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From Fuji to Pink Lady to Elstar, here are the best kind of apples

Margaret Eby
September 21, 2018

New York City is great at many things, but one of them is not consistently amazing produce. Our farmers' markets are great, but they pale in comparison with the overflowing citrus dreamlands of the west coast, or the roadside stands full of peaches and watermelon I grew up with in Alabama. There is only one season where, truly, no one could argue with New York's supremacy in the fruit game, and that is fall. Yeah OK, California, your avocados may be plentiful and delicious. But in September, New York practically explodes with apples. We have so many kinds and so many varieties! An embarassment of riches! How about these apples, you might say.

But we all know that not all apples are created equal. As Jerry Seinfeld wisely said, "Fruit is a gamble." You can't return fruit! It worked out poorly for Kramer. And so I set out to compare apples to apples, as it were. I collected 19 kinds(!) from a quick trip to the farmer's market near my office, plus a dip into our local French grocery store for the more widely available supermarket varieties. I know there are about a hundred more out there, but this is what we were working with, and eating a part of 19 apples in the course of an afternoon is enough fiber, thank you so much.

I'm looking for three things in an apple. First, some tooth resistance. A good apple is crisp but not, like, emergency dental-surgery crisp. You want that nice snap when you bite into it. Second, a flesh that is firm and not mealy. Like many elderly millennials, I stilll have mealiness nightmares over the Red Delicious apples I would pick up from like, hotel lobbies. Mealiness is the enemy! Down with meal. And last, I want a balance of tart to sweet. Too tart, and that is a cooking apple. Too sweet, and that is a pear. I don't make the rules. I just play by them, fruit-wise.

Without further ado, from worst to best, the apples you need to know and avoid this fall. 

19. Empress

This is a nice looking apple—round, compact, small, and mottled red and green like the most flavorful harbinger of fall. Reader, do not let it decieve you. Mealiness lurks within! It tasted like loose sandpaper, which is, I guess, sand. Avoid.

18. Mutsu

I wanted this apple to be good because it has a fun name that might also be a character in the Nintendo universe. Alas, it was too sweet—and not resistant enough ot the tooth. It was like biting into a pear that you realized too late had turned to mush. It was like bad applesauce. More like mush-su. 

17. Elstar

Another apple with a cool name but a disappointing texture and taste. It tasted like the last piece of fruit at the bottom of the fruit bowl that you feel bad throwing away so you eat it but just taste regret. Don't do it.

16. Akane

This apple is a little too sweet for my liking, but there's nothing terrible about that if you like a very sweet apple. It wasn't as crisp as I wanted and there was something about the flesh that hinted at a future of mealiness.  Eh.

15. Paula Red

This was a cotroversial apple. Half of the tasters hated it, half were sort of fine with it. It has a really floral taste, which can be off-putting if you're not down with that whole thing. 

14. Blondee

This apple looks like a baby Golden Delicious, and that's pretty much what it tastes like, too. It's pear-ish and mild, which isn't my particular bag, but if you're into that, you might like it. 

13. Red Delicious

Are you surprised this one ranks (reltively) highly on the list? Me too. Stacked up against the other apples, it was clear that a good Red Delicious is a perfectly serviceable apple, if too sweet for my liking. As long as it's stored properly, it won't deteriorate into mealiness. But the mealiness feeling, it haunts me still. It wouldn't be the first apple I'd pick up.

12. Mollie's Delicious

This is basically a Red Delicious with a firmer snap when you bite into it, but a similar flavor profile. If you like a Red Delicious but fear its mealy flesh, this is one you'll want to pick up. 

11. Summer Treat

This mottled red and green apple was a little too tart for my taste, and didn't have as firm a tooth feel as I'd like, I'd use it for baking if I ended up with a lot of them.

10. Rubyfrost

This is a pretty OK apple. There's nothing outstanding about it, but there's nothing that's terrible. It's a nice sweet-to-tart flavor, if a bit towards the sour end. It's fine but forgettable.

9. Golden Delicious

I mostly think about Golden Delicious apples as the other apple option in the cafeteria in high school. It's not as sweet as the Red Delicious or as tart as a Granny Smith, but it is fairly ubiquitious. It's sweet and mild, and usually holds up OK. 

8. Zestar

Finally, an apple with a cool name that's pretty good. It's a good eating apple. It tastes a little like a watermelon Jolly Rancher. 

7. McIntosh

Though too sweet for some of our tasters, a good McIntosh is still a great apple if you can find it. It has that sweet crunch and a firm, non-mealy flesh. It's a solid orchard apple. 

6. Granny Smith

I find a Granny Smith too tart for normal eating, given the option, but it's perfect for pies and tarts and crumbles. My fellow apple eaters disagreed—culinary editor Rebecca Firsker is of the opinion that the tartness perfectly balances out a nut butter, which I can see. Either way, a Granny Smith is likely to steer you right, and the chances of mealiness are slim. 

5. Sansa

Of all the bespoke, can't-find-it-in-the-supermarket apples, the Sansa was the most impressive. It tasted, to me, like a cross between a Honeycrisp and a Granny Smith—a great tart-sweet balance and a big apple flavor. It's just a great eating apple. 

4. Fuji

Fuji apples are a little sweet for me, but I'll never be mad about having one. They have a great, dense, crisp flesh and are regularly superior to many other apple options. 

3. Gala

A Gala apple has the ideal tooth resistance and non-mealy flesh, and it nudges Fuji out of the third spot just by virtue of having a touch more tartness that rounds out the whole apple-eating experience. 

Tied for 1st place:

Pink Lady

This is a chill, mellow apple. It is just tart enough to balance the sweetness of the apple, the flesh is firm and toothsome, and the potential for mealiness is low. If you're shopping for supermarket apples this is the one to grab.

Honeycrisp

A sweeter apple than the Pink Lady, this is just a cool ride through autumnal tastes. It's a great apple to pick up at the farmer's market if you see it. It's an apple so smooth you feel like you can drink it. Oh yeah. That's the stuff. 

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