Culinary Arts

Guide to Apple Varieties: How to Pick Apples and Apple Recipe Ideas

Written by MasterClass

Apr 26, 2019 • 5 min read

Perhaps no other fruit carries as much cultural significance as the apple. It stands for knowledge above all, whether in a biblical garden, atop the head of a scientific luminary, as a colloquial synonym for iOS, or in the form of a phone number clutched in a young Matt Damon’s hand. It’s also one of the most versatile and ubiquitous fruits used in cooking. Apples: How do you like them?


What Is an Apple?

An apple is the fruit of the apple tree (of the genus Malus), which first originated in Asia. They’ve been around for thousands of years now, and early cultivars were first brought to America by European colonists. It is entirely edible, except for the stem and five inner seeds. Consisting mostly of water and natural sugars, an apple’s primary nutritional benefit is dietary fiber. Small amounts of vitamins A and C can also be found.

How to Pick Ripe Apples

Picking an apple at the farmers’ market or grocery store is all about checking for obvious blemishes and firmness. Some apples will have a detectable sweet aroma, but the feel is the best indication of freshness—it shouldn’t feel too soft or spongy to the touch, which indicates an apple is overripe.

How to Store Apples

Apples are best stored at cooler temperatures, which makes a cellar or the refrigerator the ideal choice. If you store them out of the refrigerator, keep them away from potatoes and onions, which will ripen the apples quicker and impart their flavor onto the sweet fruit.

What Are the Best Apples for Cooking and Baking?

Deciding which apples are best for cooking and baking is a matter of both opinion and application: what you’re using them for and what you’re looking to bring to the overall dish.

  • If it’s impeccable firm texture and a zingy high note for pie, an all-purpose apple like Granny Smith or Cripp’s Pink might be the way to go.
  • If you’re roasting a chicken with apples, leeks, and rosemary, you may look for a juicy sweet note (think Fuji) to balance the savory alliums and herbs of the roast. (Try Chef Gordon Ramsay’s roasted chicken recipe here.)
  • Apples with softer flesh like a McIntosh are better suited for things like applesauce and butter.
  • Crunchier apples like Honeycrisp hold up well in something like a chicory and endive salad.

Cooking With Apples

While the majority of apples are best enjoyed raw and out of hand, apples can be used in a number of culinary applications.


  • The most commonly known of the sweeter preparations is pies and tarts, like an inverted French tarte tatin. Apple pies feature chopped or sliced apples, spiced with cinnamon, in between two layers of basic pie crust. Baked into pastries or breads, apples provide a soft mellow flavor that’s an ideal vehicle for most baking spices, like cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, allspice, and even cardamom.
  • Alcoholic and nonalcoholic ciders have long been a favorite way to use apples. One method for making cider starts with an unfiltered, unsweetened apple juice that gets fermented and becomes hard cider. Another method is grinding apples into a pulp, or pommage, and incrementally pressing it to extract all the juice, which is either sold as is or transferred into casks to ferment, just like wine. The fizzy alcohol is ready to drink at three months, though some prefer to age it much longer.
  • Tart apples dipped in caramel, or toffee candy apples, are a popular dessert in many countries.


  • When roasted, the tart-sweet flavor of raw apples develop a caramelized edge, infusing a subtle burst of retained sweetness and chew to many savory dishes. Toss them in a roasting pan along with chicken and whole shallots, where they’ll soak up the meat drippings.
  • Apple mostarda is a popular chutney-style spread that usually consists of a combination of fresh and dried fruits tossed in a spicy, tangy mustard sauce. It pairs especially well with pork, as well as cheese and charcuterie boards.

12 Types of Apples to Know

There are over 7,000 known apple varieties worldwide. That’s easily an apple for every taste, which is good, because people tend to have strong options on the merits of each variety. Consider this the tip of the apple iceberg.

RED DELICIOUS: Ah, Red Delicious. A controversial apple among apple-eaters, with its tender, sweet flesh verging on mealy and signature bumps at its base. Red Delicious apples come from Iowa, and for a long time, they were basically the only apple competitor in the field, until global apple cultivars were welcomed into the market in the 1990s.

GOLDEN DELICIOUS (YELLOW DELICIOUS): Pale gold in color and the size of a softball, Golden Delicious apples have a long history in West Virginia and are still very popular today thanks to their mild sweetness and soft flesh.

MCINTOSH: Leave it to Canada to come up with such a gorgeous cold-tolerant fruit like the McIntosh apple. It’s white flesh sometimes has a pink blush to it, and a light, tart taste. The Paula Red apple is a cultivar of the McIntosh tree.

GRANNY SMITH: Known for their bright, puckering tart flavor and lime green skin, Granny Smith apples originated in Australia and have become the favorite apple for pie.

BRAEBURN: Braeburn apples from New Zealand have a very stately way about them: typically large in size with bright red and yellow skin and a rich, sharp sweetness.

CRIPPS PINK (PINK LADY): These mega-popular apples from Australia have a crisp and juicy flesh, sweet-tart flavor, and a signature pink-hued skin.

GALA: Gala apples hail from New Zealand, with lightly tart, tannic skin and a mildly sweet flesh. They’re a cross between a Kidd’s Orange Red (which itself is a Red Delicious-Orange Pippin hybrid) and a Golden Delicious.

HONEYCRISP: Midwestern Honeycrisp apples have a good crunch, glossy red-gold skin, and a deeply sweet taste not unlike honey. It makes for a fantastic eating apple.

GRAVENSTEIN: Denmark’s yellow-green Gravensteins often come with light red stripes, crisp texture, and mellow sweet apple flavor. It’s shelf life is relatively short due to its softer flesh, but they make great applesauce if you find yourself with a surplus.

FUJI: Fuji apples are a cross between Red Delicious and Ralls Genet apples, originating from Japan. These days, Fujis are one of the most widely grown and popular apples in the world.

AMBROSIA: Canadian Ambrosia apples are mildly sweet with low acidity, an easygoing apple with a particularly hardy disease-resistant tree.

PIPPIN: Also known as the Newtown Pippin or Albemarle Pippin, this small, yellowish-green apple with white flesh is one of the oldest cultivars to come out of the United States. Legend has it, it was a favorite of George Washington and Ben Franklin.

CRAB: These tiny apples are cute to look at, but sweet and bitter to taste. There are many varieties of crabapple trees, some of which yield fruit that is purely ornamental and inedible.

Learn How Alice Waters Picks Ripe Fruit