Applauding Apples

Apples (Malus domestica) belong to the Rosaceae family, along with strawberriesblackberriesraspberriescherries, plumsapricots, peachescherries, quince, nectarines, pears, almonds, and ornamental trees and shrubs (such as roses, meadowsweets, photinias, firethorns, rowans, and hawthorns).

Apple trees grew wild in Central Asia and western China beginning possibly about two to ten million years ago, around the time that the first humans were evolving. Horses, which also lived on the steppes of Central Asia, were eating apples five million years ago. Early apples may have been smaller and more sour than modern apples, and more like crab apples.

Apples were among the first plants that people cultivated. By about 6,500 BC, people were carrying apple seeds west to West Asia and east to China, planting apple trees, and eating apples there, too. By 2,000 BC, people were eating apples in Greece and Italy. There is also evidence to show that people were preserving apples by slicing them and drying them in the sun during the Stone Age in Europe. Archaeologists have found carbonized remains of apples in prehistoric lake dwellings in Switzerland, dating back to the Iron Age.

The earliest writings of China, Egypt, and Babylon mentioned that humans understood the art of budding and grafting fruit trees as long as 2,000 years ago. Apple seeds, along with peach stones and pear seeds, made their way across Europe along with Roman legions. The Romans brought apples to England about 100 AD. People don’t grow apples in Africa or India, because it’s too close to the equator for apples to grow well.

The Hebrew version of Genesis says that Adam and Eve ate a fruit of the Tree of Knowledge that they were forbidden to eat. When the Roman Christian Jerome (347–420) was translating the Bible from Hebrew into Latin, he used the word malum, which meant both “apple” and “evil” in Latin.

Around 763, following their battles for power with the Byzantines, the Arabs moved their capital from Damascus to create the walled city of Baghdad. Travelers brought cinnamon and rhubarb to Baghdad from China to trade. From India, they brought coconuts. From Isfahan in Persia, they brought quinces, apples, saffron, and salt.

Apples become ripe just as it gets cold, and they keep all winter, so ancient and medieval humans could have food even when nothing was growing. Besides drying them, people stored apples whole in underground cold bins, but mostly they pressed the apples with wooden presses to make cider. If you let the apple cider ferment with yeast, it became a slightly alcoholic drink, and the alcohol preserved the apple juice all winter. Apple cider was the main alcoholic drink of many people in northern Europe.

In the Old Saxon manuscripts there are numerous mentions of apples and cider. Bartholomeus Anglicus (Bartholomew of England, born before 1203; died 1272) was an early Franciscan scholar of Paris. He was the author of the compendium De proprietatibus rerum (“On the Properties of Things”), dated 1240, an early forerunner of the encyclopedia and one of the most popular books in medieval times. His section on apples says:

Malus the Appyll tree is a tree yt bereth apples and is a grete tree in itself. . . it is more short than other trees of the wood wyth knottes and rinelyd Rynde. And makyth shadowe wythe thicke bowes and branches: and fayr with dyurs blossomes, and floures of swetnesse and Iykynge: with goode fruyte and noble. And is gracious in syght and in taste and vertuous in medecyne . . . some beryth sourysh fruyte and harde, and some ryght soure and some ryght swete, with a good savoure and mery.”

Dr. John Caius (1510-1573) was physician to Edward VI, Mary I, and Queen Elizabeth I. In his Boke of Counseille against the Sweatynge Sicknesse, he advises a patient to ‘smele to an old swete apple to recover his strengthe.’

In William Shakespeare’s (1564-1616) time, apples when served at dessert were usually accompanied by caraway. In Henry IV, Shallow invites Falstaff to “a pippin and a dish of caraway.”

There are between 25 to 30 kinds of wild apples grown throughout the world with seven kinds in North America. Most wild apples are crab apples with small, sour, hard fruit. The crab apple is the ancestor of many of the varieties of apples grown today.

When the English colonists arrived in North America in the 17th century, they found only crab apples. European settlers and brought with them their English customs and favorite fruits, including apples to make apple cider. Those early orchards produced very few apples because there were no honey bees. Colonies of honey bees were shipped from England and landed in the Colony of Virginia early in 1622. In 1623, William Blackstone arrived in Massachusetts from Europe. He carried a bag of apple seeds (also called “pips”) with him and soon planted an orchard on Beacon Hill in Boston. He later moved to Rhode Island and also planted orchards. In 1628, John Endicott (1558-1665), one of the early colonial governors of Massachusetts Bay Colony, was commissioned to begin a new colony at Massachusetts Bay by the English chartered company that established the original Massachusetts Bay colony in New England. Early in 1629 the Boston Bay Company placed an order for apple seeds from England.

One or more shipments of honeybees were made to Massachusetts between 1630 and 1633. The Indians called the honeybees “English flies” and/or “white man’s flies.” On April 2, 1632, Conants Island in Boston Harbor was granted to John Winthrop (1588-1649), the first governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony. The name of the island was changed to The Governour’s Garden. For this gift, he promised to plant an orchard and a vineyard there, and agreed to pay yearly a fifth of the fruits forever to the governor, whoever he might be. By the 1640’s, orchards were well established. Nearly all land owners planted apple trees. Native Americans appropriated the European apples they liked, cultivating apples extensively. All along the East Coast, apple cider was again many people’s main drink.

In 1737, Robert Prince established the first commercial apple tree nursery in America, called William Prince Nursery, in Flushing, New York. Prince’s Nursery gathered trees and plants from around the world for resale, and became renowned through the American colony. The British who occupied Long Island during the Revolutionary War (1775-1783) considered the William Prince Nursery so important that they put an armed guard around the nursery to protect it.

After the year 1755, Henry Laurens, who lived in Charleston, South Carolina and served as a President of the Continental Congress, introduced olives, limes, ginger, everbearing strawberry, red raspberry, and blue grapes into the United States. From the south of France he introduced apples, pears, plums, and the white Chasselas grape.

Marquis de Lafayette entertained George Washington, general of the Continental Army, for dinner in 1779 under the shade of an old apple tree to map out Revolutionary War strategy against the British. George Washington, six months after he became the new nation’s first president, made a trip by barge to visit the William Prince Nursery. He was accompanied by Vice President John Adams and others. Washington was not overly impressed, perhaps because the nursery had not yet fully recovered from the war or perhaps because his Virginia standards were so high.

John Chapman (1774-1845) began planting apple nurseries in 1790 and became known as Johnny Appleseed. His dream was for the land to produce so many apples that no one would ever go hungry. He traveled 10,000 square miles of frontier territories of his time, leasing land and developing nurseries of apple trees. Chapman collected apple seeds from cider mills, dried them, put them up in little bags, and gave them to everyone he met who was headed West. For forty years he traveled through Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, and Iowa (planting seeds every place he considered to be likely spots). He began nurseries to take care of the apple orchards as well as other fruit, vegetable, and herb plants. He walked alone in the wilderness, without gun or knife. He chopped down no trees, killed no animals, and was a vegetarian. He believed that God wanted him to go around and read his Bible to people and plant apple trees for them. He was respected and appreciated by the native American tribes and the new settlers alike. He was considered eccentric because of the way he dressed and looked. He was scantily clad summer and winter, without shoes except in the severest weather, when he might wear sandals or moccasins as often as the old pair of boots one pioneer writer claimed to have given him out of pity. He would wear someone else’s castoff hat or create for himself a sun hat from cardboard.

When Meriwether Lewis and William Clark explored the Northwest during The Lewis & Clark Expedition (1804-1806), many of the botanical treasures they found were sent back to the William Prince Nursery. The old apple tree under which Washington and Lafayette dined blew down in 1821. Lafayette returned in 1824, during his tour of the United States, and was presented with a cane carved from this tree.

At a farewell banquet given in honor of Captain Aemilius Simmons in London, a young lady slipped some apple seeds into his pocket and bade him plant them in the wilderness. Some time after his 1825 arrival at Fort Vancouver in the Pacific northwest, he handed the seeds over to Dr. John McLoughlin (1784-1857), Chief Agent of the Hudson’s Bay Company. Dr. McLoughlin gave the seeds to his gardener to plant. His first tree produced only one apple, but the seeds of that single fruit bore future generations of hardier stock.

In 1837, Josiah Red Wolf, a Nez Perce leader and last survivor of the Nez Perce War, planted apple trees at Alpowa Creek near the Snake River in southeast Washington. He is probably the first Native American in what is now eastern Washington and Oregon known to have a European-style garden and orchard. Red Wolf’s trees lived for decades.

Starting in 1843, when covered wagons traveled over the Oregon Trail westward, they carried apple trees and “scion wood” for grafting as part of their cargo. Often the family orchard was planted before the ground was broken for their log cabin that was to be home.

In 1847, Henderson Lewelling (1809-1879), an Iowa nurseryman, traveled the Oregon Trail to Oregon with four wagons, his wife, and eight children. Three yoke of oxen were required to pull the lead wagon in which were the approximately 700 one-year old grafted fruit trees, including apples, pear, quince, plum, and cherry trees. Lewelling reportedly took such good care of those trees on the trip that they were watered every day and only water that was left was given to his family. During most of the trip, the family traveled alone or with small companies as its slow pace irritated those traveling with them. Along with his future son-in-law, William Meek, Lewelling planted a nursery in the spring of 1848 near Milwaukie, Oregon with the 350 fruit trees that had survived the long journey. By 1850, their first crop produced 100 apples. It was the time of the Gold Rush in California, and when they rushed to San Francisco with the apple crop, prospectors were so hungry for fresh fruit that he sold them for $5 each. They used the money to build more orchards.

The William Prince nursery survived under four generations of the Prince family until just after the Civil War.

Sydney Babson (1882-1975) traveled around Oregon seeking “just the right spot” to start his apple orchard. He carefully tended his tiny apple seedlings as he traveled with only a small tent and his pack. He believed that when his eyes beheld just the right location for his orchard, he would receive “a sign from God.” Emerging from his tent one morning in 1908, he looked towards Mt Hood. Babson took this as the sign he was looking for and began to plant his apple orchard. While prohibition put some cider orchards out of business in the 1920s, Sydney Babson devoted his life to his orchards for over 60 years. In 1960 he was named “Orchardist of the Year.” Today, the Hood River Valley is one of the major growers of apples.

There are currently approximately 10,000 different varieties of apples grown in the world, with more than 7,000 of these varieties grown in the United States.

Apples can:

  1. Build strong bones. Apples are one of the best food sources of boron (497.21 micrograms in a medium apple), which builds strong bones and prevents osteoarthritis.
  2. Maintain healthy weight: Apples are high in fiber, which helps you feel full and keeps your gastrointestinal system working more efficiently and regularly. By improving your digestive health, you may have more energy and more easily keep your weight down.
  3. Prevent gastrointestinal disease: The fiber in apples can also help to prevent certain gastrointestinal conditions like inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), various cancers, or diverticulitis. The catechin and epicatechin in the fiber bind with certain cancer-causing toxins, thereby protecting the mucus membrane of your colon.
  4. Fight free radicals: The high level of antioxidants in apples, including vitamin C, beta-carotene, polyphenols, flavonoids, and other phytochemical compounds, can neutralize or eliminate free radicals in your body. Free radicals are the dangerous byproducts of cellular metabolism than can cause healthy cells to mutate or die. The antioxidants in apples have been directly connected to reduced chances of developing various types of cancer. In particular, apples can decrease oxidation of cell membrane fats, which can reduce your risk for clogging of the arteries (atherosclerosis) and other cardiovascular problems. The antioxidants in apples can lower your risk for asthma and lung cancer. The flavonoids in apples help recycle vitamin C. Chlorogenic acid in apples is an antioxidant that can also prevent cancer and diabetes, and keep your heart healthy by protecting against atherosclerosis and reducing blood levels of low density lipoprotein (LDL or “bad”) cholesterol. Ferulic acid in apples is a potent antioxidant that may also prevent bone degeneration and cancer, protect your skin from ultraviolet (UV) damage, reduce blood levels of low density lipoprotein (LDL or “bad”) cholesterol, reduce hot flashes associated with menopause, and treat diabetes. Kaempferol in apples has anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, cardioprotective, neuroprotective, antidiabetic, anti-osteoporotic, estrogenic/antiestrogenic, anxiolytic, analgesic, and antiallergic activities. It is a strong antioxidant that helps to prevent oxidative damage of your cells, lipids, and DNA, seems to prevent arteriosclerosis by inhibiting the oxidation of low density lipoprotein and the formation of platelets in the blood, and acts as a chemopreventive agent, which means that it inhibits the formation of cancer cells.
  5. Protect your heart. The water-soluble fiber (pectin) in apples, along with their polyphenols, decrease both total cholesterol and low-density lipoprotein (LDL or “bad”). The antioxidants in apples protects against oxidation of fats (called lipid peroxidation), including fats found in your bloodstream (like triglycerides) or fats found in the membranes of cells lining your blood vessels. Decreased lipid peroxidation is a key factor in lowering risk of many chronic heart problems. Quercetin in apples also provides your cardiovascular system with anti-inflammatory benefits, primarily by reducing blood levels of C-reactive protein, or CRP.
  6. Regulate blood sugar. The polyphenols in apples influence your digestion and absorption of carbohydrates, which improves regulation of your blood sugar. Polyphenols:
    1. Slow down carbohydrate digestion. Quercetin and other flavonoids in apples inhibit carbohydrate-digesting enzymes like alpha-amylase and alpha-glucosidase. When these enzymes are inhibited, carbohydrates are broken down less readily into simple sugars, and less load is placed on your bloodstream to accommodate more sugar.
    2. Reduce glucose absorption. Polyphenols in apples lower the rate of glucose absorption from your digestive tract, which reduces the sugar load on your bloodstream.
    3. Stimulate your pancreas to put out more insulin. Insulin, a hormone produced by the beta cells of your pancreas, helps get sugar out of your bloodstream.
    4. Stimulate insulin receptors to latch on to more insulin and increase the flow of sugar out of your bloodstream and into your cells. In order for sugar to leave your bloodstream and enter your cells (especially your muscle cells), insulin receptors on those cells must bind together with the insulin hormone and create cell changes that will allow sugar to pass through the cell membrane and into the cell. (Muscle cells, for example, continuously need this uptake of sugar from the bloodstream in order to function.) Polyphenols in apples help to activate the muscle cell insulin receptors, and in this way, they help facilitate passage of sugar from your bloodstream up into your cells. The result is better blood sugar regulation in your body. Proanthocyanidins in apples improve insulin sensitivity and reduce free radical formation and the signs and symptoms of chronic age-related disorders. Chromium in apples enhances the actions of insulin and is necessary for maintaining normal metabolism and storage of fats, proteins, and carbohydrates.
  7. Fight cancer. Apples fight several different cancer types, especially colon, breast, and lung cancer. The boron in apples prevents prostate cancer. Betacyanins, the red pigments found in apples, are powerful antioxidants that fight colon cancer and other cancers. Caffeic acid in apples is highly protective in the human body and acts as an anti-inflammatory and an antioxidant, and may also prevent cancer and diabetes. Cyanidin in apples fights cancer, obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, inflammation, and free radicals. Quercetin in apples may be beneficial for the treatment of cancer, heart disease, allergies, and other conditions. Apigenin in apples exerts anxiety-reducing effects and is a very potent anti-cancer compound. Isothiocyanates in apples stop carcinogens in three different ways: 1) they don’t allow carcinogens to be activated; 2) they counteract the poisonous effects of carcinogens that have been activated; and 3) they speed up their removal from the body.
  8. Fight asthma. Apple intake is associated with decreased risk of asthma.
  9. Boost your immune system: The antioxidant phytochemicals in apples, along with vitamin C, boost your immune system. Vitamin C stimulates your immune system to increase the supply of white blood cells, which are the first line of defense against pathogens in your body.
  10. Manage blood pressure: Potassium is one of the most important minerals in your body, because it is essential for maintaining blood pressure and facilitating effective fluid transfer in your cells. Potassium causes your blood vessels and arteries to relax, thereby reducing the strain on your cardiovascular system. This can decrease the chances of developing conditions like atherosclerosis, which can lower your risk for coronary heart diseases, heart attacks, and strokes.

Nutrients in 1 Medium Apple (182 grams)

Nutrient

Amount

Daily Value

fiber

4.4 g

17%

vitamin C

8.4 mg

14%

carbohydrates

25.1 g

8%

potassium

195 mg

6%

copper

0.05 mg

6%

chromium

1.69 µg

5%

Calories

94.6

5%

vitamin B6

0.1 mg

4%

riboflavin

0.05 mg

4%

thiamine

0.03 mg

3%

vitamin A

98.3 IU

2%

phosphorus

20 mg

2%

magnesium

9.1 mg

2%

calcium

10.9 mg

1%

folate

5.5 µg

1%

protein

0.5 g

1%

iron

0.2 mg

1%

niacin

0.2 mg

1%

pantothenic acid

0.1 mg

1%

fat

0.31 g

0.48%

sodium

1.82 mg

0.09%

cholesterol

0 mg

0%

In the northern hemisphere, apple season begins at the end of summer and lasts until early winter. Apples available at other times have been in cold storage or are imported from the southern hemisphere.

Ideally, choose organic apples to avoid problems related to pesticide residues and other contaminants on the skins.

Select firm apples with rich color. Yellow and green apples with a slight blush are best. Red and Golden Delicious are among the sweetest apples. Braeburn and Fuji apples are slightly tart. Gravenstein, Pippin, and Granny Smith apples are the most tart, but retain their texture best during cooking.

Whole apples are a much better choice than apple juice, because they are  richer in fiber. In addition, the processes of juicing drastically reduces the polyphenolic phytochemicals found in the whole fruit.

Apples can be stored for 3-4 months. Cold storage at low refrigerator temperatures (35-40F/2-4C) helps minimize loss of nutrients. Maintain some moisture in the cold storage area, for example, by including some damp cheesecloth in the crisper bin of a refrigerator. Over a period of time involving months, there is loss of total polyphenols from apples, including both flavonoid and non-flavonoid polyphenols. However, valuable amounts of polyphenols (and all other nutrients) remain. In some food traditions, cold storage of apples over the winter months is still counted on as a key part of dietary nourishment from fruits.

One bad apple really can spoil the whole bunch. An apple that has been bruised from being dropped (or that has been damaged in some other way) will start to release unusual amounts of ethylene gas, which can pose a risk to other apples that have not been damaged and greatly decrease their shelf life. Handle apples gently, and remove any damaged apples from groups of apples stored in bulk.

Apple skins are rich in nutrients, so even if your recipe requires peeled apples, consider leaving the skins on. If you cannot obtain organic apples, thoroughly rinse the entire apple under a stream of pure water while gently scrubbing the skin with a natural bristle brush for 10-15 seconds.

When slicing apples for a recipe, put the slices in a bowl of cold water to which a spoonful of lemon juice has been added to prevent browning. Sliced apples freeze well in containers.

Apples lose nutrients when they are processed into applesauce, and even more when they are processed into juice. In general, apple sauces require boiling, and apple juices require some extraction of pulp. Only 10% of the flavonols and 3% of the catechins from the original apples remained present in the processed apple juice, Even chlorogenic acid (one of the more stable polyphenols in apples) tends to be decreased by at least 50% during the processing of whole apples into juice.

It is possible to put whole apples into a powerful blender and consume the resulting juice. In this case, very little if any of the nutrients are lost. However, this type of blending is not used in the commercial production of apple juice. Commercial apple juices are typically either “clear” or “cloudy.” Clear apple juices have the vast majority of the apple pomace (pulpy apple solids) removed. Cloudy apple juices typically retain some of these pulpy solids because even though the pulpy solids have been removed from the juice through pressing and filtering, they are added back in at some designated level. When purchasing apple juice, always choose cloudy juices if possible.

Some serving ideas:

  • Add apples to fruit or vegetable salads with apricots, tomatolettuce, seedless grapesstrawberries, peaches, pineapples, currants, pears, etc.
  • Combine apples with shredded carrots, beets, radishes, tomatoes, kohlrabi, and/or greens for a quick salad.
  • Add sliced apples to a peanut butter sandwich
  • For an easy-to-make holiday salad, place 2 cups fresh cranberries in your food processor along with 1/2 cup of pineapple chunks, a quartered skinned orange, a sweet apple, and a handful or two of walnuts or pecans. Blend till well mixed but still chunky. Transfer to a large bowl and serve.
  • Braise red cabbage with a chopped apple and red wine
  • Braise chopped kale with apples, garnish with chopped walnuts, and add a splash of balsamic vinegar
  • Flavor baked apples with pomegranate juice; add grated ginger to your favorite stuffing for baked apples
  • Sliced apples (either alone or with other fruits) and vegan cheese are an alternative to sweet deserts
  • Season apples with allspice, cardamom, ginger, cinnamon, cloves, or nutmeg

This blog uses the latest nutritional data available from the USDA (United States Department of Agriculture), and the FDA (United States Food and Drug Administration), as well as nutritional data provided by food growers and manufacturers about their products. We believe the information on this website to be accurate. However, we are not responsible for typographical or other errors. Nutrition information for recipes is calculated by Living Cookbook based on the ingredients in each recipe based on statistical averages. Nutrition may vary based on methods of preparation, origin and freshness of ingredients, and other factors.

This blog is not a substitute for the services of a trained health professional. Although we provide nutritional information, the information on this blog is for informational purposes only. No information offered by or through this blog shall be construed as or understood to be medical advice or care. None of the information on this blog should be used to diagnose or treat any health problem or disease. Consult with a health care provider before taking any product or using any information on this blog. Please discuss any concerns with your health care provider.

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