Apples are a kitchen staple, whether you’re picking them right off the tree or folding them into a pie. Choosing the right apple can make or break a recipe–this post will tell you which apples for cooking I prefer and why.
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Did you know there are 2,500 varieties of apples in the United States? Across the world, there are even more–estimates clock in at around 7,500 kinds. Before you feel overwhelmed, know that there are just 100 types of apples that have been selected for commercial cultivation, and this is precisely what ends up on shelves and in orchards throughout the country.
From those 100 varieties of apples, I have my favorite apples for cooking. Texture, taste, and sugar level are all differentiating factors in different kinds of apples, and what works for one type of recipe may not work for another.
When picking apples for a specific type of recipe, try to think about what are the most critical aspects of the final product: is texture a make-or-break quality, like an apple pie? Or will you be adding different fruit and therefore playing with varying amounts of natural sugars?
Let’s discuss my top picks- Granny Smith, Fuji, and Honeycrisp apples, exploring how to select, store, and use them in culinary applications.
Granny Smith Apples
A tried-and-true favorite apple of mine is the frog green-skinned Granny Smith. This variety originated in Australia in 1868, the seedling founded by Maria Ann (Granny) Smith. Its peak season is October to December. However, it can be sourced year-round in most grocery stores.
It’s the perfect all-purpose apple, seeing as its crisp, tart white flesh holds its shape rather than turning to mush once heat is applied. They aren’t too sweet either, actually slightly sour, allowing room to play with sweeteners and other flavors. They hold up longer when exposed to oxygen, so you can mise en place and worry less about browning while you prepare the rest of the recipe. They are best known for their use as a pie apple due to their firm flesh and mouth-puckering taste to balance the added sweeteners.
I like to use Granny Smith apples in savory dishes paired with chicken or pork and certain root vegetables like sweet potato or butternut squash.
My go-to eating apple is Fuji. Therefore why not use them for cooking? They are available year-round, depending on the state. Their skin is blush red with a golden-yellow undertone. Their super sweet and tart flavors strike the perfect balance. They are the sweetest apples, with a Brix (sugar level) between 15 to 18.
Fuji apples were developed in the 1930’s by growers in Fujisaki, Japan, creating a cross between Red Delicious and Virginia Ralls Janet. Their firm texture tends to hold up well during the cooking process. The flesh is crisp and full of moisture, with a good crunch that lends itself well to texture-friendly recipes.
Since Fuji apples have a more mild flavor, they’re better for enhancing a recipe rather than playing the starring role. They work well baked, sauteed, or chopped and added to waffles or muffins.
- Apple oatmeal cookies
- Gluten-free apple cinnamon waffles
- Baked caramel apple donuts
- Apple peach chutney
It was only a few years ago that I had my first bite of a Honeycrisp apple. The name was intriguing and did not disappoint, the perfect snacking apple for eating fresh when available. Honeycrisp apples have grown in popularity after being discovered in 1960 at the University of Minnesota’s apple breeding program.
This new variety has only been available commercially since 1991 and is in high demand in the United States. Their season is typically from September through May. The skin has patches of scarlet red and yellow tones. The flesh has an incredible crunch factor, which shatters into clean pieces with each bite.
This juicy apple is refreshingly sweet and mouth-wateringly tart. It holds its shape well when cooking, lending crunch to any recipe that requires it. They are perfectly tart and won’t overload a recipe with sugar, so if you can find them, feel free to use them in pies, tarts, dumplings, cobblers, or any baking recipe where you’ll want a mild, textured apple.
How to select apples
When it comes to choosing apples, there are a few tricks I keep in mind when browsing the store aisles.
- Color: We’ve been trained to think that red=apple, but the truth is that redness doesn’t always make for the best apple. For Honeycrisps, look for slightly blue and green tinges–if it’s become too yellow, it’s likely overripe. With Fujis, apples with yellow hues will be sweeter, and green will be more tart. For varietals that are red in color, choose ones with more red and orange hues, which indicates more flavor from more prolonged exposure to sunlight. Of course, redness goes out the window in the case of Granny Smiths, which can also be found year-round.
- Firmness: Give the apple a delicate squeeze. If the apple is rock hard to the touch, it likely needs more time. It should feel firm and give–but only a tiny bit. Too soft indicates it’s on its way to rotting.
- Appearance: There will be some markings from Mother Nature, like specks or scuffs on the surface. However, bruised apples should be avoided as they will quickly continue to decay over time.
- Smell: Fresh apples will emit nice aromas characteristic of their variety. If it smells “green,” it will likely not taste ripe, so you can give it more time to ripen on the counter if needed.
How to store apples
Now that you’ve purchased some delicious and fragrant apples, how do you keep them fresh?
- Temperature: Store apples unwashed in the refrigerator, ideally between 33 to 35F, in the coolest area with some humidity to prevent the skin from wrinkling.
- Ripening: If more time is needed to ripen, store them in a cool, dark place. They can then be transferred to the refrigerator to stop the ripening process and prolong eating quality.
- Flavor: Apples are like sponges in that they can absorb flavors of strongly scented foods like garlic and onions. Store them in the refrigerator on separate shelves or bins. Also, keep apples away from potatoes, as they release ethylene gas and increase ripening which could be undesirable.
Whole apples should always be kept refrigerated to stop them from ripening and, eventually, becoming mushy. If the apples have already been sliced, the key is removing oxygen from the equation. Submerging the slices in salted water for 10-15 minutes before rinsing and storing will do the trick. Before using, give it one more rinse to wash off any remaining salt. Lemon juice can also be used, but I’ve found this alters the taste too much unless eating them right away.
What are your favorite apples to cook? What other varieties would you add to this list? I’d love to hear in the comments section below!