(Malus species — Family Rosaceae)
pomme (French), Apfel (German), mela (Italian), manzana (Spanish), sagar (Basque), poma (Catalan), maçã (Portuguese), appel (Dutch), aeble (Danish), apal (Norweigian), apel (Swedish), omena (Finnish), yabloko (Russian), jablko (Czech), jáblon pláná (Slovak), alma (Hungarian), mar (Romanian), jabuka (Serbo-Croat), yabulka (Bulgarian), melon (Greek), elma (Turkish), tapuah (Hebrew), tuffah (Arabic), seb (Persian), saib (Afghanistan), sev (Hindi), tsoonth (Kashmire), ping guo (Chinese), ringo (Japanese), apel (Indonesian)
Apples are one of the most popular fruits, perfect for eating raw, dried, or cooked in a variety of ways and, there are thousands of varieties to choose from.
The familiar large sweet apple is basically a cultivated product and a far cry from the tiny, sour crab apples that were the wild ancestors. Today, there are well over 7,000 named varieties worldwide, but only a few are of any commercial or historical importance.
Apples come in all shapes and sizes with a wide range of colours, textures, and tastes. Varieties range from cherry-sized crabapples
to such huge varieties as the Howgate Wonder
and Reverend W. Wilkes.
Then, there is the unbelievably warty apple called the Knobby Russet,
which looks like a huge toad.
Apples can be round, oval, or cornered like the Catshead
shaped like the face of a Siamese cat.
The development of the cultivated apple consisted in the selection of trees producing unusually large fruits and then persuading them to evolve into larger apples. The very largest apples today are the coarse cooking apples from Italy called Gravenstein, which weigh well over a pound each.
The main ancestors of the modern apple were Malus sylvestris (the common crab apple) and Malus pumila var. mitis, a native of the Caucasus, where it still grows wild. There is evidence to suggest that such apples were eaten more than 8,000 years ago. The first written mention of the apple is usually said to be by Homer in his Odyssey. But the word he used (melon) was given by the Greeks to describe almost any kind of round fruit which grew on a tree.
Thus, apples became the stuff by which legends were made.
During classical times, it was discovered how to produce apples of a consistent variety. By taking cuttings (scions) of a good tree and grafting them on to a suitable rootstock, they would grow into branches, producing the desired fruits. This process is described in Cato the Elder’s De Agricultura, written during the 2nd century BCE, and was a fundamental requirement for systematic apple-growing; otherwise, each blossom could produce a separate variety, depending on the pollinating process.
It is possible that two or three varieties of apple known to the Romans have survived until present times. One is the Lady apple,
which Pliny said was to have been bred by a man called Appius.
Another is the French apple, Court pendu plat,
a small apple with a delicate flavour.
After the fall of the Roman Empire, the conquering Arabs could not further apple-growing in their hot climate, and cultivation dwindled. However, the apple continued to be grown in Europe. In medieval England, two leading types were the Costard and the Pearmain. By the 16th century, grafting became systematic, and good new varieties were developed.
Today, apples can be successfully grown in the southern hemisphere, and new varieties were developed supported by the climate. For example, the Bismark, a brilliantly crimson cooking apple, was bred in Tasmania, South Africa, Australia, New Zealand, and Chile. This allows apple exporters to take advantage of the reversal in seasons and make apples available all year round.
There are also some unusual varieties that have flavours tasting nothing like the average apple. Some resemble melons, strawberries, raspberries, peaches, lemons, and fennel. Anisa is one of several aniseed-flavored apples. D’Arcy Spice is a golden apple with a flavour of cinnamon and allspice. Winter Banana, as its name suggests, has a banana flavor and a creamy texture. Pine Golden Pippin and Ananas Reinette have a pineapple flavor.
Not only do flavours vary but colours, sizes, and shapes also. Colors may range from bright red to vivid greens and yellows to all combinations of these colors. The skins vary from thin to an inedible thickness. Taste and texture will also range from crisp and sour to soft and sweet.
The Romans are credited with being the first to cultivate the fruit; and, by the 1st century CE, there were at least a dozen varieties grown in the Roman Empire. The most famous of all the apple-growers was a 19th century English nurseryman called Thomas Laxton. He and his sons developed hundreds of hybrids, many of which are still in existence today that bear his name.
Immigrants to America took with them the “pips” rather than the scions as these would have died enroute. This procedure gave rise to entirely new varieties; and, as a result, American apples became a distinct group. An 18th century gentleman by the name of John Chapman of Leominster, Massachusetts, collected a large number of appleseeds from cider mills and took them across America, planting about 10,000 square miles of apple orchards. This earned him the name of “Johnny Appleseed”.
A century later, apple-growing in Australia took off when Mrs. Maria Smith cultivated the first “Granny Smith” apple in her Sydney garden, although the “Granny Smith” apple grown in British Columbia, Canada, has a similar history and creditation.
The colour of red apples is from anthocyanin pigments; and, when cooked with sugar, the anthocyanins and the sugar combine to form irreversible brown compounds.
Apples also contain tartaric and malic acids which inhibit gastric fermentation, thereby preventing bacteria proliferation in the digestive tract. Apples are said to aid in removal of such toxic metals as lead and mercury from the body, and are very beneficial in binding radioactive residues and helping to excrete them from the body.
Apples can cleanse the lungs of phlegm, boost overall immunity and stimulate the appetite. Freshly-pressed apple juice is very cleansing for the liver and gall bladder. It is little wonder that the familiar phrase “An apple a day can keep the doctor away” became so popular.
However, the one problem with apples is that most are grown with the help of chemical spraying. This does not only stay on the outside of the fruit to be washed off, but travels through the root system of the tree and enters the fruit from the inside. Organically grown apples and other fruits have a superior flavour; and, although the nutrient content may not be much different, they are certainly healthier because they lack the added chemicals.
Apples are rich in sugars (glucose, fructose, and sucrose) and have only a trace of starch. They provide all the carbohydrate food fibers, cellulose, hemicellulose, and pectins (which comprise 70% of the total fiber), as well as the noncarbohydrate food fiber lignin, in the peel.
Apples have small amounts of Vitamins A, B and C, and about 70% of the potassium that is supplied in an orange. The sour or tart taste of all immature apples comes from malic acid, which declines as the apple ripens.
Apple seeds contain amygdalin, a naturally occurring cyanide and sugar compound that degrades into hydrogen cyanide. Eating a few seeds is not considered harmful, but it can be to a child. The pectin in apples has long been used as a natural antidiarrheal. However, pectin can interfere with the body’s ability to absorb dietary fats. Although the exact mechanism remains unexplained, one theory is that the pectins in the apple form a gel in the stomach that sops up fats and keeps them from being absorbed by the body.
When apples are cooked, the insoluble cellulose and lignin will hold the peel intact through all the normal cooking process. The flesh however, will fall apart because the pectin in the cell walls dissolves, causing the water inside to burst through. This whole molecular process results in what is known as applesauce!
Commercial bakers keep the apples in their pies firm by adding calcium, while home bakers must rely on careful timing. In order for baked apples not to turn to mush, they are cored and filled with raisins or dates to absorb the moisture released during cooking. Cutting away a circle of peel from the top will allow the fruit to swell without splitting the skin.
During commercial preparation of apple juice, pasteurization must take place. This stops the action of the natural enzymes from turning the sugars into alcohols that produce a mild alcoholic drink known as “hard” cider. It also protects the juice from molds that produce the neurotoxin patulin.
Homemade juice can be made without pasteurization, but must be consumed as soon as possible after pressing in order to keep the maximum benefits from the enzymes and to avoid the growth of bacteria or molds.
Good cider apples include Strawberry Norma and Foxwhelp. There are hundreds of varieties of cider apples, but all have a bitter sour flavor because of their high tannin content.