Get the tips on how to keep cut apples from browning, how to use them to ripen other fruits, and all the different recipes you can make with apples.
Unsurprisingly, apples are the second most valuable fruit grown in the U.S. (the first is oranges). They’re one of the most multifaceted ingredients. Not only are they easy to carry in your backpack with a long shelf life, but they’re also versatile additions to sweet and savory recipes.
Add to its practical kitchen uses, the apple holds symbolic, religious, and mythological significance throughout history and in many cultures (knowledge, temptation, and sin in the Garden of Eden as well as good health in the saying “an apple a day keeps the doctor away”).
With such breadth, there’s a lot to learn about apples. How can you introduce apples to your everyday diet and use them in fancy holiday comfort dishes?
Let’s learn about different kinds of apples, how to cut them, and how to store them.
What are apples?
Originally from Central Asia, apples have been grown in Asia and Europe for thousands of years. They are a member of the rose family and come in 3 main types: dessert/table apples (sweet and ideal for eating raw), cooking apples (more tart), cider apples (complex flavors but astringent).
Apples ranked by sweetness
While there are thousands of varietals of apples, I typically see about a dozen kinds at the grocery store.
TIP: Here’s a detailed guide with more apples descriptions from the Washington Apple Commission.
Here are the ones I picked up a month ago at my local store (ordered from sweetest to most tart based on my taste buds):
- Fuji: Very sweet and crunchy. Makes very sweet applesauce and juice.
- Gala*: Crisp and sweet with more flavor than Fuji. Classic go-to apple that’s easy to find all year round. Great in salads and pies.
- Honeycrisp*: Super crunchy and juicy with great flavor. Mostly sweet with a touch of tartness. Often huge size, so it’s a good snack when hungry.
- Golden Delicious: Sweet and subtle, mellow flavor. Great for pies, baking, apple sauce, and salads because the flesh doesn’t brown as quickly.
- SugarBee: Juicy and crispy. It’s very sweet with flavors that remind me of pears. It’s similar to Fuji but better because it’s very juicy.
- Red Delicious: Even though they’re the most beautiful apples, I really dislike Red Delicious. They’re sweet but lack flavor and offer a gross mealy texture like I’m eating a boiled potato. Maybe they’d taste better if they came freshly picked but generally disappointing.
- Jonagold: Meh, kind of like a Fuji in that it’s sweet but lacks depth of flavor. Decent if you’re hungry for a snack or want to add to a salad but I’d prefer a Pink Lady for raw eating.
- Envy: Cross between Gala and Braeburn, this crisp apple has a solid texture and tastes refreshing.
- Opal: Sweet, juicy, and bright yellow. I prefer Golden Delicious over Opal because Opal is less crisp. But Opals are still good for baking and applesauce (plus they freeze well).
- Cosmic Crisp: Bright red, juicy, and crispy, I liked this apple’s sweet-sour balance. Great if you’re looking for a mostly sweet apple with a bit of a sour flair.
- Braeburn: My former favorite apple, Braeburn is tart, juicy, and flavorful. Its tangy-sweet flavor makes it great for applesauce and pies where you don’t want a dull sweetness.
- Pink Lady*: My go-to favorite apple thanks to its perfect balance of sweet and tart with complex flavors. Plus, it’s juicy and super crispy, making it the perfect snack. Also doesn’t bruise easily and has a pretty pink peel dotted with splashes of pale green.
- Granny Smith: The Queen of tart, these are the most sour table apples. Great for waking you up or accompanying a cheese platter to offset the sweetness of dried figs and honey. Granny Smith apples are a favorite for apple pie and other baked apple desserts because they bring complex flavors. Plus you make up for the sourness with the added sugar in most pie recipes.
* These are my favorites
NOTE: Red Delicious apples are prevalent in the U.S. only. I never saw them in New Zealand or Europe. This Atlantic article explains how the worst apples ever took over the U.S. The Red Delicious apples were the only ones I threw out in the batch I got for this article—I couldn’t force myself to eat them.
How to prep apples
Wash the apples that you plan to eat raw by rubbing them thoroughly under clean running water. Cut away bruised or damaged areas. Remove the core and discard.
TIP: Check out the FDA’s guide on how to properly wash fruits and vegetables to prevent illness.
How to cut apples
- Whole (peeled): Great for eating raw as a snack or dessert (peeling is optional). Whole is best for transporting on hiking and in your backpack.
- Cored whole: Use for poaching (like pears) and roasting. Peeling is optional.
- Halved & cored: If you don’t have an apple corer, halving first makes the core easy to cut out for roasting and poaching apples. Apple halves are also good for grilling, cut side down.
- Quartered & cored A good size for poaching, baking, and roasting. This is a common size I cut for eating.
- Wedges: The most common size for eating cored and cut apples raw. Apple wedges are great for dipping into peanut butter, caramel, and chocolate sauce. It’s an easy size for younger children to eat.
- Sliced (peeling optional): Ideal for pies and tarts, topping salads, open-faced sandwiches, crêpes, and smearing peanut butter or Nutella. This is a good size for pan frying to make caramelized cinnamon apples.
- Large dice (peeling optional): Great size for adding apples to a fruit salad, making applesauce, stewing to make apple butter or jam, and baking for apple cobbler and apple crumble.
- Small dice (peeling optional): Great for topping oatmeal, salads, yogurt, ice cream, fruit compote, and apple jam. It’s a good size for cooking and baking, such as making apple muffins, apple bread, and cinnamon apple pancakes.
- Juiced: For straight apple juice, mixed juice, or dehydrating to make fruit leather.
NOTE: If desired, you can peel apples before chopping and eating the flesh. Most of the fiber and the majority of flavonoids are in the skin so eating the peel delivers much of the nutrients.
How to eat apples raw
I love eating raw apples as a snack. Much like pears, you can wash the outside and bite into a whole apple. Remove the core and slice thinly for salads and cheese boards.
Raw apples work well in these dishes:
- Toasted bread with peanut butter topped with thinly sliced apples
- Diced raw apple, mixed with diced celery, walnuts, and grapes and dressed with mayonnaise, make a Waldorf salad.
- Add chopped apple with other fruits to make a fresh fruit salad
- Fresh fruit platter served with nut butter and yogurt as dips
- Thinly sliced apples with crackers and honey served with topped nuts
Keep apples from browning
I’ve experimented with soaking apples in a salt water (saline) solution and a lemon juice solution to slow browning. I found the saline more effective.
To prevent (or reduce) browning, mix ½ teaspoon of salt in 1 cup of warm water. Soak your sliced apples in this saline solution for 5 minutes. Remove the apples and allow to dry (or pat dry).
TIP: If desired, you can rinse the apple slices in unsalted water to remove the salty taste. Scale the saline solution as needed depending on how many apples you’re soaking. Check out this fruit salad article for a photo comparison of how effective saline is to prevent browning.
How to cook apples
There are numerous ways to cook apples, including:
- Roasting whole, cored apples with honey, cinnamon, and nuts
- Baking them in a tart or pie
- Baking them to make a dessert like apple cobbler, crumble, crisp, cake, bread, cookies
- Canning them
- Caramelizing them with sugar, butter, and optional spices to serve as a side dish or a dessert
- Stewing them to make apple butter or purée, apple jam or jelly
Best apples for pies: Granny Smith, Braeburn, Pink Lady, Jazz, Opal, Lady Alice, Rome
TIP: It’s common for apple pie recipes to include more than 1 type of apple so that your pie contains different textures and flavors. For example, Granny Smith apples, while sour, offer complex flavors and hold their shape well when cooked. Pairing it with sweeter apples, such as Golden Delicious and Pacific Rose apples, makes your pie memorable.
Best apples for baking: Honeycrisp, Granny Smith (especially pies), Golden Delicious, Braeburn, (Gala, Fuji, and Pink Lady apples are moderately good for baking; they get very soft when cooked)
Best apples for sauce: Gala, Honeycrisp, Granny Smith, Pink Lady, Ambrosia, Cameo, Jazz, Jonagold, Lady Alice, Opal, Pacific Rose
NOTE: Check out this article from the Washington Apple Commission on different types of apples, how to best use them, and where they’re from.
Apples work well with…
- Citrus: oranges, lemons, limes
- Most fruits: stone fruits (peaches, nectarines), tropical fruits (bananas, pineapple), berries (raspberry, blueberry, blackberries)
- Spices: cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, cardamom (Christmas spices)
- Herbs: mint, sage, rosemary, thyme
- Cream and dairy: soft cheeses (Brie, Camembert, Feta, goat cheese), hard cheeses (Gruyère, Pecorino Romano, Cheddar, Gouda, Manchego, and Parmigiano-Reggiano), fresh cheeses (cream cheese, ricotta, mascarpone, cottage cheese), yogurt, crème fraîche
- Nuts: any nut and seed butter (peanut butter, almond butter, cashew butter, sunflower butter) chopped nuts (walnuts, pistachios, silvered almonds).
- Leafy greens: lettuce, arugula, spinach, endives, cabbage (coleslaw)
- Pork: chops, ribs, and sausages
- Sauces: chocolate, caramel, toffee, mayonnaise, vinaigrettes (balsamic vinaigrette and raspberry vinaigrette)
Recipes with apples
How to substitute apples
Apples-to-apples substitutions are easy. If you can’t find one type of apple, use another.
For example, Granny Smith apples are prized for their flavors in apple pie. You can substitute with another tart apple, such as Pink Lady, Braeburn, Cosmic Crisp, Jonagold, and Rome apples.
If looking to replace apples, pears are the next closest fruits. Make sure the pears are ripe before substituting.
Stone fruits, such as peaches and nectarines, are another great substitute for apples, especially if you’re using them for baking, stewing, or grilling.
Where to buy apples
There are over 7,500 varietals grown around the world and the U.S. grows about 2,500. There are about 100 different varietals of apples grown commercially. You can purchase the most common ones from the conventional grocery store, including Gala, Fuji, Red Delicious, Pink Lady, Granny Smith, and Honeycrisp.
To try rare varietals that aren’t sold in the grocery store, you can visit the farmers market to find vendors that may sell apples that have a short shelf-life and don’t transport well.
Picking apples at an orchard offer the freshest, tastiest apples that money can buy. Search for a nearby U-Pick farm to experience a fun day of tasty apple picking.
TIP: If you’re traveling in another country, check out the varietals in the local supermarket. For example, Jazz and Pacific Rose apples are very common in all New Zealand grocery stores, so this gives you a chance to try a new apple.
Are apples seasonal?
Yes, apples tend to be most plentiful during the fall / autumn. However, different varietals are available at seasons, and commercial growers have ways to keep picked apples fresh. This allows us to enjoy apples all year round.
If you’re looking for apples at the farmers market, the late summer, fall, and early winter offer the widest selection of apples.
How to pick apples
Choose bright-colored, firm apples with a smooth—not shriveled—skin. The apple shouldn’t have brown spots or feel mushy.
Apples from the grocery store are usually the same size, uniformly heart shaped, saturated in color, and shiny from the protective wax coating designed to protect the apple from pests.
Apples from the farmers market and boutique growers might have some russeting (patches of rough brownish-red or yellowish-red skin that looks like scarring) and come in odd shapes and sizes. This is normal and doesn’t affect the taste or freshness of the apple.
NOTE: Even if they’re oddly shaped, apples from the farmers market or your CSA box shouldn’t be soft or bruised.
How to store apples
Unlike pears, apples are picked when ripe so you don’t need to store them for a week on the counter to ripen.
Apples release ethylene gas, which ripens fruit and vegetables, including other apples. This affects how to best store apples and how long they can last for.
If you’re ready to eat the apples within 5-7 days: Leave them on your kitchen counter at room temperature. Apples will store for 1-2 weeks at room temperature.
TIP: I often place an apple into a brown bag with a bunch of bananas. The ethylene from the apple ripens the bananas much faster.
If you want to store the apples for as long as possible: Store them in the fridge’s produce drawer. They can last for 1-2 months. When you’re ready to eat them, move the apples to the counter for at least a few hours to bring them to room temperature.
NOTE: I’ve seen recommendations to store apples apart in the fridge, even individually wrapped them. The idea is to avoid a buildup of ethylene gas that causes the apples to ripen too quickly (or ripen nearby fresh fruits and vegetables). This hasn’t been a problem for me. But if you’re planning on storing apples for months in a basement/cellar, spreading them might extend their longevity.
Fun things to do with apples
One of my favorite apple recipes is the famous French apple pie, tarte Tatin. It’s a time-consuming recipe that starts by caramelizing apples in sugar, butter, and spices. Then baking the apples with a puff pastry base and serving with a sticky, caramel glaze.
FAQ about apples
What can you make with a lot of apples?
When I’ve got a lot of apples to use up before they go bad, my favorite things to make are:
- Apple sauce/butter
- Apple juice
- Apple galette (like an apple pie but less work because it doesn’t require an intricate double crust)
- Roasted apples stuffed with butter, brown sugar, and chopped nuts
- Dried apples (core and slice the apples, then dehydrate in an oven or dehydrator at low temperatures)
Learn how to find trusted, well-tested recipes here.
What’s the difference between applesauce vs. apple butter?
Applesauce is chopped apples that are slow cooked with spices (cinnamon, nutmeg), water, and optional sugar until you get a pale-colored sauce that’s the consistency of gravy.
Apple butter is very concentrated applesauce made with finely chopped or puréed apples, is usually the color of light brown sugar, and slow cooked for much longer. It can be the viscosity of thick molasses or Nutella.
Although apple butter is more likely to use peeled apples, either can be made with peeled or unpeeled apples. Applesauce is often chunkier because the apples were chopped into larger pieces before cooking.