Remember the old saying, “An apple a day keeps the doctor away”? There’s some basis for that: Apples are packed with healthful nutrients and fiber that help reduce the risk of cancer and heart disease. They’re also wonderfully easy to enjoy.
Americans gobble up this sweet, tart and juicy fruit at an annual rate of 65 apples per person. Because conventionally grown apples are subject to more pesticide spraying than almost any other food, it’s prudent to buy organic — and local — whenever possible. Organic apples are firmer and sweeter than their conventional counterparts, and the less distance a fruit has traveled, the more delectable its flavor and texture.
While more than 7,000 varieties of apples are grown around the world, only 15 varieties account for 90 percent of domestic apple production. Search your local farmers’ markets for some of those less-common, but often more flavorful, varietals, such as the fine-textured Esopus Spitzenburg or the nutty-flavored Cox’s Orange Pippen. Juicy and sweetly tart, Gravenstein apples from Sonoma County, Calif., are excellent in pies and applesauce. Find out which antique and heirloom varieties thrive in your area.
Apples are rich in phytonutrients such as flavonoids and phenols, and a single apple contains as much as 5 grams of fiber. Insoluble fiber helps remove LDL cholesterol from the digestive tract, and soluble fiber, called pectin, reduces the amount of LDL cholesterol produced in the liver. Pectin also helps prevent cancer by helping the body excrete toxins. Because the skin of an apple contains two-thirds of its fiber, in addition to antioxidant flavonoids and vitamin C, which also fight heart disease, it’s best to consume organic apples unpeeled. Apple peels also contain phenols, which may help prevent several chronic diseases. While apple juice can help prevent kidney stones, whole apples are best for overall health (juicing reduces phytonutrient concentrations). Look for firm apples with brightly colored skins.
- Always wash apples before eating them; buy organic and local whenever possible.
- To prevent cut apples from browning, rub cut surfaces with a few drops of lemon juice, or, when working with a large number of cut apples, immerse them in a four-to-one mixture of water and lemon juice.
- Store apples in a plastic bag in the coldest part of the refrigerator for several weeks or even months. Check regularly for firmness.
- Take advantage of the readiness of apples year-round by adding diced, fresh apples to hot and cold cereals (or even smoothies) when fresh berries are out of season.
- For a convenient snack or bag lunch, try a crisp apple quesadilla. Slice fresh apples and place them on top of freshly ground almond butter on one half of a whole-wheat tortilla. Fold the other half of the tortilla over the apples. Place in a fry pan and brown on both sides. Cool slightly, then cut into wedges.
- Dip apple wedges into your favorite yogurt, or drizzle yogurt over apple slices. Combine a sweet variety of apple with Greek yogurt, which has a bright, tangy flavor.
- Grate fresh apples with chopped mint or cilantro, and place on top of baked or grilled fish to create a cool and appetizing “crust.” Slice, dice or shred fresh apples, and mix into green salad or slaw.
Chef Cary Neff is the president of the consulting firm Culinary Innovations and the author of Conscious Cuisine (Sourcebooks, 2002).