How to Choose the Perfect Apple for Eating Fresh, Salads, Baking and Applesauce
From baking to biting into, different varieties of apples have different strengths. Here's your go-to guide to choosing the perfect one every time. How do you like those apples?
How many types of apples are there? We don't know, and it probably depends on whom you ask. What we do know is how to make an apple crisp, pie, sauce or salad. It can be hard to choose the perfect apple for the job, so we created this go-to guide for all of your apple needs.
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Best Apples for Eating Fresh
The most delicious fresh apples combine sweet and sour, crunchiness and juiciness. Not all apples are this way, but when you find one, there are few better treats. Choose unbruised apples that feel firm and heavy in your hand. Look for richly colored fruits with smooth skin and no signs of russeting—tan or brown streaky, protruding marks that can be near the stem or base of the apple, and may be caused by excessive wetness or fungus. If you can resist biting into apples right away, store them in the refrigerator. In general, firmer apples like Gala and Fuji last longer (sometimes more than three months) than softer-textured cultivars like Golden Delicious or Jonagold (which hold for about three weeks). These are our top picks for apples to just bite into:
Ambrosia comes from the Greek word for "food of the Gods," if that is any indication of how it tastes. These apples are sweet and buttery under their bi-colored exterior. They are a low-acidity apple, so they make for a pleasant snack when enjoyed fresh.
Braeburn apples have muted greenish-gold to red skin and pale yellow flesh. Fragrant and smooth, these medium-to-large fruits have a well-balanced flavor—sweet with just a hint of tartness.
Empire is the delightful child of the McIntosh and Red Delicious, with the sweet-tart flavor of the McIntosh but a crisper bite and creamier flesh. Pro tip: Smaller fruits are perfect for packing in lunchboxes.
Enterprise apples look similar to McIntosh, but have a firmer, finer grain. Their flavor is slightly tart and spicy, with a sweet richness. Their complexity lends itself well to eating fresh.
Fuji is a relative newcomer to the American public, but these baseball-size beauties have become hugely popular due to their sweet flavor and incredibly crisp texture.
Gala is one of the earliest available varieties, and it takes its sweet, succulent nature from two Delicious cultivars (Golden and Kidd's Orange Red). Its thin skin and tender, pale yellow flesh makes it a great out-of-hand eating apple.
Honeycrisp is exceptionally crisp and juicy, with a sweet-as-honey flesh and just a hint of tartness that makes it a tasty treat any time of the day. You can also use this apple for baking (if you can resist eating them all!). Pale yellow flesh is surrounded by mottled red-and-gold skin.
Jazz is the child of two other delicious varieties: Braeburn and Gala. This apple is crisp and full of flavor. It makes for a strong snack on its own, but also can be enjoyed in salads or baked goods.
Jonagold is a cross between Jonathan and Golden Delicious. This bumpy, striped fruit isn't super fragrant but tends to rank very high in taste tests. This fruit is sweet with a nice balance of tartness.
SweeTango is related to the famed Honeycrisp, and it shows in the taste. This apple variety is slightly less widely available, but offers a comparable priced alternative to Honeycrisp when you can find it.
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Best Apples for Salad
When choosing an apple for salad, it is important for it to hold its shape and avoid browning. In many salads, adding fruits like apples will help add a crunch, so mealy apples should be avoided. Here is our go-to list for slicing and salad apples:
Ambrosia are low-acidity, so they add a great sweet crunch to a salad. Their honey-flavored flesh doesn't brown quickly, so it can be sliced and held in a dish.
Cortland could win this category. They don't turn brown as quickly as other varieties and the bright red skin and snow-white flesh look striking against a contrasting backdrop.
Fuji has a sweet flavor and incredibly crisp texture that makes it perfect for slicing. It adds a great crunch to salads and sides.
Gala has thin skin and tender flesh that allows it to add a tang to salads without leaving stringy skin behind.
Honeycrisp is an all-star apple. It's hard to say things that haven't already been said about this delectable crisp, juicy variety. The balance of sweet and tartness helps it play up greens and keeps it from browning.
Pictured Recipe: Cinnamon Swirl Apple Pie
Best Apples for Baking
When cooking with apples, texture is just as important as flavor. Some apples cook down to mush, while others hold their shape after baking. For most baked goods, we like to use a combination of apples for the best texture. For example, the best apple pie filling combines saucy apples, like McIntosh or Macoun, and shapely apples, like Granny Smith or Pink Lady.
Golden Delicious is a golden orb with creamy, firm yellow flesh and lightly speckled skin. The flavor is absolutely sweet and mellow, making it a versatile cooking apple. It holds its shape well when baked, but take care when storing and handling—the skin bruises easily.
Granny Smith has a lime-green speckled skin that resists bruising to maintain a very firm, crisp flesh. Its sharp, tart flavor holds up well in recipes with spicy notes, and the flesh is firm enough to retain its shape when cooked.
Honeycrisp apples are, again, a winner for this category. They hold their shape and provide explosive flavor to baked goods.
Idared is a rosy, brightly colored apple that is a cross between two New York cultivars, Jonathan and Wagener. The firm, tart flesh ranges from yellowish-green to faintly pink, and holds its shape well during baking. With its well-developed aromatics, this fruit contributes a strong apple flavor.
Jonagold has skin with orange-blush stripes, surrounding a creamy, pale yellow flesh with a juicy, crisp texture that shares the shape-holding characteristics of its parents.
Jonathan has a bright, sweetly tart flavor. This red-striped greenish-yellow fruit boasts a smooth, tough skin and firm flesh that retains its shape well during cooking. This New York native apple doesn't store as well as other varieties, so use it within a few weeks of purchasing.
Macoun is a cross of the McIntosh and Jersey Black cultivars, and is regarded as one of the best all-purpose cooking apples around. This dark red fruit with creamy white flesh is soft, tender and perfect for sauce. It has a sweet, rich apple flavor with hints of berry.
McIntosh is an apple that has been loved since John McIntosh discovered seedlings in Ontario in 1811. The tender white flesh is crisp when freshly harvested, but soon adopts a softer consistency, making it perfect for cooking into pies or sauce. Macs are sweet and juicy with a pleasant tanginess.
Northern Spy trees may take up to 14 years to bear fruit, so it is frequently grafted onto other apple trees to encourage growth. It's worth the wait, though—this apple is tart and juicy-crisp, with finely textured flesh that holds its shape well, perfect for pie and other baking uses.
Pink Lady apples hold their shape and flavor well for baking. Their sharp sweetness and juiciness is described as a "fizz-like" mouthfeel. They add tanginess to other apples in baked goods and applesauce.
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Pictured Recipe: Easy Homemade Applesauce
Best Apples for Applesauce
Making the perfect applesauce is an art. Based on the apple type you choose, it can be sweet or savory or sour. Some recipes even call for a mix of apple types, to add complexity of flavor. The ideal apples for sauce have unique and robust flavors, while being able to properly cook down and be mashed to your desired consistency. Here are some of our favorites:
Cortland is juicy and mildly tart, and softens nicely when cooked, making it as well-suited for sauce as it is for salad.
Fuji apples are popular for good reason. They have a tangy, sweet flesh that provides a perfect balance for applesauce. In fact, they're one of our personal favorites for this dish.
Gala is an apple of many uses. The same thin skin and tender flesh that make it delicious for eating fresh also make it a stellar sauce ingredient.
Golden Delicious is a versatile cooking apple that makes a creamy, sweet sauce. Be careful with the skin; it's fragile and can easily bruise.
Granny Smith is a match made in heaven with cinnamon when it comes to applesauce.
Honeycrisp ... did we really include it in every category? Yes, we did. It is just that good.
Idared makes for aesthetically pleasing sauce. Cook these with the skin on and then strain to make a beautiful pink applesauce.
Jonagold has a balance of sweet and tart that shines in sauce. It holds it shape well, and is delicious when paired with other softer apples as well.
McIntosh apples have a tender white flesh that's crisp when freshly harvested, but soon adopts a softer consistency, making these perfect for cooking into sauce. Macs are sweet and juicy with a pleasant tanginess.
Northern Spy apples, as noted above, have limited availability in the U.S., but if you can find these, you should definitely use them to make robustly flavored applesauce.
Paula Red is an early-ripening McIntosh-like apple. It is soft and has a flavor that's nicely balanced between sweet and tart, and it cooks down perfectly into sauces. Its dusty red skin with gold and tan spots yields to tender, slightly mealy white flesh with a flavor evocative of strawberries.
Pink Lady apples pair nicely with softer apples, like McIntosh. Not only do they add a contrast of texture in applesauce, but also a contrast of flavor.
There are so many types of apples, which can make adding them to your shopping list confusing. Different apples have different niches and can make your dish shine, while some are best to enjoy on the spot. This go-to apple guide can help you make a plan to get the most out of your apple dishes this fall and all year. For more on fall favorites, check out Everything You Need to Know About Pumpkins.