There are about 7,500 varieties of apples grown all over the world, and 2,500 in the United States alone.
You won’t encounter most of these, except in local farmers’ markets or at pick-your-own apple farms. In fact, just 16 varieties account for 90 percent of the domestic apple production, and eight of them—Golden Delicious, Granny Smith, Jonathan, McIntosh, Red Delicious, Rome Beauty, Stayman, and York—make up 80 percent.
Most popular varieties of apples are available year round, largely because of controlled atmosphere storage.
- Braeburn apples: The crisp, aromatic Braeburn blends sweetness and tartness. It’s just right for snacks and salads. Its color varies from greenish-gold with red sections to nearly solid red.
- Cortland apples: This large apple has deep purplish-red skin and snow-white flesh that resists browning. Available primarily in the East and Midwest, the Cortland is good for eating raw and also for baking in pies.
- Crispin apples: Also known as Mutsu, the Crispin is a large green apple developed from crossing a Golden Delicious with a Japanese apple called Indo. It is an all-purpose variety, with a firm texture and sweet flavor.
- Empire apples: The result of crossing the McIntosh with the Red Delicious, the Empire’s deep red skin is rather thick, but the crisp texture and sweet-tart taste make it ideal for eating fresh.
- Fuji apples: Like fine wine, its flavor improves with age. Fuji’s spicy, crisp sweetness makes it excellent fresh or as applesauce. Fuji varies from yellow-green with red highlights to very red.
- Gala apples: Gala is heart-shaped and has distinctive yellow-orange skin with red striping. With a crisp, sweet taste that can’t be beat, Gala is great in salads.
- Golden Delicious apples: Despite its resemblance to the Red Delicious apple in shape and name, the Golden Delicious is an entirely separate variety. It is an all-purpose apple, suitable for baking, eating raw, using in pies, and making applesauce. Its freckled, golden-yellow skin makes it distinctive, as does the fact that its flesh, when sliced, doesn’t darken as readily as that of other apples—a virtue that makes it a worthy ingredient in salads.
- Granny Smith apples: This pale green apple is originally from Australia, but is now widely grown in this country. It is an all-purpose variety, with a crisp texture and tart flavor.
- Gravenstein apples: This distinctive, red-striped apple is used primarily to make commercial applesauce, but it is also sold fresh. Moderately tart, it is an all-purpose apple that is perfect for homemade apple pies and applesauce.
- Idared apples: This all-purpose apple, red-skinned and with a mild flavor, is a favorite in the Northeast and parts of the Midwest.
- Jonagold apples: A blend of Jonathan and Golden Delicious apples, Jonagold offers a unique, tangy-sweet flavor. With a yellow-green base and a blush stripe, it is excellent both for eating fresh and for cooking.
- Jonathan apples: Deep red with yellow undertones, this is a small- to medium-sized apple, with juicy, firm, yellow flesh. Use it for eating or baking pies, or for making applesauce. It’s not a good choice for baking whole because it loses its shape.
- Macoun apples: Tart and juicy, the red-green Macoun is excellent eaten fresh, but it arrives late in the year and doesn’t keep well.
- McIntosh apples: A green-red apple, the McIntosh is a parent variety of many other apples, such as Cortland and Empire. It is very juicy, with a slightly tart flavor. Although it is excellent raw or cooked, the exceptionally smooth texture of the cooked apple may not appeal to some people. McIntosh bruise more easily than other apples and should be handled with care.
- Mutsu apples: See Crispin.
- Newtown Pippin apples: A tart green apple, this variety is generally used for cooking, but is also suitable for eating fresh.
- Northern Spy apples: This large red-green apple has firm yellow flesh and a tart flavor, making it suitable for pies or for snacking.
- Pink Lady apples: Pink lady apples have a sweet-tart taste and firm, crisp flesh. Their skin has a pink blush (hence the name) over yellow. They are good both fresh and for cooking.
- Red Delicious apples: This familiar bright red apple is the most popular variety in the United States, accounting for almost half the domestic crop. It has thin but tough skin, and crisp, juicy, sweet-tasting flesh. Red Delicious is best eaten fresh. When cooked, it disintegrates and loses most of its flavor.
- Rhode Island Greening apples: Though it isn’t widely available, many apple fanciers consider this green apple the best choice for pies.
- Rome Beauty apples: A favorite for baking, the red or red-striped Rome Beauty holds its spherical shape well during cooking, which also brings out its flavor. Eaten fresh, however, it tastes rather bland and mealy.
- Stayman apples: This is a good all-purpose apple, with purplish-red skin and white flesh that is mildly tart and juicy.
- Winesap apples: As its name suggests, this all-purpose apple—one of the oldest varieties in the United States—has a tangy, winelike flavor. The flesh is firm and juicy, and the skin is a deep red-purple. Winesaps are often used to make apple cider.
- York apples: Also known as York Imperial, this variety has a lopsided shape and pinkish-red skin, often dotted with pale spots, which don’t affect the quality of the fruit. The flesh is yellow and moderately juicy. Yorks are good baking apples, holding their shape and flavor when cooked.
- Crab apples: Crab apples are tiny (like a big cherry tomato) yellow apples with a reddish blush. They are not eaten fresh like other apples because their flesh is tart and mealy, and there is too high a percentage of core and seeds to flesh. However, they are often used to make jellies and apple butter, probably because they have a high proportion of pectin, the soluble fiber that is not only heart-healthy but helps jellies to jell. They are available in some produce stores, but more often found at farmers’ markets or farm stands.
- Lady apples: Lady apples are petite members of the apple family. They are light green in color, with bright red dabs over part or much of the fruit. Lady apples are mildly sweet with moderate acidity, and good to eat both fresh and cooked.