Cooking

There's an Apple for That

14 apple varieties and when to use them
Photo: Katie Foster/ Tasting Table
Apple Guide

Apples are the great American snack that were never supposed to happen.

The first apples orchards were planted with the sole purpose of quenching the young nation's thirst for alcoholic cider—and many weren't even edible. But over time, the forests became the pick-your-own fields we have today. Despite the loss of some ancient heirloom varieties, there are still more than 7,500 types of apples grown around the world.

Whether you're looking for the perfect apple for your apple pie recipe or need to know where to beeline for a supermarket snack, follow our tips to find the apple that's best for you.

FOR THE BAKER

When baking apples, keep texture in mind. Firmer is better, and you never want it to turn into mush in the face of heat—unless you're making applesauce, of course. Crispin apples break down into one of the best applesauces you can make. Also known as Mutsu apples, Crispins are a Japanese hybrid that have the perfect amount of natural sweetness. Fuji and Pink Lady apples are other good go-tos for sauce, which you can make with ease in your slow cooker.

Dense Rome apples are ideal for baking into cakes, breads and pies. As are Cortlands, which won't turn mealy when cooked, allowing you to actually taste the apple in your final product. No matter which you use, we suggest throwing in either a McIntosh or Granny Smith for balance and reliable flavor.

FOR THE SNACKER

Lunch boxes across the country wouldn't be the same without Gala apples. They're sweet, crispy and inoffensive, and widely available. But if you're looking to branch out, try a Ginger Gold, a relative of the Golden Delicious and one of the best early season types available. Slow snackers, rejoice: They're among the slowest to turn brown once you into slice them.

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For Honeycrisp apples, the name says it all—they have a highly firm, crisp flesh that bursts with pockets of juice. Macoun apples are best in desserts, because of their sweetness. If those aren't enough to satisfy a sweet tooth, you could always drizzle them with honey.

FOR THE ADVENTURER

If you've had one too many humdrum Red Delicious in your day, these uncommon varieties will give you an idea of the abundance of heirloom apple varieties that used to be everywhere. You'll likely need to head to the orchard (or farmers' market) to find them, but their unique tastes are worth it. Start with Zestar! apples (the exclamation point is a part of their registered name). They're one of the first apples to hit the market each season and are crispy with a slight tang.

Esopus Spitzenburg sounds like the name of an Old Reich ruler, but it's actually an heirloom apple from the 1700s. Rumor has it these were Thomas Jefferson's apple of choice, which is high praise, considering he planted 18 types of apples.

Anything with "surprise" in its name is bound to be a good time, which is why you should seek out a Scarlet Surprise. Spoiler alert: It's just as red on the inside as it is on the surface.

FOR THE UNDECIDED

Maybe you don't want to put labels on your apple identity. Or maybe you're just looking to stock up on fruit without having to decide what you want to use them for. Either way, these staple varieties bake and bite with aplomb no matter the application.

The McIntosh apple is the high school quarterback of the apple orchard. It can do anything you ask of it, is nice to look at and plays well with others. Team it with other apple varieties in your baked goods for a base of reliable sweetness.

For those who want to go green, tart Granny Smith apples are your No. 1 choice. They're versatile, adding juicy crunch to salad and pies alike. And, yes—there really was a woman behind this best-selling apple. Thank you, Maria "Granny" Smith, for your everlasting contribution to our muffins, salads and pies.

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