There are few things more enticing than a smooth, sweet, succulent apple. They’re the symbol of temptation, and a symbol of inspiration. But what one person considers an ideal specimen might be very different from another’s perfect pomme. According to the U.S. Apple Association, there are over 2500 different varieties of apple grown in the United States—green ones, red ones, sweet ones, tart ones. There are apples that are good for cooking, and apples that are good for baking. Some apples make great sauce and some make great snacks.
But how’s the average consumer to know the differences between all those different varieties? Luckily, my coworkers were more than happy to try out some of the popular apples appearing in our supermarkets this season. We taste-tested six different varieties, and found that all apples are not created equal.
This variety took the top honors in our tasting. It was tart and tangy, with a firm flesh, and many tasters returned for a second (and third) slice. We couldn’t help but notice that not only were the Cameos delicious, they were also beautiful, with a gorgeous pink, dappled skin. The U.S. Apple Association recommends allowing a little extra time to cook when baking with Cameos, because of the density of their flesh. One great thing about these apples is that they don’t brown as quickly as other varieties do, making them excellent for salads and fruit trays.
The bakers in the crowd thought that this apple had the best baking potential. It had a complex, spicy quality to its flavor, and it was the tartest of all the apples we tried, which along with its firm texture would make it a standout in pies or apple pastries.
This newish variety of apple, developed by the University of Minnesota, has become a predictable fixture in the produce section. Although it had a satisfying crispness, some tasters complained that it was “dingy,” “watery,” or “not as fresh tasting.” Aside from the intense texture, there wasn’t much flavor to this apple, as if it had been watered down. Some tasters likened it to the mild taste of a pear.
The tiniest apples in our tasting, the cloying taste of the Royal Galas reminded one taster of a Mott’s juice box. The skin was a bit tough, and the apple had a pungent aftertaste, although it was one of the sweetest varieties we tried. Some tasters thought it could be ideal for making cider.
Our tasters liked that the Fuji apples were sweet and subtle. However, for some people, that subtlety translated as a “boring flavor” and “somewhat bland.” Fuji apples are popular for juice and cider, but are not a traditional baking apple, since their flesh can be “kind of mushy,” which our tasters experienced. They’re a decent choice for snacking or fondue, but a bit underwhelming overall. What they lack in taste they make up for in size, though; the Fuji apples we tried were big enough to be cumbersome.
The Downright Awful
These were the only apples to get a resoundingly bad review. Goldens have a reputation for being mellow and sweet, but our tasters found them to be “gritty” and “mealy,” with a bland, unappealing taste. One taster remarked that it tasted like a dirty sock, prompting another to proclaim that it was “the public transportation of apples.” Yikes. The Golden Delicious simply didn’t hold up when compared with the other more flavorful, crunchy apples in the tasting. Compared to the rest, it seemed like a sorry piece of fruit that had been sitting on the shelf for weeks.
When shopping for produce, it’s so easy to think that an apple is an apple, but in fact, nothing could be further from the truth. Each variety of apple has its own distinct flavor and character. The next time I need a sweet snack, I may head for a Cameo, but when I’m baking a pie, I’ll reach for the Braeburns. An apple a day might be good for health, but it’s a good way to become an apple expert, too.
Updated November 5, 2010