Cause apples really do come in every color of the rainbow! Learn about this iconic fruit’s history, diversity and more!
An Apple Tribute
An archetype of a fruit.
The favorite fruit of ancient Greeks and Romans
The most popular fruit in Western Culture.
The notorious forbidden fruit in the garden of Eden.
An apple falling from a tree inspired Sir Isaac Newton’s theory of gravity.
Currently the name of the most popular tech company.
A ubiquitous, iconic fruit across the globe
From art to science to politics to religion, the apple figures into countless aspects of the human experience since antiquity.
Colors of the Apple Rainbow: shades of red, pink, yellow, green and purple.
How Many Types of Apples are There?
There’s 7,5000 varieties in existence! In all different shapes, sizes, colors, textures aromas and flavors!
2,500 of which are grown in the US but only about 100 are grown commercially.
90% of apple production in the US consists of only 15 varieties!
Supermarkets generally carry the exact same 5-10 kinds.
Where Did All the Colors of the Apple Rainbow Go?!
A Brief Apple Diversity History
Wild apples, originating between the Caspian and the Black Sea, grew in prehistoric times. Botanists believe their ancient roots come from a species called Malus sieversii.
They’ve been enjoyed by man for at least 750,000 years.
Historians and botanists speculate the nomads and traders, on the Silk Route, took wild apples with them on their journeys west.
Fast forwarding to the 1600’s, apples were brough to North American by early European settlers and used for a sole purpose: hard cider. These apples were small and tart; unlike the edible ones we think of today.
The legendary John Chapman, known as Johnny Appleseed, traveled on food across the US, planting these apple trees; basically, bringing alcohol to the frontier.
As the fruit adapted to its new US conditions, its genetic diversity and popularity exploded, apples spread throughout the country, to every region and community.
By the mid-1800’s, there were thousands of unique apple varieties in the US, running the entire color spectrum of the rainbow in all shapes and guises! In addition to making cider, the new varieties were used for all sorts of other purposes: baking, drying, eating out of hand—even as livestock feed.
This astounding apple-licious diversity was crushed by industrial agriculture; the introduction of mechanical refrigeration + inexpensive railway shipping.
By the early 20th century, the golden age of American apple pomology came to an abrupt end.
As the iconic fruit increased in popularity throughout the country, a new emphasis was placed on the commercial value.
Home orcharding declined and commercial orchardists began focusing on growing fewer varieties more efficiently.
Of the thousands of available varieties, the apple industry settled on just a handful to promote worldwide. The rest were forgotten, and many older cultivars fell into disuse.
In the early 1920’s, deliberately engineered apples like the Red Delicious, Golden Delicious and the Granny Smith began to dominate the market. These new cultivators and quintessential mass-market apples exploded in popularity and many highly flavored heirlooms were effectively cut out of the commercial trade.
Basically, since the commercialization of apples, we’ve watched their diversity slashed into just a few choices.
The biodiversity of the apples plummeted, and many popular heirloom apples have all but disappeared.
They’ve became commercially extinct… though not quite biologically extinct… yet!
In 1892, there were about 735 different varieties; now fewer than 50 are mass-grown.
We may have lost eighty percent of our traditional apple varieties.
"Modern" apples varieties are cultivated for qualities such as disease resistance, shelf life, high production yield, and ability to ship long distances without bruising.
Supermarkets across the country display just a handful of identically shiny apple varieties. Generally, the exact same 5-10 apple cultivators.
Older, regional and heirloom varieties are still being grown! Head to your local farmers market or orchard to find them!
The Importance of Apple Biodiversity
Each apple variety carries a unique genetic code. Once they’ve disappeared, they are gone forever.
The identical genetic codes of America’s commercial apples leaves the few remaining varieties increasingly vulnerable to disease and pests. This forces farmers to use even more chemicals to protect their huge fields of identical apple strains. A single, pesticide-resistant disease could wipe out huge portions of the crop.
Genetic diversity allows for some to withstand a disease ensuring apple tree survival.
Every time an old apple variety drops out of cultivation a set of genes vanishes from the earth!
All the biotechnology in the world cannot create a new apple gene.
Let’s bring all the rainbow-licious apple diversity back that we can!!!
Support your local orchard and farmers market!
Apple Biz Today
It’s BIG BIZ in the US!
- The US is the second largest apple producer worldwide, behind China.
- About 7,500 commercial apple producers in 36 states harvest 48,000 tons of fruit
- Approximately one of every four apples that is grown in the US is exported
- The United States grows approximately 200 unique apple varieties.
- The top 10 varieties in the U.S. are Red Delicious, Gala, Granny Smith, Fuji, Golden Delicious, Honey Crisp, McIntosh, Rome, Cripps, Pink/Pink Lady and Empire (U.S. Apple Association, 2018).
- The United States does import fresh apples to make up for lack of production in the late season or before fall harvest.
- Apples are the 2nd most consumed fruit in the US (after banana’s)
- New apple varieties are developed in breeding programs.
- In the past, new varieties were often found by chance. Now they are bred namely for market appeal.
- Apples grown conventionally have more pesticides than any other crop! (Buy organic when you can!)
How do Apples get their Different Colors?
Variation in apple colors is due to the different natural pigments they contain.
There’s 3 main reasons/pigments are: chlorophyll, carotenoid and anthocyanin.
Chlorophyll – a green pigment found in plants. Green apples are green because they contain green chlorophyll
Carotenoid -Yellow apples start out green but the apple stops making chlorophyll as it matures.
The chlorophyll it contains eventually degrades to reveal yellow carotenoid pigments that were there all along but being masked by the chlorophyll.
Anthocyanin - Red apples follow the same pattern as yellow apples but start making a red pigment called anthocyanin that develop as the apple grows.
Even apples of the same variety can be different colors depending on how ripe they were when picked.
Hope this post inspired ya to explore the wide range of apple diversity out there… in all the colors of the rainbow!
Stoked on the colors of produce?!
If you're also apple stoked I’d love to hear about it and see them too! Please leave a comment below and take a pic and tag it on Instagram with #danielagerson. You can also follow me on Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest to see more colorfully delicious food and all sorts of awesome adventures!
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