Apple Cooking Guide
Ah, the apple, one of the most versatile foods in the world. This widely grown fruit is nutritious, easy to work with, and tasty, with a balance of tart and sweet that lends itself to use in hundreds of recipes.
Apples contain high levels of malic acid, which can be helpful in treating conditions like fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue syndrome, and gallstones. You can get malic acid from the fruit itself, apple juice, or apple cider vinegar. You’ll also find almost twice the daily recommended allowance of fiber in the average apple, helping you feel full for longer.
Because apples are so adaptable, they are grown in many different climates around the world. In the United States alone there are over 2,500 varieties of apples. Many can be found year-round at grocery stores, but their peak season is in the fall, when the flavors and texture are at their best. Autumn is also the best time to go apple picking at your local orchard.
While the sheer number of apple varieties is impressive, it can also be overwhelming if you don’t know which type to use in recipes. While all apples may be described as “crisp” and “juicy,” each apple has a slightly different flavor and texture, meaning some are better for eating whole, while others are better used in baked goods or for cooking.
Some of the best and widely available apples for cooking and baking include Granny Smith, Honeycrisp, Red Delicious, Pink Lady, Golden Delicious, Gala, and McIntosh. We’ll look at a few of these common varieties and which type of dishes they each are suited for.
Granny Smiths are known for their bright green color and tart taste. They are usually large with a somewhat coarse, thick skin and greenish-white flesh. When ripe, they have a moderately juicy texture, and the taste can be complex, with notes of citrus. If picking locally, the best time to go is October or November.
This apple is my preferred choice for baking. Because of their firm texture, Granny Smith apples tend to keep their shape when cooked, and their tartness helps keep the final product from being overly sweet. Granny Smiths are best in pies, crisps, tarts, smoothies, and juices.
Most people like to use Honeycrisp apples in desserts because of their sweet taste and firm texture. Their juicy flavor also makes them great apples to eat whole. Honeycrisps are medium-large in size, characterized by bright red and yellow-orange skin with golden flesh.
This is a versatile apple that I love to cook with because of its namesake crispness and juicy texture. Because of their sweet taste when eaten raw, they work well in salads, and can be paired with Granny Smiths in baked goods. If you want to pick these yourself, the best time is in August and September.
For a sweet-tart apple with a hint of spice that’s perfect for eating right off the tree, try a McIntosh. They are small to medium oblate apples with shiny skin that can be red-green in color or fully red. McIntosh apples do well in colder climates and are usually found on the East Coast of the U.S. Prime picking season is from August to September.
When cooked, this apple breaks down more easily than other apple varieties. They are great for applesauce, ciders, or smoothies. Leave the skin on and serve with roasted meats, chopped in soups, or mixed in a Paleo stuffing. McIntosh are also perfect for charcuterie boards or tossed in salads, slaws, and fruit bowls.
Red Delicious have a mild flavor akin to an overripe melon. They are medium, dark red apples with a tall, conical shape. The skin is tough and the flesh has a light crispness. Their deep crimson color comes from the amount of polyphenols they contain, which help prevent heart disease. Red Delicious are also higher in antioxidants than other apple varieties, mostly concentrated in the red skin they were bred for.
Red Delicious apples don’t cook well; they tend to get mushy and soft quickly. They will work best in salads, slaws, or smoothies due to their mild sweetness. They also store the longest, sometimes up to five months!
Gala apples have a true sweet/tart flavor with more honey notes than acid, and a flowery aroma. They are medium sized and striped rosy red with yellow undertones. The flesh is white. In the U.S., Galas are produced more than any other variety of apple, surpassing Red Delicious in 2018.
Galas work well in baked goods such as muffins or crisps. They also lend themselves to salads, applesauce, or ciders, and can be enjoyed raw as a healthy snack. The best time to go picking for Galas is in September.