Friday, May 1, 2009

How to eat an apple

Of course you already know how to do this perfectly well! and perhaps you prefer yours sliced or even peeled and at a particular temperature. However, here are the steps I take when I taste an apple for a review (like these). And yes, you can try this at home.

I won't say this gives more pleasure than just munching away, indeed it can be difficult to sort out all those flavors and sensations.

But it is a kind of mindful eating, if a surprisingly cerebral one, that has increased my appreciation of apples. If you do this enough it will train your palate and perhaps your brain in some unexpected ways.

First step, though, is cleaning. Apples should be stored unwashed, so clean them when you are ready to eat. Waxed apples are washed after harvest, but subsequent handling can put dirt and germs on the surface of the fruit.

Do not neglect the stem well, which can trap dirt and pesticides. I usually just rinse and rub with warm water, but there are vegetable soaps available.

Ready to eat? No so fast. Take a minute to hold and look at your prize. You might regard its basic shape (round, conical, oblate, irregular), size, ribbing if any (and how much, and are there "chins" at the base).

Notice the color and appearance both of the blush and/or russet, if any, and the underlying unblushed flesh. A blush can be solid or faint or streaky, and the surface of the apple can be glossy or dull, and may not always be smooth.

Blush and russetting or other blemishes—in terms of appearance and location—often tell a story about how the apple grew.

Apples blush in the sun; the circular shadows of neighboring fruit cast gaps. Hail leaves marks. Often russet is concentrated in the stem well where water collected as the fruit's gathering weight made it hang upright.

Note the appearance of the apple's lenticels, which are its pores. Are they numerous, large, regular in size and/or distribution? What color are they? How do they look in the blush as opposed to the unblushed skin?

How does the fruit feel in your hand? Is it firm? Heavy? How does it smell (e.g., cider, pear, sweet, berries, grass, yeast, cheese)? Flip it over and examine the calyx. If it's open, can you see the stamens from your fruit's past life as a flower?

If you are still with me after that, I salute you. Now bite your apple.

What color is the flesh? Any there highlights or streaks of color? Is it fine-grained or coarse? How much juice? How's the crunch--crisp, mealy, tender? Does it break off in chunks or do you have to tear it off with your teeth?

And, how does it taste?

For me this is the most challenging part, where I grope for words and sensation. One place to start is with the tension, if any, between sweet and tart. Most modern apples are sweet, in which case the presence of any tartness and acidity can enliven the flavor.

A well-balanced apple often has the most interesting flavors, sometimes serially, sometimes all at once.

Such flavors might be floral (lilac, daffodil, etc.), spicy (ginger, pepper, cinnamon), vinous, grain (corn, barley), nuts (hazelnut, chestnut, cocoa), vanilla (including cream soda and vanilla caramel) and also other fruits: pineapple, banana, berries (strawberries, blackberries), melon, coconut, mango, tangerine, peach, lemon, pear, and others.

Sweetness may be specific, such as honey, caramel, or brown or cane sugar. There may also be acid, pine, wood, and tobacco.

Try hunting for some of these flavors as you savor a mouthful. No doubt I've missed some!

Once you have the savory lay of the land, you might try to see whether you get the same flavors at the start, middle, and end of each bite. Do these flavors follow each other in a regular way? Do the juice and flavor taper off while you are still chewing pulp and peel?

Do you notice the peel, and at what point? Is there a finish? Any astringency? How do your mouth and throat feel afterwards?

Do you note any differences based on the part of the apple from which your bite came? In my experience, an apple ripens, and overripens, from the equator to the poles, so a stored apple may have truer flavors and better texture at the top and bottom if it is a little past its prime. Sometimes the flavor and texture changes towards the core, too.

One reader finds qualitative differences between the top and the bottom, which makes sense though my palate is not fine enough to taste it.

You might also notice that some apples oxidize (turn brown) quickly when broken while others only turn color a little bit or slowly.

These are some of the dimensions of appearance, taste, and texture that I try to experience and describe when I am reviewing an apple variety. It's fun, but also can be hard work!

Sometimes I'm very happy to just enjoy an apple without such a deliberate effort of concentration, and I hope that you are too.


  1. I really enjoyed reading this but I'm not sure I have this much restraint when eating an apple or anything else. I will give this a try, though, since I certainly understand and appreciate the concept of slowing down enough to pay attention to what one is doing. Usually that's what I do in a yoga practice. I hadn't thought of eating an apple as yoga but I can see that might be a good way to approach it.

  2. It's just an apple, jeez.

  3. awesome.......?

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  5. This is a thoughtful approach to apple tasting! I have found that I notice aspects of taste and texture differently if I eat a sliced apple rather than eating it off the core. Also - I'll sometimes try to taste the flesh without peel and peel without flesh.

    How do you handle comparative apple tasting, since the juices from one apple might contrast or complement the second? Do you eat something in between to cleanse the palate?

    1. I like to see how the two play together. Sometimes it's great, sometimes not pretty.

      Usually my palate is cleansed by the second bite.


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