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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50 responses to “In Which I Rank Grocery Store Apples”

  1. Ahhahhaa. My friends and family say I’m an apple snob too. I’m hella picky. I love Cripps Pink. I like Honeycrisp. I think my favourite, though, is Ambrosia because they live up to that illustrious name. At least, the ones I’ve had do. But they are HUGE, and do not fit in my apple corer…. and sadly, only available sometimes. :/

    So, taste question for a fellow apple lover- do Braeburn have a cinnamon aftertaste to you? I dislike the texture, but have had them several times, and they had a cinnamon taste going on. The texture is like red delicious though. Ughhhh. No.

  2. Well, Charles, yes, it is the Pink Lady. A consistent, reliable, hardly ever disgusting apple. Crispy, sweet, tart, whatever, it’s just good. Regarding the sainted Honey Crisp, it is only the first one that blows your mind then forever after it falls short leaving you chasing that first experience where you drooled and licked the spittle. But they’re only good once.

  3. Petition for Chuck to present an Apple Tasting at like JoCo or his local orchard or on the sidewalk outside of Twitter headquarters or something.

  4. I kept reading and scrolling and reading and scrolling and . . . suddenly, I was afraid that you might never have had the joy that is a Pink Lady. But I should have known better. I always knew there was something esoteric about you that made me like you (beyond just, you know, your writing and stuff), and now I have the answer. It’s your keen sense of taste(buds)!

  5. Thank you for speaking truth to the internet!

    Honeycrisp is a premium mediocre apple (at best). The one I had was tart like a Sweetart and the texture was almost effervescent; it weirdly kind of reminded me of the Angry Orchard Rosé Cider? For the price and the hype, I expected far better, and I just don’t get how this borderline meh apple is being exhaled like the Second Coming. I guess I’ll just try to move on with my life, having never truly experienced the glory of consuming the sacred flesh of Apple Jesus—but I will continue to imbibe His rosé cider blood because that shit is quite lovely.

    In summary: “Roman Stem” is my stripper name, “Hineycrisp” is the title of my sex tape, and the grocery store where I live never has Pink Ladies in stock anymore. 🙁

    • MacIntosh are the best! I wish they weren’t so hard to ship, because since we moved to Texas from Western NY I haven’t been able to get Macs on a regular basis and I miss them SO much!

      • THIS! I moved to Texas from Indiana twenty years ago and I’m still in mourning for the lack of MacIntosh apples! We find them occasionally and they are almost always soft, but the flavor is still there. My backup is Braeburn, but those are now hard to get too!

    • If the Mackintosh is a Canadian thing, why is it the standard bearer of Apple Inc? Personally, as a Canadian, I DETEST The Mac. That shiny, impenetrable skin that hides the mealy substance inside. After sucking the juice out of the granular paste, you can spit it out, along with the intact skin. YUCK.

  6. A lot of the varieties you mention aren’t available in the UK. Granny Smith is tart but we’d describe it as an eating apple over here. Baking apples, such as Bramleys (the best pie apples because rhey taste great and don’t fall to much when baked) are so sour that you couldn’t eat them unsweetened without mouth-armour. And I’m going to pretend you didn’t include Red Delicious because they are bland and their tough skin has a horrible bitter aftertaste. Of the rest, I’ve seen Fuji, Jazz, Gala and Pink Lady. Gala can be nice when fresh, but if they’ve been stored they can be the texture of cotton wool. Jazz are lovely, but Pink Lady is my favourite supermarket apple. Cox apples are common here. When I was a kid they used to be Cox’s Orange Pippins. You knoew you were ripe when you could hear the pups rattle if you shook them by your ear. They were beautiful. Modern Cox are sweet, but a bit bland. We have two small apple trees in our garden. Scrumptious ripens in September and Fed Falstaff in October. Both are nice, but the Red Falstaff is a clear winner over any other apple I’ve ever eaten. Sweet and tart at the same time. This year we had enough to eat and enough to peel, core and dry (easy in a fan oven)… and enough to make pots and pots of apple jelly. I made apple and port wine jelly, apple and red wine jelly, apple and sloe gin jelly and apple and mulled wine jelly, Yummy! Guess what everyone got for Christmas.

    • I’d call a Granny Smith an eating apple too (here in NZ). Mind you, I’ve been known to eat Bramleys raw in an apple/cheese/nut salad – but only when very ripe, nearly yellow. Bramleys make pretty good backyard cider, too, which is just as well as the trees have a tendency to glut, and the codling moths (rot their hides) go nuts. The blasted moths used to devour most of my in-laws’ Cox’s Orange Pippins, too, but the remains were delicious.

      Chuck, have you tried an Eve/Mariri Red? Crisp, juicy, flavourful – all around Pretty Darn Good.
      Do you think there’s some kind of author/apple link? Agatha Christie apparently had an extra wide surround installed on her bath to hold all the apples she would eat while working in the tub. Living the dream!

  7. I hate to be a contrarian here but I have to believe dislike of the red delicious is a case of user error and I have witnesses to back this up. I admit it takes a little extra work at the grocery store to achieve greatness with the red delicious. One cannot pick these willy nilly and expect satisfying results.

    The trick to selecting the perfect red delicious lies in both color and thumpability. As for the color, the name is inaccurate in that the truly delicious red actually approaches purple. With that, you’ll get a very sweet skin. Next, thump the apples with the fingernail and if it sounds hollow, you’ll get a very crisp bite. Then it’s just a matter of checking for bruising. Lastly, they’ll keep their crispness best if you keep them in the refrigerator.

    I hope I have contributed to your future enjoyment of the greatest of all apples.

  8. I don’t know most of those, save for the ones I avoid in the supermarkets. But we have a whole load of apples you’d like here in England Chuck. Remember the prompt you gave us years ago to weave a couple of apples into a flash fiction? I did a whole load!! Still one of my favourites. Much Ado About Nutting

    Happy appling 🙂

  9. Pink Ladies are not reliably available in my ‘hood so for me it’s the Honey Crisp. One day I’d love to try some heirloom varieties … will have to get out of L.A. during apple season for that, I fear.

    This was a very entertaining and beautifully illustrated post.

  10. You’re kidding. Pink Lady and Cripps Pink are THE SAME FUCKING APPLE? Just wait till I see the produce manager at my local store. Someone’s going to get a new *something* ripped. *grumble, grumbel, snarl*

    Nice review, though. Thanks.

  11. Here in the SoCal part of the universe I got bored with Honeycrisps and was eating Jazz and Gala and then one of the chains started bringing in Ambrosias. The best! Crisp, medium hard, bites off in nice chunks, lots of flavor. No idea why only Ralphs has them, but they’re my go-to for now!

  12. Ambrosia for me too. Not only great tasting and juicy but also very hardy, they keep very well.

    Here in BC we’ve been growing Spartan and Macintosh for decades and they’ve held up well. The Macintosh has a very distinct flavour but you have to catch it just at the right time. It can get mushy. The Spartan carries a bit of tartness which is refreshing.

  13. If you can find them, try a Spartan – soft, firm, sweet and sour at the same time. As a extra vote, 10/10 visiting wallabies choose red gala over golden delicious and Granny Smith

  14. Bravo, you brave (crazy?) soul.
    The scientific method in action…and you knew you’d have some suffering involved in the process.
    Thank you for the courage and the crazy!

  15. … but my favourite Transformer is Optimus Prime. Also, Granny Smiths for the win. I’m not fond of overly sweet things, though, which might have something to do with why I like them so much.

  16. Hi Chuck! I am a fan of Trader Joes’ Empire, Jonathan & McIntosh apples – just the best balance of sweet and tart. I cannot stand Gala, it’s like candy – I don’t want candy when I’m eating an apple. And the fact that apples are related to roses?! I always thought I could taste/smell a rose essence when consuming any of the above. I am stoked to know that it’s not just my wild imagination!

  17. I grew up eating Red Delicious apples. Apples are supposed to be red. Not green, not yellow, not gold, not pink – red. Ask any kid with a coloring book – apples are red. Red apple, red crayon.

    I may be a mere plebe in the world of gourmet apples, but that’s where I stand. Red Delicious. My kinda apple. 🙂

  18. As a confirmation of your suspicion – Gold Rush are amazing cider apples. We make a few small batches every fall, and nothing compares.

  19. Honeycrisp started out strong in Minnesota but as it was introduced around the world, its qualities have been diminished.
    Whether that is due to climate, soil, or shipping, I don’t know.

    Tip: The more yellow a Honeycrisp is, the better it tastes.

  20. I totally agree on the Pink Ladies. Crisp, juicy, tart and sweet. And i’ve had a soapy one or two, i think it is age – when they start breaking down on the inside and get a little soft. Also, if an apple has “delicious” in its name then it isn’t. Braeburns can be good but they tend to be a little pithy. Arkansas black my parents swear by but i think they are up there with the Romes. Romes are only used to make butternut squash soup at thanksgiving. just sayin’.

  21. I haz a sad; where I live, all apples must be shipped trans-Pacific, and en route they lose most of their apple-y essence, so what we get is usually pretty flaccid. Fujis are the main survivor of these treks, so meh. It’s been years since I have had a proper Macintosh, and I miss them dretfully.

  22. You should visit the town of Faversham in Kent (England) in October. The UK’s National Fruit Collection is in the nearby village of Brogdale, and they grow over 2,000 varieties of apple. Once per year they have an Apple Festival where many (but by no means all) of those are available to taste and purchase. This year it will be on 19-20 October.

  23. Bravo….
    Finally a human who speaks their mind with eloquence and grace (and unabashed vulgarity) on a topic of such importance.

    Please write a similar piece on Bourbon.

  24. My local orchard has Arkansas Black and they are easily my favorite when they are perfectly ripe. Hard to catch them like that, but when you do, they are fantastic.

  25. These are pretty interesting choices (I am with you on Cripps, it’s solid).

    You might try some of these again next year and in season. Crimson Gold in particular can be pretty great; I’m jealous that you have them in a grocery store.

    PS There’s an apple called “Hidden Rose” that is interesting. If you cross it with Green Dragon do you get Hidden Dragon?

  26. We’ve started getting these things called Rave apples. They’re some kind of Honeycrisp mutant, and my god, these fucking bastards. Each one is about the size of your head… well, if you were a really small person or had some sort of little-head disorder, but easily the size of a baby’s head. Screw it, that’s what I’m calling them now. Baby skull apples. They’ve got the Honeycrisp’s crunch, but it’s a trick: one bite unleashes a tidal wave of juice worthy of a porn parody of a 90’s drink-cooler ad. It’s like watered-down syrup, proto-prison hooch, and every bite is a pitcher-full exploding from fibrous sponge-matter. Rave apples try to drown you. They’re a watery grave in a handy, appealing carrying case.

    So you should totally try one.

  27. Pink Lady is a great variety to grow if it suits your climate. Very productive, bears every year, relatively resistant to diseases, stores extremely well — both my crisper drawers are still packed with Pink Ladies, which are going to last me at least through March. They do set far too many fruits and require very heavy thinning in June. But, if anybody’s looking to grow their own, this is a winner.

    I think for Red Delicious, you either taste the bitterness or you don’t. I do, so that puts the Red Delicious right at the bottom of my list.

  28. I also love taste testing apples and second a nomination from above. I have never tasted one better than a macoun.

  29. Good sir,

    As I read your list and passed by number thirteen without a complete evisceration of the red delicious apple, I feared that perhaps you lost your senses and would actually enjoy it. I commend you on your befitting review of mediocrity for this poor excuse for a fruit.

  30. Ah memories – my stepdad loves Rome apples (I know, right?). My mom would buy them to make baked apples, and he’d eat them before she turned around. Blech.

  31. You’re currently in SE PA, right? I highly recommend these folk, who are at several farmer’s markets. They have wonderful apples…it’s where I learned about Gold Rush, and they also have pretty dang good Asian Pears and other stuff.

  32. Friend who has an apple orchard in the Rio Grande valley and grows many varieties calls them “Moneycrisps.” He grows several that did not make your list that he calls “spitters.”

    […] (You can find Part One, from last year, here.) […]
    Where? no link


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