In Which I Rank Grocery Store Apples

If you did not already know, now you do: I am known at times for reviewing (“reviewing”) heirloom apples over on twitter (check out my thread, which begins here and goes in for like, hundreds of fucking tweets about apples). If I’m ever interviewed to be a SCOTUS judge, I will surely be called to answer for my “apple problem,” where I will vociferously defend myself thus: “I LIKE APPLES. OKAY? I LIKE APPLES A LOT. AND THEY LIKE ME. ME AND THE BOYS AND GIRLS ALL ATE APPLES, OKAY? THAT’S AMERICAN.”

And I am of course a savage apple snob. I don’t mean to be. It’s just, I’ve seen the truth and the truth is that there are literally thousands of types of apples, and they range wildly in taste and complexity and quality and that’s just a lot of fun. It’s interesting. It’s like getting a whole range of fruit-tasting experience that you didn’t know existed before.

Sadly, though, that’s not what’s commercially available to us the rest of the year. Most people across the country don’t get more than a dozen apple-types available year around — and here someone much smarter than me can chime in with a conversation about food deserts and grocery stores. Produce is tricky, because outside farm areas, it has to travel well and look pretty even before it tastes good, and… well, the long story short is that we only get so many kinds of apples available in stores.

And people ask me which of those they should eat.

As if I have a clue.

So, I thought: well, I’ll do what I do for heirloom apples, and review some store-bought ones. I’m doing it here instead of Twitter because… well, I don’t know. THE FUTURE IS THE PAST: BLOGS ARE BACK. (They’re probably not but I figure it if I say it loud enough, you’ll believe me.)

So, here, I’m gonna rank some apples.

These apples, in part:

But I also had more in the fridge worth reviewing.

We’ll go worst to best.

Note: these are all just my humble, uninformed opinions, and further, apples on any given day and at any given store might be different, and so maybe I ended up with an exceptionally good example of Type A and a total shitbucket version of Type B and neither are exemplary of the whole, yadda yadda yadda. Just saying, this ain’t math.

Let us begin.

15. Rome

God, this fucking apple. First, that photo is pretty and I like it — I didn’t take photos of all the apples, but I did of this one because it was so lovingly round and red. And I had high hopes for how it would taste even though it’s largely described as a good cooking or sauce apple, and ohhh fuck I shouldn’t have had those high hopes. It was like eating apple-scented sand, just a mouthful of sad, wet sand. Sauce it all you like, but don’t put it in your mouth uncooked.

14. Granny Smith

Look. It’s good for baking but don’t put it in your mouth. Deal? Deal.

Moving on.

13. Green Dragon

That apple above is the Green Dragon, which is a great name for an apple, if that apple were good. And this one is not good. It is an apple that is best fed to children and horses. Okay, so here’s the thing, I cut open this apple to take a look at it, and the smell of the thing was intense. In a good way, not in a smells like goat farts way — I mean, it was redolent with floral esters. (Did you know that apples are a relative of the rose? True story.) And that smell, alongside the name, form a powerful over-promise / under-deliver scenario, because the resultant apple is sweet in the way that tastes like someone just dipped their thumb in white sugar and had you lick it off. There’s zero tartness, and the sugar flavor isn’t even complicated. It’s just candy. And not even good candy. Worse, then the texture kicks in, which is mealy, mushy, gritty. I’ve read some reviews of these apples that suggest they’re pretty 50/50 — meaning, you can get really good ones and really turdy ones, but that’s also not much of a recommendation if their quality is all over the map.

12. Crimson Gold

This apple is tiny. I am confused a bit about its parentage, as I’m to understand there is a crabapple cross called a Crimson Gold, but this Crimson Gold came in a bag with a bunch of its diminutive friends, and it said it was a cross of a Newtown and Spitzenburg? I have no idea. What I know is this: fuck this apple. It’s too small. What’s the point? You can’t eat the middle (okay, technically you can), so you’re mostly just nibbling the thing, because the core takes up most of it. The flavor is fine — it’s very sugar-forward, with a funky, vegetal finish, but the texture is like eating a toe. And not a nice soft baby toe either but like, a toe that’s seen some shit, a toe that belongs to a foot that has crossed mountain ranges. Feed this apple to a hungry pony and move on.

11. Autumn Glory

I love autumn. I love glory. I wanted to love this apple and the first bite is tantalizing — there’s something in there that is puzzlingly caramel, this warm, buttery burned sugar thing I’ve never really found in another apple. And there’s a whiff of the licorice flavor you get with a really good russet. And there’s a hint of tartness. But then the flavor kinda goes away and you’re left still… chewing it. Like a piece of bubblegum that you know you can’t swallow but you also know you can’t just stick on the bottom of the bus seat because people might look at you, so you’re instead left to kinda keep chawing and chawing and gnashing this thing into oblivion.

10. Red Delicious

I know. Okay?

I know.

You’re already saying, “Chuck, but the Red Delicious apple is a fucking monster. It’s the pinnacle of mediocrity, it’s an artifact of a time that apples had to be able to survive a 600-mile journey in an apple cart, it just has to stand there and be tough and pretty despite how shitty it tastes.” I know! I KNOW. I’ve myself said that it is the Judas Apple, the Liar Fruit, it is neither red (honestly it’s kind of a Satanic crimson) nor delicious, and is an apple best used for throwing at your enemies.

And yet here we are.

In proof that this is the weirdest and worst timeline, the Red Delicious apple was not the worst I tasted. In fact it was perfectly okay. I mean, it wasn’t exactly good, but like, I ate it and didn’t hate myself. The only hatred came from the peculiarly bitter aftertaste, which tastes more like an apple seed than an actual apple? Whatever. Point is, this wasn’t hellish. I still wouldn’t buy one. I’d still throw it at enemies. Its texture is crisp but a little woody (tee-hee, woody). It is in fact the very definition of mediocre. But it’s not horse food.

I know, I’m sorry, I want to hate it.

9. Snapdragon

Another dragon apple, I see.

This is a nice apple. Smells and tastes of elderflower. It’s crisp and juicy. A little too juicy, in that it almost came across as watery. But that also lends it a very refreshing vibe. Be a great summer apple on a hot day. After several bites I noticed in this apple and several of the other ones that there’s also a bit of white grape flavor going on which makes sense since I think some grape juice is cut with apple juice, the same way cocaine is stepped on by including like, baby powder? I dunno. Grassy aftertaste.

8. Sweetango

I really like juice from Sweetango — less so the apple. I mean, it’s good! It’s nice. It has its sweetness and tartness in near perfect balance but has this weird aftertaste that’s like drinking your grandmother’s cheap CVS perfume? Comes on strong with flavor then gets weird, and not in a good way weird. Its parents are the Honeycrisp and the Zestar (Zestar being my favorite galactic overlord, as well), but for my mileage, just eat a Honeycrisp instead.

7. Fuji

It’s cliched, but I prefer Fuji as an apple with other foods — with cheese, in salads, on a charcuterie board, with soft baby toes, whatever. (Also good to blend up and make your own vinaigrette with.) But not my favorite for eating. Still, it’s a solid apple contender.

6. Honeycrisp

This is where I make people mad.

The Honeycrisp (initially mistyped as “Hineycrisp”) is fine.

It’s fine.

It’s even good.

But it is not the sacred savior of apples. You bring up apples and everyone’s like FUCKING HONEYCRISP FUCK YEAH HONEYCRISP SCREW YOUR OTHER APPLES THE HONEYCRISP IS LORD AND KING OF APPLETOWN, and, y’know, calm down. I’m glad you like it! Like it, love it, rub it all over yourself. But for my mileage it’s a very expensive, sort of half-trendy half-mediocre Top-40 pop music apple that is totally serviceable and yet also not… that interesting? It’s like talking to someone about Transformers and they’re like MY FAVORITE TRANSFORMER IS OPTIMUS PRIME, and… okay, we all like Optimus Prime. He’s great. It’s also sorta the obvious answer. I mean, where’s the Cliffjumper love? Howabout Windblade?

For me it’s too sweet. YMMV. And what I mean by that is, FUCK YOU, HONEYCRISP, YOU’RE THE ED SHEERAN OF APPLES.

5. Jazz

It’s the jazz hands of apples. Meaning, it’s zippy and fun, and swiftly overdone if you indulge too much. Always a good snacking apple, though.

4. Envy & Gala

I’m putting these two together because, quite honestly, the specimens I had were not particularly distinguishable from one another. Gala is an Envy parent, and… listen, these are both sweet apples, sweet more than they are tart, with good juiciness and crunch. I don’t know that they’re particularly exciting, but they just taste like appley goodness.

3. Opal

Now we’re getting somewhere. I really liked the Opal. Very, very crisp apple with this incredibly breaking texture that called to mind the feeling of using your teeth to break off a piece of good dark chocolate. Strong scent of pear-pineapple which is met by an equally fruity flavor profile. Also in times of great need, Opal turns into a Mighty Apple Princess and will fight on your behalf, for your honor, for the Kingdom of Fruitonia. True story, don’t @ me.

2. Ruby Frost

Ruby Frost: a great apple, also my stripper name. Got a nice lemon tingle tartness (Lemon Tingle is my backup stripper name), has a floral vibe while not being overly perfumey, not cloyingly-sweet.

1. Pink Lady

Fuck yeah, Pink Ladies.

(Also known as Cripps Pink.)

This is lately my go-to apple — good balanced apple with an electric tartness that’s tempered by a mouth-slap of sweetness. I will say I had a small batch of these and one of them tasted hellaciously like soap, and I have no idea why. I assume there’s some weird soap bandit going around grocery stores injecting apples with dish detergent or something.

In Summation

Again, none of this is science — so much of this is based off peculiar intricacies like the weather, the orchard, how long the apples have been on the shelf, and so on and so forth. (I mean, of course the breeding and heritage of apples is science, but my tasting of them and opinion about them is most certainly not.) Like what you like and don’t be swayed away from that. Just eat apples! They’re good food. Good fiber, they help you sleep, they even help against acid reflux. (Avoid apple cider vinegar for reflux, mind you. If your acid reflux is from, well, acid, then pouring more acid on top of it is not pleasant. Though I’m not a doctor, so again, YMMV.)

I should note that there are other apples I like more than what’s listed here — I’ll take a Jonathan, Jonagold, or Braeburn any day of the week. The best apple I ever ate was in fact a Jonathan apple in Fruita, Colorado. Also, I’m to understand that my very favorite non-heirloom apple, the Gold Rush, is growing more available at local orchards and grocery stores, and it’s a helluva good apple. Not great when you pick it in Oct/Nov, but amazing come December, and keeps through till February or even beyond. (We just ate our last batch the other night, and they’re perfect for snacking, for pies, for cooking, probably even for cider.)

And since I’m sure someone will ask, here is a quick list of my favorite heirlooms of 2018 in no particular order, should you ever be able to find them:

Golden Russet (or really, any russet), Gold Star, Roman Stem, any Limbertwig (Smokey Mtn or Myers Royal or Caney Fork), Keener Seedling, Little Jewel, Esopus Spitzenburg, Tompkins King, Yosemite, Vandevere, Guyandotte Pippin, Tydeman’s Late Orange, Cornish Aromatic, Jonagram, Rubinette, St. Cecilia, King of Pippins. Need an orchard directory? Here’s one.

* * *

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