About That Apple A Day
If your mom ever told you that eating an apple a day was a healthy habit to develop, she was right on. Apples are among my top favorite fruit, so I am always glad to learn still more nutritional good news about them. Indeed, few fruits offer as many health benefits as the humble apple. From the tender skin to the crisp, sweet flesh, apples are packed with fiber, vitamins, and minerals. They also contain phytonutrients that help keep a multitude of diseases at bay. Recent research shows that the naturally occurring combinations of fiber, flavonoids and polyphenols in whole, fresh fruit are markedly more effective than isolated supplements. Sadly, modern Americans drink apple juice more often than they eat fresh apples. Apples, blueberries, and grapes rank among the most beneficial of all fresh fruit, and eating just 5 servings a week offers significant health protection. However, replacing whole fruit with juices increases the risk of disease, so enjoy whole fruit often and consider juices as treats.
Like all fruits and vegetables, apples contain a goodly array of phytonutrients, complex combinations of natural chemicals. Mainly concentrated in apple skin and outermost flesh, these flavonoids and polyphenols provide generous amounts of antioxidants. Antioxidants combat free radical damage by reducing oxidation within cells, slowing cancer growth and preventing viral disease and autoimmune responses. No wonder apples help reduce blood pressure, fend off Alzheimer’s disease, improve eye health, and show anticancer effects in lab tests. While apples’ abundant vitamins and minerals are helpful, the synergistic interactactions with phytonutrients like quercetin and procyanidin, fiber, and other plant-based compounds fight cancer best.
Skin And All
Recent Cornell studies found that extracts of isolated phytochemicals are less effective at defeating cancer and other illnesses than the mixtures found in whole apples and other plant-based foods. This means that apples and other thin-skinned fruits and vegetables are best eaten skin and all. To limit residual pesticide intake, choose organically grown food whenever possible. (Many studies link pesticide exposure to the development of Parkinson’s disease, certain cancers, and many other illnesses.)
Though we are still learning just how different real food and synthesized foods are, the real thing wins hands down every time. Some people are surprised when I get more excited about apples than supplements (there seem to be a lot of supplement junkies these days), but it usually develops that they don’t know their apples. Of course, until recently, most supermarkets only carried a handful of varieties, many of them relatively tasteless. Red and Golden Delicious (or not so much) were the biggest sellers for decades, but today, we can choose amongst a wide range of heritage apples preserved for fabulous flavor as well as brand new introductions that combine outstanding taste with improved nutritional benefits.
Expand Your Apple Experience
My current favorite apples include Honeycrisp, an almost instant classic that would have been destroyed but for a chance tasting by a European grad student. This variety was a game changer for apple growers, who quickly realized that a truly outstanding apple could attract a huge new market. Opal, another newcomer, blends heritage flavor with modern snap, resulting in a spritely sweet-tart balance and crispy crunchability that is all but addictive. Opals have a bright and slightly spicy flavor that has a distinct floral finish (kind of like apricots). In the US, they’re grown by Washington State’s Broetje Orchards, partly as a First Fruits fundraiser for projects that serve the young in terms of education, nutrition, and food politics. What’s not to love?
If your local supermarket doesn’t stock many kinds of apples, visit farmer’s markets and farm stalls to find delicious new and heritage varieties with unique flavors and textures. Like what? Here’s a brief list:
Braeburn Deep red, crisp and juicy, these dessert apples are wonderful for eating fresh, in sweet or savory salads, and are delightful when baked.
Bramley Greeny-yellow with soft red stripes, England’s beloved heritage dessert apple is firm, juicy, and great for cooking. It’s also tasty when fresh.
Fiesta England’s new hybrid dessert apple offers outstanding flavor, production, and disease resistance. Red flushed with green, it cooks beautifully and is very tasty fresh.
Fuji Gently green with a red blush, this fragrant, crunchy-sweet Japanese variety is a splendid eating apple and makes lovely applesauce.
Honeycrisp Heavenly flavor and texture makes this firm, deep red apple fabulous for out-of-hand eating and for cooking. Disease resistant, cold tolerant, and productive.
Northern Spy This old fashioned New England favorite is an excellent keeper, delicious eaten fresh or cooked (super for pies).
Pink Lady A pretty blush of pink overlies soft yellow skin, and the dense flesh is delicious, crisp, and resistant to browning. Fabulous in savory salads or sweet treats.
Queen Cox Select A rare self-fertile apple, this plump, coral-red dessert apple boasts juicy, aromatic flesh that bakes beautifully. Highly productive and disease resistant.
Granny Smith Bright green, crisp, and tart, this crunchy apple is fabulous in savory salads when freshly picked but loses quality when poorly stored.
Gravenstein A greenish, rather lumpy American heritage apple that makes terrific pie, sauce, and cider.
King This chubby, red-and-green striped apple was a much-prized cider apple for American pioneers. A good keeper, also great for cooking.
Best Eating Apples
Best Cooking Apples
Coxes Golden Pippin
Roasted Apple Rings
4 Braeburn, Cox, or Spartan apples, cored
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
Slice apples into rings (1/2 inch thick) and rub with oil. Place on a rimmed baking sheet, sprinkle with salt and bake at 400 degrees F. until the edges are lightly caramelized (20-25 minutes). Serve with poultry or hot curry.
This scrumptious, savory side also makes a pleasant light entree.
Savory Baked Apples
4 Opal or Fuji apples
2 ounces soft goat cheese, crumbled
1 clove garlic, minced
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
2 tablespoons dried cherries or apricots, chopped
2 tablespoons hazelnuts or walnuts, chopped
Core each apple, leaving skin intact. In a bowl, combine goat cheese, garlic and vinegar, stir in dried fruit and nuts and gently stuff apples. Bake at 350 degrees F until soft (30-40 minutes). Serves 4.
Apple & Turnip Soup
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 large yellow onion, chopped
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
1/4 teaspoon smoked paprika
2 large turnips, peeled and diced
2 Yukon Gold potatoes, diced
1 cup unfiltered apple cider
1 quart vegetable broth
2 Opal, Gala, or any tart apples, cored and diced
1/2 cup plain Greek yogurt
1/4 cup cilantro, stemmed
In a soup pot, combine oil, onion, salt and paprika over medium high heat and cook for 5 minutes. Add turnips, potatoes, and apples, cover pan and sweat for 5 minutes. Add cider and broth, bring to a simmer, reduce heat to low and simmer until tender. Puree with an immersion blender and serve, garnished with yogurt and cilantro. Serves 4.