The Iconic and Nutritious Apple
“American as apple pie” and “an apple a day…” say it all. As one of the first foods cultivated in America and a common symbol of nutrition and health, apples are intertwined with American culture and viewed as an especially healthy food. But how did apples become so American and do they truly warrant their status as a health symbol?
Culturally, the apple likely became prevalent due to its hearty nature. When stored appropriately, fresh apples can last an entire winter. This made them an important part of the traditional American food system. Their versatility as an ingredient was also a significant contributor. Originally used in ciders and ales primarily, apples quickly were incorporated into pies, cakes, and muffins, and are now frequently featured in granola, cereals, salads, casseroles, and even meat dishes. Here are a few tips on how to store your apples so you can stock up now and enjoy delicious apple dishes all winter:
- 40° is ideal – keep apples cool to slow the ripening process but be careful not to freeze apples, they’ll turn into a mushy mess. Garages or cellars can be great cold storage during the winter.
- Humid is good – fridges are the right temperature but too dry and can make apples go soft if precautions aren’t taken. When refrigerating apples, place them in a perforated plastic bag to allow air to circulate but help retain some of the water content.
- Avoid bad apples and potatoes – bad apples and potatoes both release a gas that can increase the ripening process and therefore decrease the shelf life of your apples. Before storing, make sure none of your apples are bruised or damaged and keep them as far from potatoes as possible.
In addition to being hearty and versatile, recent scientific advances have shown that apples truly do help keep the doctor away. When consumed as part of a healthy diet, apples have been associated with improved cardiovascular health, blood sugar regulation, weight management, and even a reduced risk of certain types of cancer. While not the most impressive fruit in vitamin and mineral content, apples are a good source of fiber and have a high polyphenol content – both of which are thought to be primarily responsible for the health benefits of apples. To harness the nutrition in your apples, just remember a few rules:
- Keep the skin – the majority of polyphenols and fiber are found in the skin of apples. If a recipe calls for peeled apples, consider processing the skins in a blender and incorporating them back into the dish. Alternatively, apple skins can be repurposed in smoothies.
- Look for cloudy – the filtration process used to get clear apple juice removes a significant amount of fiber and polyphenol content. Buy cloudy apple juice for the most nutritious beverage possible.
- Eat them raw and cooked – both polyphenols and fiber in apples are surprisingly stable, even when baked, boiled, or otherwise cooked. No matter how you like to prepare your apples, they’re still likely to be a health powerhouse.
- Watch the sugar – many apple dishes are also high in sugar. Apples aren’t a magic bullet that can transform a sugary pie, smothered in ice cream and whipped cream, into a healthy dish. Watch your portions of sugary apple dishes and focus on eating those with no added sugar.
Enjoy your healthy and American fall apples!