Your Guide to Apple Varieties

By Marja Murray, Cooking Coach, Whole Foods Market - Lynnwood
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Apples are the quintessential Northwest fruit, and they are one of the most versatile foods in the kitchen. They do well in soups, salads, appetizers, entrees and of course in desserts. There are certain varieties that are better for cooking and other varieties that are best for eating out of hand. Here is a list of apples and their best uses.



A sweet modern apple variety, originating from western Canada, quite similar to Golden Delicious. Discovered as a chance seedling in an orchard in British Columbia. The flavor is pleasant and sweet. It is a crisp apple, with a softer crunch than a Braeburn. Ambrosia is an excellent eating apple. It benefits from being chilled and eaten from the fridge.



Like Fuji, this is a sweet apple that is best eaten out of hand. It is an all-purpose apple and makes a decent pie. It has tender, fragrant skin, which smells like just-pressed cider and vanishes like rice paper in the mouth. It originated in New Zealand from a chance seedling. It thrives in the volcanic soil of the Northwest.



A spontaneous variety, not an intentional hybrid. It sprang up in Eastern Washington, was allowed to grow and proved itself a winner. It is a great dessert apple, perfect alone or with cheese. The Washington Apple Commission rates it as excellent for pies, applesauce and snacking.



The Cortland apple is a cross between the McIntosh and Ben Davis variety. Its flavor is sweet compared to McIntosh. Cortland apples have very white flesh and are resistant to browning making them especially good for salads. Cortland is also an excellent dessert apple. This apple also makes delicious apple sauce. Leave the skins on while cooking, and then run the apples through a food mill or ricer, and your sauce will turn a naturally pretty shade of pink.



A big, red apple with golden highlights. It is a bold and flavorful apple. In spite of its Japanese name, its heritage is decidedly American. Fuji is a cross between Red Delicious and an obscure old variety known as Ralls Janet, which was grown by George Washington at Mount Vernon and Thomas Jefferson at Monticello. It keeps better than any other sweet apple. It can spend a few weeks in a fruit bowl without turning mushy. You can get good results by cooking or baking with it, but it is best eaten raw and is delicious in salads.



A perfect apple for snacking! It is a New Zealand import, now widely grown in the Northwest. It is crisp, fragrant and juicy. It loses its fragrance when cooked, can become slightly rubbery in the oven when baked. So don’t try to bake with it. Save it for salads where its bright flavor is accentuated in the presence of vinaigrette, cheese, and nuts. Or put it in your backpack or lunch and enjoy it for a snack. That’s where Gala apples shine!


Golden Delicious

Golden Delicious can be described as a soft and perfumey American blond. It is uncommonly versatile and flavorful. It makes great applesauce, and bakes well too - just be aware that it becomes soft very quickly. It is also a wonderful snacking apple!


Granny Smith

This Australian apple sprang up as a seedling on the farm of a certain Ms. Smith. It is a good baking apple with refreshing tartness. This tartness makes it especially useful in savory dishes where its firm texture stands up to grilling and pan-searing. Granny Smith is often a choice for baking, though it is slow to soften when baked.



With a distinctive perfume and flavor, for many Northwesterners, Gravenstein is the first choice for applesauce and apple pie. They don’t hold as well as other apples so eat them at once or make them into applesauce and can it.



Honeycrisp apples are considered by many to be the greatest fresh eating apple of all time. It is very crisp and has a sweetness that really is reminiscent of honey. Honeycrisp apples also make great applesauce!



This is an excellent apple! Intensely flavorful, colorful and a wonderful all-purpose apple. It has a short season so buy it when you see it. It comes out by the first of October and by Thanksgiving it’s likely to have vanished. Don’t miss out on these apples – great for baking and just plain eating!


Red Delicious

Red Delicious apples look good and taste good! They stand up to cooking and are ideal for snacking. These apples are available year-round and still accounts for 80% of all apples grown in Washington. It is very good in salads. Make sure to peel the skin off, and toss it with a little lemon and sugar. At home, keep them in the refrigerator to maintain their texture and flavor.



A very old European apple variety that originated in France. It was widely grown in the 17th and 18th centuries. It is still very popular in Europe. It is delicious in baked desserts, such as apple tarts or pies.


Sweet Tango

Sweet Tangos have a texture similar to Honeycrisp with sweetness, a hint of tartness; just the right combination for any fruit fanatic! The University of Minnesota produced this variety of apple by crossing Honeycrisp and Zestar apples. A taste-off was held in September 2010, and the Sweet Tango received the highest rating coming in first, followed by Honeycrisp and then Zestar. Sweet Tango is a good eating apple, as well as a good cooking apple.


Adapted from Washington Apple Commission, and The Northwest Essential Cookbook, by Greg Atkinson.