All apple varieties we know today originate from a wild ancestor that is found in the mountains of Central Asia. Over the centuries, humans have selected for various traits like firmness, color, and sweetness and today, there are over 7,500 apple cultivars. Interestingly, once growers have achieved an apple they like, they must breed it asexually to guarantee the same result for the next generation. This is because apple seeds grow highly variable from their parent plant. Some apples are best eaten fresh, while others are better for baking, cooking, or making cider. On that note, if you want to stock up on any apple varieties while they're in season, it's best to learn how to freeze them for storage. When shopping for apples, you’ll want to select those that are firm to the touch, free of bruises or punctures, and have a pleasant aroma. Unless you plan to eat them almost immediately, they are best stored in temperatures ranging from 31 to 35 degrees and wrapped in damp paper towels. In the right conditions, they can be kept for about 1 month. In addition, if you want to secure the freshest apples, shop for them in-season, which for all apples in the U.S. typically ranges from July to November. Below you’ll find information on some of the most popular apple varieties, including their taste profile and what type of eating they’re best for, whether it be a delicious pie or sliced fresh on a charcuterie board.
Fuji apples owe their name to Fujisaki, Japan, where they were originally cultivated. The Fuji is a cross between the Red Delicious and Virginia Ralls Janet apples, yielding a fine-grain and white flesh, as well as a super juicy-sweet flavor that’s low in acidity. Fujis are larger than most other varieties and their skin is colored with yellow or light green undertones and dappled in pink or red. They are best eaten fresh in dishes like taffy apple salad or apple pecan chicken salad, but because of their crisp texture, they can also be baked or cooked.
Granny Smith apples are well-known and well-loved by many for their tart flavor and crisp texture, though their pretty green skin doesn’t hurt either. Although all apples have their health benefits, Granny Smiths are some of the highest in antioxidants and are lower in calories than other, sweeter varieties. They also store for longer than other cultivars, likely due to their low levels of ethylene gas production, as well as thick skin. Their texture, taste, and appearance make them one of the go-to apples for baking and cooking, so try them in caramel apple cheesecake bars, apple and Calvados sorbet, or brie and apple stuffed chicken breasts.
The Honeycrisp apple was nearly lost to history, as it was originally tossed out by growers for their poor frost-resistance. But now, it’s one of the most popular (and expensive) varieties, renowned for its balanced flavor and incredible crunch when bitten into. It has thin skin that’s colored both red and light green or yellow and is one of the larger varieties of apples. Yet for all its virtues, the Honeycrisp does not store well so it’s best to eat it soon after you purchase it. Use them in this pomegranate and apple salad or in these apple and date charoset truffles.
Gala apples are mild in flavor compared to other popular varieties and have a softer bite, as well. They’re a bit smaller and more slender than other cultivars and their thin skin turns from yellow and red to mostly red, when ripe. It’s not particularly remarkable in any way, but that’s also what makes it a good choice for those that prefer an apple that won’t overpower the palate. Galas aren’t the best baking apples, but they’re good for both juicing and freezing, so enjoy them in apple cider or an apple crisp cocktail.
The Golden Delicious apple is quite a versatile variety, which can be enjoyed both raw and baked. Its flavor is a bit tart and sweet and some even describe it as having honeyed undertones. Its pale yellow skin and firm, white flesh sit pretty in a Waldorf salad and blend beautifully into this cranberry and apple compote. Golden Delicious apples also dry well in the oven or dehydrator which begs the question, homemade granola, anyone?
Pink Lady apples were the first to be trademarked, which means growers must meet specific standards to market their product under the name. Those apples which don’t meet these qualifications will be sold as Cripps Pink but don’t get too caught up on labels, as both ultimately come from the same cultivar and will have a similar taste and texture. Pink Lady apples have a pink and red blush and exceptionally crisp flesh. They are also very flavorful, noted for their tartness and sweet finish that some say has an effervescent quality. It’s slow to brown, so it’s great tossed into slaws and salads. That said, it also dazzles in baked goods, like this French apple tart.
Braeburns are one of the go-to apples for baking. They’re crisp and quite flavorful, so they aren’t easily cooked down into mush or overwhelmed by spices. When ripe, it's firm to the touch and it has yellow skin, streaked in red. Show them off in this beautiful tahini custard tart or mix them into this apple and fennel challah stuffing. Now, baking isn’t the end of the line for the Braeburn—they’re also a great cider apple, blending well into autumn-inspired sangrias and punches.
The Jazz apple is a cross between the Braeburn and Gala cultivars and among apple varieties, it’s a newer invention, developed in New Zealand during the 1980s. It has a balanced taste and some remark that it has pear undertones. Its skin is marbled in yellow and red and its crisp flesh is buttery in color. Because of their exceptionally crisp texture, they’re a great choice for baking and cooking. Use Jazz apples in a creamy apple and brie cheese soup or old-fashioned apple butter and discover just how delicious they are.
Jonagold apples are large and have a red hue, accented with yellow-green undertones. They have a crispy bite and are tangy-sweet in flavor, so they’re a natural choice for baking, but they can equally be enjoyed eaten out-of-hand. The downside to Jonagold apples is that their season is short and they don’t store well, so be sure to use them quickly or freeze them. Bake them into caramel apple cinnamon rolls or simply slice and place them over top honeyed ricotta toasts.
Cortland apples are popular just like there parent cultivar, the McIntosh. They’re typically available from April to September, though their peak season is during September. Cortland apples have a sweet flavor and snow-white flesh that’s slightly tender, but they still hold up well during baking. Enjoy them in this refreshing apple and fennel salad or use them in this recipe for cranberry-apple pork chops.