apples are mentioned in the Bible as the ‘fruit of knowledge’ and charcoal apple remains were found in the ruins of European Stone Age villages.
The Roman army had a hand in the spread of the apple tree in Europe. When they marched to conquer Britain they tossed their apple cores and some eventually took seed and grew into trees.
Throughout history, more than 7000 varieties of apples have, at some time, grown somewhere on the planet. Right now, more than 100 different types of apple are commercially produced.
Red Delicious, Pink Lady, Granny Smith, Fuji, Golden Delicious, Lady Williams, Sundowner, Braeburn, Royal Gala, Jonathan and Bonza are some of the varieties available in Australia.
Each has a different taste and level of sweetness and acidity and, of course, skin colour also varies.Some apples, such as Granny Smiths, are better than others for cooking, usually because they are the tart or medium-acid varieties.
Why apples are good to eat
- Apples contain vitamins A (important for growth and development and the maintenance of your immune system), C (needed for the growth and repair of tissues in the body), K (important for helping your blood to clot) and folate.
- Apples also contain minerals such as potassium (which helps to regulate blood pressure), manganese (involved in the regulation of brain and nerve function), magnesium (involved in the regulation of muscle, heart and nerve function and keeping bones strong) and boron (important for bone health).
- Apples contain dietary fibre, which is important for a healthy bowel.
- Energy – 100 g of apple has 204 kJ.
How are they grown and harvested?
In the wild, apples grow from seeds but most of the apples that we purchase are from apple trees grown from cuttings. The cuttings are grafted (inserted into a slit or groove) onto the base of another apple tree where it continues to grow. The fruit from these trees is the same variety as the grafted cutting.
Fruit appears on young apple trees after about three years (depending on the variety). The colour and firmness of the fruit tells you when it is time to harvest. In Australia, depending on the variety and region where the apples are grown, harvesting takes place between January and October.
Apples are hand-picked to avoid damage to the fruit and trees. If you buy fruit out of season, it has been stored in a cool environment where the oxygen levels have been adjusted. This means the apples can be stored for longer and still maintain their quality.
Choose apples with firm, smooth skin. Avoid those that are soft to touch, are discoloured or have blemishes or bruises.
How to store and keep apples
Apples can be kept at room temperature or, for extra crispness, stored in the fridge. They produce a gas (ethylene) that speeds up the ripening of other fruit such as bananas.
How to use
- Raw – apples are a tasty and very easy snack. They are also a great addition to salads. Whip up an easy salad – toss sliced unpeeled apple with witlof leaves and toasted walnuts (or try pecans), then dress with lemon juice and serve.
- Juiced – apples are best eaten fresh but can be juiced.
- Baked – for including in pies and tarts, peel, core and slice the apples. Place in an overproof dish with water.
- Stewing - Slice the apples and place in a medium pan with some caster sugar and water. Cover the pan and put on a medium heat and let it come to the boil. Cook for about 5 minutes. Stir occasionally, cooking for a further 2 minutes or until the apple is fluffy but a few chunks are still visible.
- Try Bircher muesli for a delicious breakfast – mix rolled oats, a little honey, water, lemon juice, unpeeled grated apple and chopped nuts, leave overnight, then serve with yogurt and berries.