Don’t Make This Apple Season Mistake!

How to Select the Most Nutritious Apple VarietiesCooling temperatures mean apple season, at least where I’m from (Washington State) and where I lived until recently (New York). So, those of us in harvest mode head to the farmer’s market or apple orchards in search of our usual favorites. Right?!

Actually, this is a mistake. Or, at least a missed opportunity. With the greatest selections of varieties available, this is THE time to try buying, snacking, serving or baking with new-to-you apple varieties. Selected mindfully, veering onto the apple path less traveled could have game-changing health benefits compared to the same old, same old grocery store varieties. Here’s why.

What are The Most Nutritious Apple Varieties?

Let’s talk phytonutrients, those near-magical chemicals that plants produce in response to stress. Phytonutrients are a plant’s security detail, protecting them from threats ranging from UV rays to pesky predators. Sadly, apple growing in the United States has bred the phytonutrients out of most varieties of this beloved fruit.

As Jo Robinson (fellow Seattleite!) explains in Eating on the Wild Side, we’ve also bred out the diversity. In fact, “nine out of every ten apples we eat come from a mere dozen varieties. We’ve gone from fifteen thousand varieties to twelve in just three generations.”

However, while the ‘apple a day’ heritage remains, variety matters – literally and figuratively. Jo doesn’t leave us perplexed at the market. Rather, she recommends these 12 apple varieties as the most nutritious and phytonutrient-dense apple options. Here are some guidelines for selecting among these apples, according to your preferred flavors and intended use.

Most Nutritious Apple Varieties for Eating

  • Braeburn – A blend of sweet and tart
  • Cortland – Resistant to browning, great for salads
  • Discovery – Sharp and sweet
  • Fuji – Stores well for weeks
  • Gala – Fragrant and juicy
  • Granny Smith – A bit tart, firm texture
  • Honeycrisp – Honey-like sweetness
  • Liberty – Sweet
  • McIntosh – Crisp and juicy
  • Newtown Pippin – A blend of sweet and tart
  • Ozark Gold – A mellow blend of sweet and tart
  • Red Delicious – Sweet and mild-tasting

Most Nutritious Apple Varieties for Baking

  • Braeburn – A blend of sweet and tart
  • Discovery – Sharp and sweet
  • Fuji – Stores well for weeks
  • Granny Smith – A bit tart, long baking time
  • Idared – A blend of sweet and tart
  • Melrose – A blend of sweet and tart
  • Ozark Gold – A mellow blend of sweet and tart
  • Newtown Pippin – A blend of sweet and tart

Most Nutritious Apple Varieties for Applesauce

  • Cortland
  • Fuji
  • Gala
  • Honeycrisp
  • Idared – A blend of sweet and tart


  1. The Most Color Wins! How to compare apples-to-apples —of the same variety? Go red. When you’re sorting through the bins, look for the most colorful apples, which generally means the most red. These apples will be the most phytonutrient-dense. These likely grew at the top of the tree or on outer limbs, with more sun exposure triggering much more phytonutrient protection than those grown on the interior or the low-hanging fruit.
  2. To peel or not? That was a rhetorical question. Because, if you don’t eat the peel, more than half of the antioxidants go in the garbage, disposal or ideally, the compost. In the case of the former, the soil gets all that magic, not you. That’s just sad. : (
  3. Go organic, when possible. Year after year, apples are the winner (or loser…) or runner-up on the Environmental Working Group’s Dirty Dozen list of the most pesticide-laden produce. However, there are many farmers who don’t spray or minimally spray their orchards, but can’t afford the organic certification. So, if possible, have a chat with the vendor and ask about their growing practices.
  4. Go local, buy often and store appropriately. Apples love to chill out in the cool humid environment of your refrigerator’s crisper drawer. There, they will last up to ten times longer than they will out on the counter. And, buy them as you need them, ideally eating your apples as close to harvest as possible. Like most good things, their health benefits fade over time.
  5. Wash (as in scrub, not rinse). Always use a produce wash, or simply a vinegar and water or salt and water solution to remove any debris or traces of pesticide on produce. For apples specifically, give them a scrub with a produce brush and a non-toxic soap or baking soda to remove the wax on commercial apples. No matter what cleaning solution you select, put some elbow grease into it. Simply running them under water isn’t enough.

What are your favorite apples? Leave a comment below!


Robinson, Jo – Eating on the Wild Side: The Missing Link to Optimum Health. New York: Little, Brown and Company, 2014.

Wood, Rebecca – The New Whole Foods Encyclopedia. New York: Penguin Books, 2010.

Washington Apple Commission – Accessed Oct. 1, 2016

Originally posted on 10.1.16