There’s something about that moment when you bite into the first, fresh, perfectly tart apple of the autumn season that reminds you: “Yes, this is what fall is supposed to taste like.” But while I love pretty much all in-season apple varieties, they’re not all equally suited for every purpose. I definitely plan to do some baking this fall (Don’t hate: Nothing goes better with Sunday afternoon football—Go Giants!), and when I do I’ll reach for certain types of apples while avoiding others. Ditto making salads, cooking, making applesauce or just eating an apple whole.
So how do you know which kind of apple is best to buy? I’ve created this handy guide for picking the right apple for every occasion.
Before we begin, a quick note: It’s good to keep in mind that, regardless of what kind of apple you prefer, their nutrition is fantastic. A medium apple (3-inch diameter) contains 4 grams of fiber plus a bit of Vitamin C and Potassium.
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How to pick the perfect apple:
For Baking and Cooking
When it comes to baking, some people are partial to firmer apples that keep their shape in the oven while others prefer a softer apple that breaks down. In the EatingWell Test Kitchen, we like to combine the two. It’s also important to opt for apples with enough tartness to stand up to the sweetness of your creation. You want an apple pie that tastes like apples, not sugar!
EatingWell Recommends: McIntosh and Granny Smith are great for baking. When the softer McIntosh mixes with the more toothsome Granny Smith, presto! You’ve got yourself the perfect apple pie.
There are many apple varieties that could taste great in a salad, but if you’re not planning to serve it immediately, you might want to opt for a variety that takes longer to turn brown.
EatingWell Recommends: If you want to include fresh apples in a dish but don’t have time to assemble it á la minute, Cortlands are the best bet—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.
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Of course, the perfect apple for eating is a matter of personal preference, but I thought it might be interesting to take a look at why certain apples seem to get so much love. For instance, the Honeycrisp tends to be almost universally adored while the Red Delicious is a bit more, well, controversial. Why is that? I spoke with the Honeycrisp’s cultivator, the University of Minnesota’s David Bedford, to find out for the September/October issue of EatingWell Magazine. He explained to me that Honeycrisps have cells twice the size of a normal fruit—so, twice as packed with juice—and strong cell walls that shatter rather than fall apart when bitten into. The result? As Bedford puts it: “They defined a new category of crisp…we had to coin the term ‘explosively crisp’ to describe them.” In contrast, Red Delicious have relatively weak cell walls. As a result, if you don’t get a really fresh one, you’re likely to bite into a mealy mess.
EatingWell Recommends: Fans of the Honeycrisp might want to try the brand new variety Sweetango. Cultivated by David Bedford as well, it has Honeycrisp’s signature crunch, but is a bit tarter.
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A bushel basket of new apple varieties have made their way to market over the last few years, including juicy, floral Jazz, firm Ambrosia and the delicate, almost tropical Piñata. We at EatingWell also love a trio of summer varieties that come imported from New Zealand: Eve, Smitten and Tentation. You might not be able to find all of these varieties where you live, but you’ll certainly find some. Whatever you choose, be sure to get them soon. There’s only so long that these apples are at their peak flavor and it would be a shame to miss out.
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How to Pick the Best Apples
There are so many kinds of apples that it’s impossible to follow one general rule when looking for the right attributes, but there are a few key points to seek out. Choose unbruised apples that feel firm and heavy in your hand. Be sure to look for richly colored fruits with smooth skin. Also, watch out for signs of russeting—that’s those tan or brown streaky, corky marks that sometimes show up on the stem or base end of the apple, caused by excessive wetness or fungus.
What’s your favorite kind of apple? Tell us what you think below.