Happy first day of October (we’re one more month closer to the close of 2020!) and happy National Apple Month! What, you didn’t know that? Well, neither did I until just last week. It totally makes sense though. We often “bob for apples” during Halloween and Fall Fests, October is a “harvest” month, and apples are harvested in the fall. Well, traditionally harvested in the fall.
The U.S. apple industry is big bucks, raking in close to $20 billion annually. It used to be you had “in season” fruits and veggies that you bought and ate but these days it seems like you can purchase any type any time of the year, including apples. But, in these days of very few things to celebrate, let’s celebrate apples!
We’ve all heard the saying “an apple a day keeps the doctor away,” which a variant of was recorded as early as 1866. And although there’s no true scientific evidence that supports this claim, apples have many health benefits. Plus they taste good! They are healthy and tasty…a win-win!
Apples are high in fiber, Vitamin C, and various antioxidants. These super popular fruits are also super filling and low in calories, meaning they have benefits when it comes to weight loss and weight management.
Apples on the whole are mainly made up of carbs and water…so much water they float! They are also full of simple sugars, particularly fructose, sucrose, and glucose. But, despite their high carbs and sugar numbers, the glycemic index of an apple, which measures how food affects the rise in blood sugar levels, is low.
Apples are rich in plant compounds, particularly polyphenols, which may protect your cells from inflammation and oxidative damage and also can also prevent LDL (bad) cholesterol from becoming oxidized and building up in our arteries, reducing the risk of heart attack and stroke. Some of the fiber in apples comes from insoluble and soluble fibers called pectin, the soluble of which is known to feed the friendly bacteria in our guts and boost digestive function. The main mineral in apples is potassium, which may benefit heart health. In addition, apples are high in quercetin, which may have anti-inflammatory, antiviral, anticancer, and antidepressant effects as well as catechin, which green tea boasts a large presence of and is a natural antioxidant that has been shown to improve brain and muscle function. There is also some evidence that eating apples can help lower blood sugar levels and protect against type 2 diabetes, reduce cholesterol levels, and reduce heart disease risks. Some studies even suggest the phytonutrients in apples can protect against cancers of the lungs and colon.
Needless to say, these sweet little fruits pack quite a health punch. There are a few downsides though. Their sugar levels can be problematic for some and they may cause tummy trouble for those with irritable bowel syndrome. Still, unless you’re highly sensitive to either of these factors, the risks of snacking on an apple far outweigh many other options in our pantries and refrigerators.
So we know eating whole apples is good for us, but we can enjoy apples in so many other ways. There’s nothing more American than apple pie, right? And what about apple sauce, apple muffins, and apple butter…something my friend Deb has recently been making and making me drool just thinking about!
There’s also apple juice, which for many sounds healthy enough but it’s by no means perfect. Apple juice is commonly around 90 percent water and tastes good, so it’s great for someone who is sick and trying to avoid dehydration, but it’s usually very high in sugar, which can draw excess water into your gut and worsen diarrhea. The advice? Dilute apple juice and drink a mix of half juice half water and always buy 100 percent juice. And, although apples are rich in polyphenols as mentioned above, the majority of them are in the peeling, which means in apple juice they are reduced so it’s recommended you choose “cloudy” juice that contains pulp rather than the more commonly clear juices found on store shelves.
It’s important to keep in mind that juicing apples reduces and eliminates some of their benefits and may actually create health risks. Apple juice is often high in calories as compared to an apple and is usually not a good source of any vitamins or minerals. However, today’s versions are often fortified with Vitamin C, which should be your choice to buy. In addition, virtually all of the calories in apple juice come from carbs and it has little or no fiber so your best bet is to pair apple juice with proteins and healthy fats. Lastly, apple juice has been known to lead to tooth decay so don’t “swish” it and drink it with a straw if possible.
Two studies do report some good news regarding apple juice. One preliminary one suggests it may support brain function and mental health as you age and another revealed that when people with Alzheimer’s disease drank one cup of apple juice daily for one month, anxiety, restlessness, and false beliefs diminished although memory and problem solving issues did not.
One last thing: the difference between apple juice and apple cider. Making beverages from apples dates back to around 55 B.C. when the Romans conquered Europe and introduced hard cider to them. Today, apple cider is considered an unfiltered and unsweetened drink made from pressed apples that still contain pulp and sediment. Its color is more opaque than that of apple juice, which is essentially apple cider that has been heated to change its color, flavor, and texture. Apple juice is generally much sweeter than apple cider.
Now that we’ve gotten all the serious stuff out of the way, let’s look at some fun folklore about apples.
Let’s start with “comparing apples and oranges.” What a funny thing, right? Credit is often given to the Germans and Dutch for this comparison of things that are completely different and that cannot be practically compared.
Then there’s “the apple of my eye.” Today this phrase most often refers to someone who is treasured above all others but it originally referred to the actual pupil of an eye. William Shakespeare referred to it in his 1590s play “A Midsummer Night’s Dream and it is uttered many times in the Bible, including Deuteronomy 32:10, Proverbs 2:18, and Psalm 17:8. Apples in general are mentioned throughout the Bible as well, including in the Song of Solomon, which describes love as being like an apple tree. During Bible times, Romans prized apple tress for their sweet juicy fruit.
There’s another Bible passage that relates to apples and I’m pretty sure you’ve heard it. From the Book of Genesis, it is written that God made a special place for Adam and Eve called the Garden of Eden and filled it with lots of fruit trees, beautiful flowers, and everything they needed. He told them they could eat anything except for the fruit of one tree, which most people believe to be an apple tree. They disobeyed God and instead listened to the lies of the devil disguised as a serpent, which resulted in the loss of innocence for mankind and paradise on earth was lost.
During normal years and any year not associated with 2020, school is in full session by now and teachers have been gifted, sometimes with an apple. But why? This tradition is said to have started in the 1700s before governments paid for the education of their people. Families with little or no means in Denmark and Sweden gave teachers baskets of apples and potatoes as payment for teaching their children and the tradition made its way across the ocean and is still practiced in the U.S. today.
Then there’s Snow White, star of Disney’s first animated feature film. As the story goes, the wicked queen was jealous of her stepdaughter’s beauty, orders her murdered only to discover she’s living with seven little miners. Long story short, the queen disguises herself and brings a poisoned apple to Snow White who then falls into a deep sleep that can only be broken by a kiss from the prince. Needless to say, they lived “appley ever after.”
Here are some other “fun facts” about apples:
There’s a star inside each one! Yep, if you slice an apple in half across the middle, you’ll find two stars on either half.
Apples are buds or flowers on a tree before they become a fruit, and on the bottom of every apple you can find the remnants of the flower.
Boat builders are known to not build boats out of wood from an apple tree because the wood at one time was used to manufacture coffins.
Irish folklore claims that if an apple is peeled into one continuous ribbon and thrown behind a woman’s shoulder, it will land in the shape of her future husband’s initials.
The legend of Johnny Appleseed, who wandered across the U.S. planting apple trees and leaving seeds behind, is based on a real person, John Chapman, an eccentric frontier nurseryman who established orchards throughout the Midwest.
The tradition of putting an apple in a roasted pig’s mouth goes back at least 800 years. According to Steven Raichlen, author of “The Barbecue Bible,” pigs were fed apples to fatten them for fall harvest festivals and adding an apple to the mouth is solely aesthetic and just helps the roasted pig look more appetizing. Some farmers believe feeding pigs apples sweetens the pork and a juicy pig garnished with fall fruits and vegetables sets a season tone and theme for the meal. I distinctly remember my dad roasting a pig and using the apple trick when I was a young girl. I thought it was frightening!
According to Apple computer’s logo creator, he designed it with a bite taken out solely for the purpose of it not being confused with a cherry.
So, with all this talk of apples are you ready to bake that pie or slice one into a salad? Well, if you are, you’ll want to pick the right apple for the right recipe.
Apples come in an array of variations of red, green, and yellow; have all kinds of interesting names; and generally have different tastes and uses. I like sweet apples, so my choices are usually Fuji or Gala. Above is a handy-dandy list of different apples ranked from “most tart” to most sweet.”
As for what apple to use for what use, here is a quick guide:
Braeburn. Sweet, tangy, juicy, firm, and crisp. Great in salads and for sautéing because they hold their shape well.
Fuji. Very sweet and juicy. Best for baking things like bread and muffins.
Gala. Sweet, juicy, and crisp. Perfect sliced into salads or sautéed/mulled for cider. Not generally considered good for baking.
Golden Delicious. Sweet, mellow, and semi-firm. Best for pies, applesauce, sauces, cakes, and butter.
Granny Smith. Tart and crisp. Best for either snacking or baking if you prefer a tarter tasting pie, crisp, or tart.
Honeycrisp. Sweetly tart and crisp. These are great to grab for snacking; in salads; and for pies, tarts, dumplings, and bars.
McIntosh. Tender and tangy. The perfect choice for applesauce.
Pink Lady. Perfect for pies, cakes, breads, and bars.
Red Delicious. Sweet, tender, and juicy. Great for snacking and in salads but can also be used in baking, for sauces, and for butter.
I hope you enjoyed and learned something from this apple primer and I hope you now enjoy either a healthy apple or make a yummy apple dish. Be sure to let me know how you like them apples!