Saturday, April 1, 2017

Red Delicious vs. Sweet Cheeks smackdown

For today's apple comparison, savor the delicious word salad that is "red delicious sweet cheeks." Say it aloud several times. Revel in its absurdity.

The "red " in "Red Delicious" (at left above) is a direct reference to the fact that this variety is a redder sport of the Delicious apple (formerly known as Hawkeye).

Nobody grows the original Delicious any more because everyone (nearly) prefers redder fruit, but it's not a separate breed. There are scores of "improved" red sports of this variety.

For this experiment I splurged and bought my Red D from the organic section of my supermarket.

Probably its merely satiny shine comes from only natural wax, versus the high gloss of the standard commercial variety. Maybe this is a different red sport as well.

My sample's perfect deep red is marked in a few places by lighter patches and streaks.

Nonetheless, the extremely tapered red shape, small light lenticels, distinctive ribbing, and deep hue are pure Red Delicious.

The smaller, streakier Sweet Cheeks stands next door. In the name, "sweet" does not modify "cheeks" in the same way that "red" qualifies "delicious."

It's not a sweeter sport of an apple originally named Cheeks; this is a cross between Honeycrisp and Cripps Pink (often marketed as Pink Lady).

The name is a trademark selected in the hopes it will sell apples. And perhaps it will.

In this sample Sweet Cheeks's red blush spreads over an underlying yellow peel in a wash that takes on an orange tint, especially compared with the deep purple hues of its neighbor. The ribbing is more subdued and the tan spots less obvious, though in places they are larger.

Both are nice to look at, but I have to give the beauty contest to Delicious's voluptuous shape and deep dark red. One expects no less from a variety that has pursued good looks, almost fatally, for the better part of a century. This is an apple that has had work done.

Are you wondering why I am making this comparison? Sweet Cheeks showed up in my neighborhood for the first time briefly in March. Its lack of distinctive flavors brought Red Delicious to mind.

Taste and texture is what counts for me, more so than beauty, so let's see what the head-to-head has to tell us.

Red D is sweet and crisp, perhaps a little spongy, a very light yellow. Its red peel is especially thick and chewy, and the flavors are characteristically inoffensive and undistinguished. They make me want to ask: is this even an apple? But maybe I'm just a spoilsport.

Sweet Cheeks is crisper, sweeter, and better tasting than Red Delicious. There's a bit of lychee that I did not find in my first tasting, and the sweetness is matched by a little tartness (more would be nice), which helps to balance thing out.

The flavors are still not terribly distinctive, though in other tastings I have found a savory note and a whiff of cider.

Unexpectedly, Red Delicious tastes better after a bite of Sweet Cheeks. If its complexity is still paper thin, the paper is thicker.

Nonetheless Sweet Cheeks is the clear winner of this bout for both taste and texture. And if you are a fan of Red Delicious, I'd like to suggest you follow my example and try these two together.

Come on, I know there are plenty of you, and I do not hate your apple or disparage you for knowing what you like. How about these two together? How do you like the Sweet Cheeks? I think the two apples complement each other—what say you?


  1. Adam
    My dad and his generation talk about Delicious in a different way, ie, the days before the breeders hot a hold of it. I found Delicious disgusting as a kid and I find them inedible and disgusting now.

    I have seen Delicious in the markets with a thinner skin and a more speckled coat of light red. I try them occasionally hoping to get a taste of "what they use to be like." Nothing doing. THey are all less than memorable.

    Is anyone doing them right or is the lineage up to the 1950s gone.

    I just dont get the hoopla, especially all the other heirlooms that coexisted with it back then--which were more plentiful and should have been preferred.


    1. Brad, I guess I do not know.

      Elsewhere I have speculated that the original deal couldn't have been that bad, coming of age at a time when people liked apples like Baldwin and McIntosh. That photo of the original Hawkeye that was published in Grist sure looks good, and nothing like today's model either.

      But, I've never had one, or a Delicious that I thought much of.

    2. ...but you would have to go considerably farther back than the 50s to find out.

  2. Sweet Cheeks arebhy far the best the best tasting apple! I was never a fan of red delicious, but this apple even beats out Honey Crisp!


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