Apple pie, apple cookies, apple stuffing — they’re a perfect companion to sweet and savory dishes (as well as being delicious all on their own). So is there a difference between the types of apples? Yes!
Table of Contents
Apples belong to the pome fruit family, along with pears. While you can find them in stores year-round, they ripen and are harvested toward the end of summer through late fall [source]. So, when you begin to see apple recipes everywhere, it’s a good indication that summer is ending and fall is about to start. They’ve become a staple seasonal fruit during the holiday season.
There are dozens and dozens of apple types, some of which you likely see in your produce section often, and some you may not have heard of or ever seen. Depending on the apple variety and how bitter or sweet it is, you may want to use them in pies and baked goods or to complement a savory sauce or another dish. But beyond flavor, they can also add color and texture.
Here’s a 101 guide to all the different types.
Granny Smith apples are the light green superstar in the grocery store. They are crisp and a little tart, so they taste delicious with sweet dips, but you can also pair them with savor dishes. Their peak season is during October and November. Because they are firm with tough skin, they’re a very versatile kitchen ingredient.
On the sweeter side, Fuji apples are a relative to red delicious apples and make a great flavor enhancer. They have a more mild flavor, so they are great in dishes that need a little something extra without overpowering the other ingredients. They are best raw, in salads or slaws or sauces.
Pink lady apples are tart at first with a sweet finish in every bite. Because they have to meet specific sugar and acid criteria, you’ll get the best of both worlds. If they don’t meet the right standards, you might see pink lady apples called Cripps in stores. It’s the same apple that failed to meet sugar, acid, and firmness levels.
This super crisp apple has just the right balance of sweet, tart, and juicy flesh, an autumn favorite that is high in demand. The skin is blush red with undertones of green. They require tempering at a mild temperature before refrigerating by producers, which tends to drive the price higher. The juice is often used to make apple cider. It cooks up nicely and holds its shape in desserts, savory dishes, or can be pureed for sauces.
Envy apples are very round and ruby red. You may see a little green near the stem. They are tough, so you’ll get a good crunch when you take a bite. But what about taste? These apples lean toward to sweet end of the spectrum.
Gala apples are taller, thinner, and less wide than other apples. They are a light red color with more yellow on their skin than other red varieties, and they taste mildly sweet and crisp. That flavor is not intense, but they still make great cooking and baking companions.
Pazazz apples sort of look like someone tie-died their skin yellow and red (you might say they have pazazz). Flavor-wise, they are often compared to an enhanced Honeycrisp apple — mostly sweet with a touch of tartness.
Jazz apples are sharp and fruity in flavor, and they are dense in texture. If you’re eating one raw, it might be best to cut it up than bite right in. Expect an intense sweet flavor that more fruity than acidic.
While Red Delicious apples are just that, delicious, they have a super mild, simple flavor that doesn’t tend to stand out when cooked into dishes or used in pie. So, they’re best eaten as a snack all on their own. You’ll notice they tend to be top-heavy.
You may not see these as often, native to New Zealand. Braeburn apples have a dim, red skin (similar to gala apples), and their texture is firm and crisp. Each bite has a nice balance of sweet and tart, and they’re best for baking or eating raw.
Cameo apples are yellow with some red streaks. They are known for being thin and delicate with dense flesh. They have a citrus flavor that’s balanced with sweetness. You can usually find them at specialty stores through early Spring, beginning in fall.
Holstein’s are a unique variety with a limited window to buy in late September. The Holstein apple is a striking orange blush color. Flavor-wise, it strikes a balancer between sweet and tart. You can cook, bake, and eat raw.
Unrelated to the Red Delicious apple, Golden Delicious apples are soft with a thin skin. This is one variety you want to eat or freeze as soon as possible. You can cook with them, bake with them, or eat raw.
Pink Lady apples aren’t the only lady in the apple family. Lady Alice apples were discovered growing, thanks to bees pollinating, in Washington. They are smaller and slightly more stout in appearance than other varieties. Their skin color appears to have red and yellow stripes running from stem to butt. They taste sweet with a tart finish.
Hidden rose apples are a real treat when you find them (primarily available in October and November). Having a tart flavor that’s layered with a hint of sweetness, hidden rose apples are delicious to bake and cook with. They get their name from their rose-colored skin and flesh, which is blush with touches of yellow.
These apples are delicate and sweet, and their origin is somewhat of a mystery, having been discovered growing randomly in the wild. They are a mostly buttery yellow color with red patches. They are on the sweeter side and less acidic with a slight honey taste.
Have you ever heard of a Jonathan apple? Well, it’s a tart variety. But the Jonagold is a cross between a tart Jonathan apple and a sweet Golden Delicious apple. Their skin is thick, yellow, and green with blush, red patches.
Empire apples are the result of crossing McIntosh apples with Red Delicious apples. They have dark red skin that’s thick and an overall firm texture. Empires are both sweet and tart.
Another variety that’s best eaten raw, you may not be used to seeing McIntosh apples in your supermarket. They are mild with a nice balance between sweet and tart. It’s not as firm as other varieties, which is why it’s best raw or chopped up into a salad or slaw.
This is the number one candidate when making apple sauce. Gravensteins are more tart than sweet, so they can balance out the sweetness of pie crust and sugar in applesauce.
Liberty apples are deep red, a maroon color that stands out compared to lighter-hued apples like Honeycrisp or Gala. They taste mostly sweet with hints of tartness and melon. Put them in your pie filling, and you won’t be disappointed.
If you love the rosy skin of pink lady apples, you’ll really be drawn to the Pacific Rose apple. Its skin is a pretty pink. It’s also a large apple, which makes it stand out even more. Then, when you finally bite into it, you’ll enjoy its sweet flavor and crisp texture.
At first, opal apples look very similar to Golden Delicious apples. However, they are a little more orange. They taste sweet and tangy, so they are delicious additions to any dish or eaten raw. But perhaps the coolest fact about opal apples is they will now brown. Not even a little bit!
These apples may look a little rough around the edges compared to other varieties with their lopsided shaped, but they have great flavor. Initially sweet and honey-like, an intense, tangy taste balances it out.
As their name suggests, Winesap apples lean away from sweet and into tartness territory. With just a small hint is sweetness and sugar, Winesaps are sort of like a zingy sip of wine that leaves you wondering. They are a great candidate for making cider.
When choosing apples from the pile in the produce aisle, look for plump, dense, and firm fruit no matter the variety. Soft spots and blemishes mean the apple is past its prime. And the heavier the apple is, the juicier it’s likely to be.
But as far as choosing a variety, that depends on your preference! If you like tart apples, look for a Granny Smith, Empire, or a Braeburn. If you prefer sweet, reach for a Honeycrisp, Fuji, or Gala. And if you’re going to be cooking with the apples you buy, check out this post on the best varieties for cooking.
Apples will keep the longest when they are stores in cold temperature (ideally 30-32 degrees). They should last about a month in your fridge, but on the counter, they may be lucky to make it a week.
Once cut, eat them as soon as possible because they will begin to oxidize immediately (except for Opal apples!). Tossing sliced apples in citrus juice (lemon or lime) will help slow down this process.
Health benefits of apples
According to the USDA, 1 cup of sliced apples contains .2 g protein, .19 g fat, 16.6 g carbohydrates, 2.2 g fiber, 12.7 g sugar, 7mg calcium, and 1 mg sodium [source]. But does color make a difference? Only a smidge. While green apples may contain more fiber, red apples may have more antioxidants.
Apples have been associated with decreased risk of heart disease, help lower cholesterol, and have anti-inflammatory properties. As for apple seeds, they are best avoided in large quantities, as they can poisonous when crushed and if you’ve eaten at least 100 grams of them.