Our series “Chew on This” serves up the flavorful history of food and how it has shaped the way we cook and eat today.
The apple has staked its rightful claim as America’s favorite fruit. With its iconic slightly heart-like shape, signature stem, and smooth, rosy skin, the apple has earned a place not just in our kitchens but in every aspect of our lives.
According to the U.S. Apple Association, the more than 5,000 apple producers operating in America today grow more than 240 million bushels (approximately 30 billion!) of apples a year, feeding an industry worth more than $15 billion. How ’bout them apples?!
Their variety is astounding
With more than 7,500 different types of apples in existence around the world, and more than 100 types grown in the United States, there’s a perfect apple out there for every set of taste buds. But what we look for in our apples as a nation is changing.
For more than five decades, Red Delicious apples, which were introduced at the 1904 St. Louis World’s Fair, were the most widely grown and consumed apple in the industry. But Reds reign no more.
In late 2018, the Red Delicious officially lost its crown. With Americans seeking greater variety in their apples — sour notes, floral flavors, different textures — the traditional Red Delicious began to slip. In its place rose the glorious Gala, an uber-crisp, creamy yellow apple with a mild sweet flavor and aroma containing hints of vanilla.
Following the Gala and second-place Red Delicious, the Honeycrisp, Granny Smith, and Fuji fill out America’s top five favorite apple varieties, comprising more than two-thirds of all apples sold in the country annually.
Apples flavor our history
More than any other fruit, apples touch our lives in countless ways — starting as soon as we choke down our first bit of apple-flavored baby food or sip our first taste of apple juice.
As children, we’re taught to eat an apple a day to keep the doctor away. Or to share the apples from our lunch boxes with our teachers as a symbol of affection and appreciation.
In church, we learn the story of Adam and Eve, the Garden of Eden, and forbidden fruit — often symbolized as being an apple you just can’t wait to take a bite of.
In science, we discover the story of a relaxing Sir Isaac Newton observing an apple falling from a tree and coming up with the theory of gravity as a result.
In history class, we meet a wandering Johnny Appleseed, who helped spread apple orchards across our land in the late 1700s and early 1800s.
In music, we sit in awe listening to the songs of composer William Tell and his galloping violins and soaring orchestral chords — only to find later on that they were inspired, at least in part, by his own slightly disturbing experience shooting an apple off his own son’s head.
In geography, we learn about New York City, aka “The Big Apple,” a nickname popularized in the 1920s and made to stick in the 1970s following an insanely popular tourist ad campaign.
Those tales and more offer just a bite of the full apple story that soars on even today.
The kitchen is an apple-lover’s dream
Apples are the quintessential and ideal fruit to eat fresh and on the go.
“Apples are a fantastic fruit choice,” says Christopher Mohr, Ph.D., a registered dietitian, sports nutritionist, author, and consultant. “They’re portable, convenient, easy for travel, and loaded with nutrition.”
According to Mohr, whole apples — skin included — are “a good source of the shortfall nutrient fiber, offering about four grams per apple. They’re also packed with water — which makes them filling if you’re trying to lose weight.”
If you’re not eating them fresh, you can prepare them in an almost endless number of ways: pies, crisps, dumplings, applesauce, apple butter, muffins, cakes, donuts, caramel apples, baked apples, stuffing, chutneys — the list goes on and on.
They can also take a leading role in savory dishes, paired with pork, mixed into a ginger or carrot soup, snuck into salads, in a cheesy casserole, or as the secret ingredient in a beef stew.
And when they’re not the main star in a meal or snack, they make a great supporting role. Harry & David pears, apples, and caramel sauce brings the apple snacking experience to a whole new level. Who knew snacking could be so sweet?