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A face for radio: Heirloom Apples

Red Delicious, Golden Delicious, Granny Smith, Fuji, and Gala along with a few others seem to dominate the apple selection in most markets, but did you know there are over 7,000 apple varieties being grown worldwide?

In fact, 90% of the apples sold in the United States are from only 11 varieties.

These varieties, for the most part, have gained in popularity due to a few factors: they are uniform in size and shape, they hold up in transit better, and their ability to survive in controlled atmosphere storage. Heirloom apples, also known as heritage and/or antique apples, are bred for one thing—flavor.

heirloom apples-freshpoint-illustrated

Exactly what is an heirloom apple?

There is no definitive definition, though most people define an heirloom apple as a variety that can be dated to the period of time that pre-dates refrigerated rail cars. Many of the varieties that were grown and sold in the United States into the mid 1940’s are now threatened or extinct. For 50 years the Red Delicious apple was the most widely grown variety in the United States, but that was taken over in 2018 by the Gala.

All is not lost, however, as many growers are re-discovering these old and flavorful varieties and have begun selling them directly to consumers at the thousands of farmers markets being held nationwide.  In fact, this direct selling model has seen double digit growth.

Heirloom apples may not appear perfect, some are lumpy, some have odd shapes, and some may even be flat out ugly. What these apples do have is superior flavor and a great story.  Thomas Jefferson, while visiting France in the late 1700’s, wrote to James Madison saying, “They have no apples here to compare with our Newtown Pippin.” Noted food writer James Beard wrote in 1972 that “a number of the old-fashioned varieties [of apples] we used to know are in short supply or have disappeared from circulation entirely.… The great Gravensteins and Spitzenbergs seem to have vanished.”  It’s not all gloom and doom, these varieties that Jefferson and Beard waxed poetic about are starting to appear once again, albeit on a limited basis.

What can we do to save these wonderful varieties?

Education and introduction are the keys.  Once consumers taste what an apple should taste like, they may never want to return to their Red Delicious again.


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Content provided by Daniel Snowden, the Director of Culinary Development for FreshPoint Central Florida. He has been in the produce industry years almost 20 years, and loves getting geeky about food. Follow FreshPoint Central Florida on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

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