Apples – Delicacies from the Silk Road

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“To eat an apple before going to bed, will make a doctor beg his bread” – the original English adage.

Apples have been enjoyed since 6500 B.C. and have gone from being a forbidden fruit to a 21st century antioxidant-containing superfruit that keeps the doctor away. I’d say apples have done well keeping on the human radar. They’re also a delight to eat, boasting only 2mg of sodium while providing 5 grams of fiber per apple.*

* Note, if you’re watching your carbs, sugar or potassium, an apple contains approximately 25 grams Total Carbohydrates with 19 grams of sugar and 195mg of potassium (3” diameter, 182g).

Originally from Kazakhstan and the mountains of Central Asia, apples made their way east by traders on the Silk Road. Brought to North America by colonists in the 17th century, Washington now claims the title of the apple capital of the U.S. The state produces nearly 60% of the U.S. apple crop and exports its crisp fruit worldwide.

While writing this article, the Honeycrisp apple (left side of photo) was beckoning me to bite into it. Shiny with shades of red, yellow and green, I was curious to taste it. But its sweet aroma is what finally got me. Crisp and juicy, smooth pieces popped off with each puncture of the skin. So good, so satisfying, the other varietals vanished quickly after.

Varieties and Clubs

The Red Delicious tops the market in production, accounting for 30% of Washington’s crop. The top nine apples are:

Red Delicious

Golden Delicious

Gala

Fuji

Granny Smith

Braeburn

Honeycrisp

Cripps Pink

Cameo

 

I was amazed to learn that there are over 7500 varieties in the U.S. and that number continues to grow. In fact, there’s a trend in the industry called “club” varieties. As apple breeders develop new varietals, some growers (clubs) license and grow the new apples in hopes of one becoming super popular and hitting the jackpot (similar to the explosive growth of the Fuji).

How are Apples Available Year-Round?

Harvesting occurs from late summer through fall. So how do we buy apples in say, spring? Controlled Atmospheric Storage (aka, CA). In CA, temperature is maintained at 32-36 degrees F with careful control of humidity, oxygen and carbon dioxide to slow the ripening process. Trivia tidbit: there’s enough storage in eastern Washington for over 120 million boxes of apples!

More Apple Facts

  • Apples ripen six to ten times faster at room temperature than in the refrigerator.
  • 45,000 temporary workers handpick 10-12 billion apples each year in Washington alone; enough fruit to circle the earth 29 times.
  • Nutrients and antioxidants are mostly contained in apple skin.
  • Shiny apples have the best crispiness and taste. Those with white chalky areas have likely been exposed to excessive heat or moisture.
  • Sliced apples can be protected from oxidation by dipping in a solution of 1 part lemon or lime juice to 3 parts water.

Are Apples Waxed?

Yes! While apples have their own natural waxy coating, about half of it is lost in post-harvest washing. So, producers apply wax to the apples to prevent moisture loss, slow down respiration and keep the apple crispy. The wax typically used is non-petroleum, FDA-approved carnauba or shellac.

While carnauba sounds like an industrial car wax, it comes from the leaves of palm. Shellac is a resin secreted by female lac bugs on trees in Southeast Asia and India. Hmm, carnauba sounds a bit more appealing to me. It is also permissible under the National Organic Program, though waxing is uncommon among organic growers.

Uses

While the popular Red Delicious apples are primarily recommended for eating fresh, most other varieties are highly versatile, used in pies and baking, and in cooking and sauces. Try our Roasted Autumn Vegetables where the sweetness of the baked apple compliments the fennel beautifully. Of course, apples are simply great as a healthy snack.

About Jeff

Jeff thrives on cooking, travel, and outdoor recreation. While he’s always considered himself to be a healthy eater, he was quickly “enlightened” after his out-of-the-blue encounter with a blocked artery. Now he’s living a low-sodium lifestyle, and enjoying every bite.