By Esther Sung, Epicurious.com
While there are thousands of different apples in the world, we've rounded up 11 that represent the diversity found in today's marketplace. Some, like Red and Golden Delicious, are tried-and-true favorites in the United States; others such as Cameo and Fuji are relative newcomers to the apple scene.
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The fruit has been evolving for centuries: "Modern" apples have been cultivated for qualities such as shape, taste, and high production yield, but also for their resistance to pests and disease. In 1892, there were about 735 different varieties; now fewer than 50 are mass-grown. Because of renewed interest in older-and sometimes regional-varieties, "heirlooms" such as Northern Spy, Gravenstein, Canadian Strawberry, and Newtown Pippin can be found at farmers' markets or local orchards. To grow your own apples, visit the local garden nursery or purchase the trees from online purveyors such as Trees of Antiquity, Fedco Trees, and Century Farm Orchards.
For buying and preparation advice, check out our guide to cooking with apples.
Characteristics: A lovely red hue with hints of yellow, this species is a hybrid of the Jonathan (not pictured here) and the Golden Delicious and bears a faint physical resemblance to both. Like the Golden Delicious, Jonagold is sweet and thin-skinned, but it takes from the Jonathan a smooth skin and tart flavor. It is versatile and can be used in any recipe calling for apples.
For recipes using Jonagold apples, click here.
Characteristics: Although this apple was discovered in Washington State in 1987, it's quickly grown in popularity. Juicy, crisp, and sweet with just a touch of tart, the Cameo is thought to come from both the Red and the Yellow Delicious. That explains its shape as well as the somewhat striated look of its red-and-yellow skin, which is thicker than the Golden Delicious but thinner than the Red. Try substituting Cameos for Goldens in baking and cooking recipes. This variety is especially delicious when eaten raw.
Characteristics: A cross between McIntosh and Red Delicious, the Empire was developed by researchers at the New York State Agricultural Experiment Station in 1966. It is generally quite round, with a skin that's bright red with hints of green. The interior is crisp and creamy white. The Empire is firmer than the McIntosh, so it makes for a good cooking apple.
For recipes using Empire apples, click here.
Characteristics: This apple is the least firm of all the ones rounded up in this illustrated guide. The soft flesh can be described as "creamy" or "mealy," which makes this variety a good candidate for eating raw or for apple sauce or apple butter, but not necessarily for baking. If you bake with McIntoshes, use a thickener to keep the apples from becoming too mushy.
For recipes using McIntosh apples, click here.
Characteristics: This all-purpose apple may share part of its name with the Red Delicious, but the two are not related. Golden Delicious apples are a bright, cheery-looking yellow with a relatively soft texture, although not as soft to the touch as a McIntosh or a Cortland. Thin-skinned, the Golden Delicious doesn't store well (it can bruise and shrivel), so try to use it as soon as possible. This apple is ideal for pies, salads, sauces, and freezing.
For recipes using Golden Delicious apples, click here.
See also: 5 Mistakes Parents Make When Feeding their Kids
Characteristics: Created by Japanese growers in the 1930s, the Fuji apple's popularity grew in the U.S. during the 1980s and it has quickly become one of the most popular in the country. It's a large crisp apple-a relative of the Red Delicious-with an intense sweetness that makes this an ideal candidate for eating raw. Try adding Fujis to salads and slaws that require very little to no cooking to keep their consistency.
For recipes using Fuji apples, click here.
Characteristics: It's understandable if you confuse this apple with the McIntosh. Both are on the squat side, with creamy white interiors and sweet-and-tart flavors. The Cortland is a relatively soft apple, although not quite as soft as the McIntosh. And unlike the McIntosh, the Cortland functions as an all-purpose apple, which means you can bake it, cook it, or eat it raw.
For recipes using Cortland apples, click here.
Characteristics: This is the most popular apple variety in the U.S. It's top heavy and has a creamy white interior. While juicy, the Red Delicious is a soft apple and won't cook well, so it's best to eat them raw. They're also ideal snacks for the lunchbox.
For recipes using Red Delicious apples, click here.
Characteristics: Taller than it is wide, the gala's shape is similar to that of the Golden and Red Delicious apples. It has a pleasantly mild, sweet taste, crisp texture, and a beautiful light-red sheen with bright-yellow undertones. Like Fujis, Galas are easy to eat uncooked thanks to their thin skin and overall sweetness, making them an ideal fruit for kids. They're also good for cooking.
For recipes using Gala apples, click here.
Characteristics: You can't miss this apple, originally from Australia, with its bright-green skin, hard feel, crisp bite, and extremely tart taste. When it's really ripe, the green skin usually has a touch of rosy red. While some savor the tartness, others prefer to cook it, which sweetens it up. It is an ideal complement to savory foods such as onions and salty foods like cheese. On an aesthetic note: The green skin provides a great visual element to any dish.
For recipes using Granny Smith apples, click here.
Characteristics: Originating from New Zealand, this apple has a skin that's muted red with golden-yellow undertones and tinges of faint green. It produces a firm, crisp bite and offers a pleasing balance between sweet and tart. Firm to the touch, Braeburns are good for baking as well as eating just as they are.
For recipes using Braeburn apples, click here.
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Photo: Christy Astley