What’s a modern apple?

“Is that a modern apple?”

A friend was eating an apple at a recent get-together, and since it’s now September, I wondered if her apple was, well, current.  In season.  In other words, not a mushy storage apple.  Modern wasn’t the best choice for “in season”, although another person claimed she knew exactly what I meant.  We laughed.  Later I thought about it and realized “modern” is probably a better description for our apple supply in general.  Unfortunately, it’s not a pretty picture:

  • available all year long, instead of seasonal
  • apples bred for appearance, not for texture or flavor
  • excessively large apples
  • mostly tasteless; sometimes downright offensive
  • texture can be extremely off-putting
  • impossible to tell which apples will actually be worth buying, based on appearance

Give me old-fashioned apples!

If you’re following the mantra of “more fruits and vegetables”, apples seem like an easy choice.  They transport well, they’re fruit, they’re shiny, they’re widely available, they can sit around for days without obviously going bad (unlike bananas).  Nutritionally speaking, apples have one main claim-to-fame: pectin, a soluble fiber that’s known to help lower cholesterol.  Any credible cholesterol-lowering diet plan will list apples as a recommended food, right along with oats.  The reason is that soluble fiber.  Other than that, apples aren’t particularly high in any other nutrients.  A large apple has about 240 mg of potassium, traces of some B vitamins and a tiny amount of vitamin C.  They’re 85% water, which makes them filling.  A large apple has over 5 grams of fiber, but it you peel it, the fiber goes down by almost half.

Unfortunately, modern apples aren’t that great when it comes to the real reason we eat anything at all: flavor.  I only eat them in-season, which is late summer through October or possibly into November, depending on where you live.  They don’t do well in warm climates.  If you’re lucky enough to live in an apple-producing region, you can enjoy fresh in-season apples at the peak of quality from local orchards.  When they’re fresh like that, nothing else can compare.  If you have access to orchards growing heirloom varieties, try some.  According to Wikipedia, there are over 7500 varieties, although not all are used for eating.  Yet we typically only find 8 or so varieties in the grocery store, dominated by the inappropriately-named “Delicious” apples.

On a side note, two GMO apples were approved by the FDA over two years ago.  They are bred to not turn brown after cutting up.  Apples start to brown after being sliced or bitten into.  It’s not dangerous, although it doesn’t look great.  If you’re slicing up apples for a pie, or serving apple slices with cheese or as a snack, it probably would be nice if they stayed fresh-looking.  You can always toss them with a dash of lemon juice or pinch of sugar, both of which also prevent browning.  But now you can forego that dreary chore (snark) if you buy Arctic Golden or Arctic Granny Smith.  I have not seen either of those in any stores.  Given that it takes a few years for apple trees to bear apples, it could still be awhile before they’re available retail.  Or possibly they’ll all be bought up by restaurants or food service providers that sell sliced apples.

No word on how they taste, which would seem to be the more important issue.  I’m not one of those knee-jerk anti-GMO types, but I doubt flavor is going to be improved.  I’m sticking to local apples in-season.

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