This factsheet has been developed to assist those interested in apples and their products. Scientific interest in apples has grown due to research into potential health benefits of the fruit and juice as well as the increasing number of individuals who are allergic to apple.
A History of Apples
Apples originated in the Middle East more than 4000 years ago; fruit have been grown in the UK as a cultivated crop since the Roman occupation. Specially cultivated apple varieties spread across Europe to France, arriving in England at around the time of the Norman Conquest in 1066; and the Crab-tree apple or the Wild Apple Tree (Pyrus malus) may be a descendant of these early varieties. The demise of rural areas and apple growing, commencing in the 13th Century with the Black Death, the War of the Roses and repeated droughts, was reversed by Henry VIII who instructed his fruiterer, Richard Harris, to establish the first large scale orchards at Teynham in Kent. Scouring the known world for the best fruit, the majority were pippin varieties or eating apples.
For the next 300 years most produce for the luxury market was sold in London. Old English, recorded in 1204, was the main dessert apple in England well into the 18th Century, being grown alongside its culinary counterpart Costard; the salesman for the crop being known as a costermonger. The Victorian explorers found new varieties from all over the world and brought them to Brogdale in Kent, which was developing its orchards and gardens.
The word ‘apple’ has many origins. The Latin for apple is Pomum but this word was also used in ancient days to describe all fruit before it progressed to Malum, literally translated into Greek meaning melon in the 4th Century. The sacred island mentioned in the tales of King Arthur, Avalon or Abalon, translates as “apple orchard”.
The Celtic word for apple, Abhall, persists in many place-names, and some towns and cities have particular associations with fruit trees; Norwich was described in Tudor times as ‘either a city in an orchard or an orchard in a city’ and in 1893 George Cadbury planted an apple tree in his workers gardens in Bournville.
Brogdale now houses the UK National Fruit Collection – more than 3500 varieties – with over 30 acres of orchards, and the largest collection of apple varieties in the world (more than 2300 dessert, culinary and cider). One of the earliest-flowering dessert apples at Brogdale is Vista, which is in bloom from early May; Idared, Discovery, Jonagold and Cox’s Orange Pippin follow in mid-May. The latest flowering varieties include Worcester Pearmain and Gala. The maturation dates for fruit span more than 100 days. Cox’s Orange Pippin accounts for over 50% of the UK acreage of dessert apples. It has an unknown parentage but is thought to be an 18th Century seedling, which originated in Colnbrook, Berkshire, related to Ribston Pippin, raised from seed by the brewer Richard Cox, at Knaresborough Hall in Yorkshire.
The Apple Market
The UK apple market is worth around £115 M (2007) but only 31% of the eating apples sold in the UK are home-grown. The UK is the only country that grows apples especially for cooking. As of 2007, Cox is the UK’s most popular apple, followed by Bramley. In total 147,698 tonnes of apples were produced in the UK with roughly 42% of them being Cox apples. Orchard land has decreased by roughly 31% between 2001 and 2007, but the quantity and value of the UK’s exports has increased by 57% and 21% respectively (1997-2007). Imports of apples to the UK have also risen by approximately 17% from 446,400 tonnes to 522,100 tonnes. 
In 2001 The Independent reported that Britain’s favourite apple was the Cox’s Orange Pippin, displacing the popular Braeburn. Other favourites include Royal Gala, Jonagold, Fiesta and the more acidic Granny Smith. However, only the Braeburn and the Cox’s Orange Pippinare grown in the UK, the next highest selling British apple is the Egremont Russett, which is favoured by older consumers.
Research in the 1990s at IFR showed that there was a market-gap for a UK-bred apple that would be more acidic than anything grown currently in the UK. The main need for growers is for fruit with extended storage seasons, although there is an interest in the possibility of apples as ‘functional foods’ – those containing elevated levels of health-protecting chemicals.
Apples in Science
Extended storage of apples is achieved by controlled atmosphere storage – a technique pioneered by IFR scientists; fruit is sealed in gas-proof refrigerated chambers maintained at the desired temperature with in-store concentrations of gases (oxygen, carbon dioxide and nitrogen) kept at specified levels.
Controlled Atmosphere storage reduces fruit respiration, delays ripening and minimises losses due to a variety of disorders and shrivelling. Early-ripening apples such as Discovery store less well than later-maturing varieties such as Granny Smith. Bramley apples can be kept ‘fresh’ virtually all year round using this technique. Modified Atmosphere Packaging, another technique developed by IFR scientists, uses permeable plastic films chosen to provide ideal gas concentrations around the fruits.
Fruit-breeders are still working to improve flavour, resistance to storage disorders, and ‘long storage’ characteristics in apples. To conform to EC grading criteria, apple growers have to produce fruit matching required standards of size, colour, shape, and freedom from skin blemishes but there are no criteria for ‘smell’ and ‘flavour’.
The amount of sugars and malic acid in each variety determines the balance of sweetness and tartness in the fruit; the more malic acid and fewer sugars present, the stronger the flavour and the greater the likelihood of the flavour being retained when the apple is cooked. Bramleyapples have a low sugar-acid ratio, giving a characteristic tangy flavour, which is strong enough to be retained during the cooking process.
Although acidity plays a part in the prevention of browning of cut fruit, it is mainly vitamin C in the lemon juice that many people squeeze over the fruit during preparation that acts as an antioxidant, slowing down the enzymic process that causes discolouration. The primary products of the oxidation of apple phenolic compounds are o-quinones, and the resulting colour of the cut fruit surface will depend on the type of phenol oxidised. Use of a short heat treatment (70-90°C) to inactivate the enzymes, or ultrafiltration to remove the o-quinone products, are two ways in which discolouration can be minimised in commercial products.
Research at IFR has shown how the texture of apples depends on the way the plant tissue ruptures when the flesh is broken by eating. This in turn is dependant on the chemistry of the cell walls of the fruit. The cell wall comprises the ‘dietary fibre’ component; tissues that rupture across the cell wall resulting in cell breakage are crunchy whilst soft, (mealy) apples rupture across the middle lamella resulting in cell separation.
One of the ways in which scientists can check quality in a batch of apples is to carry out instrumental tests. The Instron Universal Testing Machine applies a force to any food product, or a sample cut from it, and provides information about hardness and strength as indicators of texture. Scientists at IFR have used the Instron to measure the texture of many food products including dairy products, meat, biscuits, and fruit , and the method is routinely used by UK producers, wholesalers and retailers.
Eating varieties of apples contain up to 20% more dry matter than the Bramley, which means Bramley apples give a moist and airy ‘melt-in-the-mouth’ texture when cooked but cooked eating apples have a chewy, dissatisfying texture.
Apple aroma results from subtle blends of the 250 volatile esters, alcohols, aldehydes and essential oils present in the fruit whilst the colour of the pulp comes from traces of chemicals such as chlorophyll, carotenoids and anthocyanins.
Apples contain dietary fibre in their skins and core. About 10% of an apple is made up of carbohydrate and 4% of an apple is made up from a variety of vitamins and minerals. The rest of the apple, more than 80%, is water. A medium-sized eating apple contains about 40 calories; one Kilogram (2.2 lb) of fresh apples provides approximately 2100kJ (500 kcal) of energy. Excluding the peel and core of apples from the diet halves the amount of vitamin C and dietary fibre consumed but makes very little difference to the sugar intake.
Washing the skin to remove any contaminants is advisable. Apple pips taste a little bitter, like almonds, and contain traces of cyanide but not enough to be harmful!
Fruit and vegetables are an important part of a balanced diet. Health advisory organisations recommend we eat at least five portions of fruit and vegetables a day to help reduce cancer risks and improve heart health, and one medium-sized apple constitutes a portion. Apples are a good ‘snack’ food and are easy to eat fresh. From food intake questionnaires returned to the IFR we know that women in Norfolk, between the ages of 24-34, eat most apples – with an average of one per day. Young adult men, on the other hand, eat very few apples. Figures for older adults vary between 4-6 apples a week, with little difference between men and women.
Apples and Health
Research before 2008 suggested that the role of flavonoids, the largest class of polyphenols, on human health was inconclusive largely because of a lack of evidence from epidemiological studies. However, a paper published in 2008 by Tribolo et al stated that low doses of flavonoid in the diet lowers the risk of heart disease and subsequent studies have focused on the main flavonoid found in apples, onions and red wine, namely quercetin. Consuming quercetin-rich foods, including apple peel, may help prevent chronic inflammation, which could lead to cardiovascular disease, by the action of quercetin on the cells lining the blood vessels.
Apples, eaten raw with the skin, contain the vitamins C and E and also the compound beta- carotene, which contributes to the colour of the apple skin. These compounds are also found in other citrus fruits such as lemons and oranges. A study conducted in 2000 by Butland et al. showed there was a positive correlation between lung function and the number of apples eaten per week. Eating five or more apples a week was linked to better lung function, but the paper also suggested that the number of apples consumed may simply reflect a healthier lifestyle.
Some research suggests that quercetin can protect the lungs from atmospheric pollutants such as cigarette smoke by reducing the number of harmful free radicals found in such chemicals that can damage the exposed inside tissue. Researchers in Australia also showed apple consumption may have a role in lowering the risk of asthma in young adults (28- 42 years of age).
It has been suggested by Tchantchou et al. (2005) that mice fed concentrated apple juice (equivalent of 2-3 cups of apple juice per day) performed better when placed in a maze and their brains had less oxidative damage. This could be due to the number and amount of antioxidants found in apple juice, preventing oxidative damage caused by free radicals. The oxidative stress was also reduced in mice that had a poor diet but were still fed the apple juice. In humans, higher intake of vegetables and fruit, such as apples, has been shown to reduce the risk of degenerate conditions such as Alzheimer’s.
There are two types of apple allergy. People with an allergy to birch pollen can be allergic to apple as well as other fruits and vegetables. Symptoms occur 5-15 minutes after eating raw apple and include itching and inflammatory of the mouth, tongue and throat. The allergen causing this response does not survive cooking or pasteurisation, which means some allergic people can drink pasteurised fruit juices and cooked apple dishes such as apple crumble.
Not all allergic reactions to apples are associated with allergy to birch pollen. The second type of allergy to apples and other fruits and vegetables, especially peaches, can be more severe and symptoms may also include abdominal pain and vomiting, asthma and a rash. The allergen survives pasteurisation and cooking, and individuals react to purees, nectars and juices, and must avoid all products containing apples including non-food products such as soap, shower gels and shampoos.
The amount of allergen found in apples can vary between varieties, the degree of maturity of the fruit and storage conditions. Allergen levels are highest in apples that have been freshly harvested unless associated with birch pollen in which case allergen levels increase with duration of storage.
Birch-pollen-related apple allergy is most frequently found in adolescent or adult females in Mediterranean areas such as Spain, Italy and Israel where around 5% of people are allergic.
We eat apples in many forms other than the raw fruit including juice. Premium juice with the distinct flavour of English apples is processed as little as possible after the apples have been pressed. The juice is flash-pasteurised, which means it is heated to between 71 and 74 °C for about 15-30 seconds. This kills spoilage micro-organisms making the product safer and giving it a longer shelf-life (up to two years). Pasteurisation also maintains colour and flavour of the juice; if unpasteurised the juice may ferment to produce cider.
Apple juice is a mixture of sugars (primarily fructose, glucose and sucrose), oligosaccharides and polysaccharides (e.g. starch) together with malic, quinic and citromalic acids, tannins (i.e. polyphenols), amides and other nitrogenous compounds, soluble pectin, vitamin C, minerals and the diverse range of esters (e.g. ethyl-methyl-butyrate and iso-butyl acetate), which give the juice a typical apple-like aroma. The relative proportions depend on the apple cultivar, growing conditions, maturity of fruit at the time of pressing, physical and biological damage (e.g. mould and other rots), and, to a lesser extent, the efficiency with which the juice was pressed from the fruit. Apple juice is versatile in cooking; it can form the basis of syrup or it can be added to a sauce. It can also be used instead of apple purée for mousses, ices and jellies.
Cider is manufactured from cider apple varieties. These are harvested and pressed, and yeast, malic acid and sugar added to juice to create the right environment for fermentation to occur. Fermentation is carried out at low temperatures (4-16°C) to slow the process down, and allow the cider to keep its aroma. Before the fermentation process consumes all the sugar, the cider is removed or ‘racked’ to a new vat. Dead yeast and undesired products are left in the old vat for disposal. The more a cider is ‘racked’ the less cloudy the final product is, and often extra sugar is added to the maturing product to prevent carbonation occurring. Cider can be drunk after three months of fermentation but it is more commonly left in a sealed vat for up to three years.
Some varieties of apple, often with higher acid and tannin contents than dessert apples, are grown especially for hard cider production. Traditional varieties include Dabinett or Michelin. The fermentation of apple juice to produce an alcoholic beverage dates back at least 2000 years, and cider is recorded as a common drink during the Roman invasion of England in 55 BC. In the 4th Century, St Jerome used the termsicera to describe drinks made from apples; this may be the word from which ‘cider’ is derived.
Significant commercial cider production began in the UK in the late 19th Century. As of 2008, there are 5000 hectares set aside for growing cider apples; the industry valued at £4.5 billion per year.
Cider can be obtained on draft (both keg and cask-conditioned) or pre-packaged in glass or polyethylenetetraphlate bottles and in cans. Products range in alcoholic strength from less than 0.5% to 8.5% ABV, often higher in English ciders, and in sweetness from very dry to sweet. Appearance is classified from ‘white’ (i.e. decolourised) to ‘black’ (a blend of cider from fermented, malted barley). Cider may be made from a single apple cultivar (e.g. Kingston Black) or mixed, but those made from a single variety from one crop may be sold as a defined year vintage like wine.
When tasting cider, Bulmers™ recommends a cider with a clean, fruity nose. The tannins (plant polyphenols) should leave a slightly sharp or bitter taste on the gums and cheeks but the taste should be clean and appley with no unpleasant after-taste. If very acidic the cider may catch sharply at the back of the throat.
Apples can also be dried, preserved as apple jam, cooked down in sweet and savoury dishes or made into compote.
- Amoit-Carlin, M.J. et al (2007) Flavonoids in Food and Wine, Proceedings of the 1st International Symposium on Human Health Effects of Fruits and Vegetables, Acta Horticulturae, Issue 744, Pages 107-116.
- Butland, B.K. et al (2000), Diet, Lung Function, and Lung Function Decline in a Cohort of 2512 Middle Aged Men, Thorax, Vol. 55, Issue 2, Pages 102-108
- Dai, Q. et al (2006) Fruit and Vegetable Juices and Alzheimer’s Disease: The Kame Project, The American Journal of Medicine, Vol.119, Issue 9, Pages 751- 759.
- Jarvis, B. et al (1995) Factors Affecting the Development of Cider Flavour, Journal of Applied Bacteriology Symposium Supplement, Vol. 79, Pages 5S-18S
- Shoji, T. et al (2005) Procyanidin Trimers to Pentamers Fractionated from Apple Inhibit Melanogenesis in b16 Mouse Melanoma Cells, Journal of Agricultural Food Chemistry, Vol. 53, Issue 15, Pages 6105-11.
- Tchantchou, F. et al (2005), Apple Juice Concentrate Prevents Oxidative Damage and Impaired Maze Performance in Aged Mice, Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease, Vol 8, Issue 3, Pages 283-287.
- Tribolo, S. et al, (2008) Comparative Effects of Quercetin and its Predominant Human Metabolites on Adhesion Molecule Expression in Activated Human Vascular Endothelial cells, Atherosclerosis, Vol. 197, Issue 1, Pages 50-56.
- Wach, A. et al (2007), Quercetin content in some food and herbal samples, Food Chemistry, Vol. 100 , Issue 2, Pages 699-704.
- Woods, R.K. et al (2003) Food and Nutrient Intakes and Asthma Risk in Young Adults, American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Vol. 78, Issue 3, Pages 414-421.
Apple Games And Customs Common Ground, London ISBN 1-870364-12-0 BAKER H A (1991)
“This book will help you sip from a huge wassail bowl of games, customs, sayings and stories which remind us of the importance and meaning which the apple has in our culture.
The Apple Source Book Common Ground, London ISBN 1-870364-10-4
“Recipes from 52 chefs, food writers and gardeners are complemented by information about apple identification, orchards, wild life, specialist nurseries, suppliers of fruit, blossom routes, Community Orchards as well as ideas for Apple Day, wassailing, juice pressing, cider making and a 40 page county by county gazetteer of where varieties originated”
The Book of Apples MORGAN J & RICHARDS A (1993) Ebury Press
“A comprehensive single resource for the history of apples.”
Encyclopaedia Of Food Science, Food Technology & Nutrition MACRAE R, ROBINSON R K & SADLER M J (2005) Academic Press
“EFST concentrates more on the processing technology and engineering of food”
The Common Ground Book of Orchards Common Ground ISBN 1-870364-21-X
“[this book] explores how orchards continue to shape local culture from custom to kitchen and urges [individuals] to value old orchards of tall trees for their delicate ecology and local distinctiveness”
Bramley Apples – www.bramleyapples.co.uk
A cookery website containing recipes, the history of this cooking apple and its health properties.
Brogdale Collections – www.brogdalecollections.co.uk
The website of Brogdale Farm; home to the national fruit collection with information about visits, festivals and recipies.
Common Ground – www.commonground.org.uk
Charity working to encourage people to value and enjoy their own familiar surroundings. Orchards Campaign is part of the Local Distinctiveness Campaign. Common Ground publishes books and leaflets about apples and co-ordinates National Apple Day in October.
Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs – www.defra.gov.uk
This website gives information and statistics on the apple market in the UK, including imports, exports and market value.
East of England Apples and Orchards Project – www.applesandorchards.org.uk
The East of England Apples & Orchards Project aims to enthuse, inspire and inform the public about the rich heritage of orchards and orchard fruit which is unique to the east of England. It is working to ensure a long-term future for these local orchard fruit varities and their orchrd habitat.
English Apples and Pears – www.englishapplesandpears.co.uk
Represents and promotes the apple and pear industry in England.
ENZA Foods – http://www.enzafoods.co.nz/latest/
A New Zealand-based company supplying apple concentrate and apple ingredients for the international food and beverage industry, some information on the health benefits of apples.
Internet Symposium on Food Allergens – www.food-allergens.de/symposium-vol1(3)/data/apple/apple-abstract.htm or www.food-allergens.de/
An allergen database containing the science and symptoms behind the different apple based allergies.
John Innes Centre – Apple Breeding – www.jic.ac.uk/corporate/media-and-public/current-releases/081021Apples.htm
Information on apple breeding was carried out from 1948 to the 1970’s, an institute of the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council.
Natural Hub – www.naturalhub.com/grow_fruit_cultivars_apple.htm
A webpage database of different varieties of apple and where in the world they are grown, it also has descriptions of the different varieties and some information on the taste of the apple.
Orange Pippin – www.orangepippin.com
Website which describes the flavours of apples and the origins of different apple varieties.
Stanford Medicine – Cancer Centre – https://stanfordhealthcare.org/medical-clinics/cancer-nutrition-services/reducing-cancer-risk.html
A website with information on the different compounds found in foods such as apples that could help prevent cancer.
The World’s Healthiest Foods – http://whfoods.org/genpage.php?tname=foodspice&dbid=15#descr
A website run by the George Mateljan Foundation to promote healthy foods and healthy eating. A fact page with information on nutritional information to recipes.
Tullen’s Fruit Farm – www.tullens.co.uk/Apples.htm
An English orchard business with information on some of the more traditional varieties that are still grown in the UK.
University of Illinois – http://urbanext.illinois.edu/apples/
A website set up to encourage apple growing and consumption. It cointains information on varieties, nutrition and uses for apples.
Wikipedia – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Apple#cite_note-book7-13
A large database of information concerning apples and apple products; however caution should be exercised when using this website as a reference as any person can edit the contents.
Further Information and Addresses
Acknowledgements and thanks are due to a number of organisations for their assistance in compiling this handout. Their names, and further reading ideas, are given below:-
52A Cromwell Road, London, SW7 5BE
Tel: 020 7052 8951
Fax: 020 7052 8889
Brogdale Farm, Brogdale Road, Faversham, Kent ME13 8XZ
Tel: 01795 536250 Email: email@example.com
Open winter(November – Easter): 10.00am to 4.30pm
summer(Easter – End of October): 10.00am to 5.00pm 7 Days a week (Closed over Christmas & New Year period)
Programme of special events covers exhibitions, demonstrations, talks, day schools and workshops. Organised groups, schools and tour parties by appointment.
Gold Hill House, 21 High Street, Shaftesbury, Dorset SP7 8JE
Tel. 01747 850820
English Apples & Pears Limited
Bradbourne House, East Malling, West Malling, Kent, ME19 6DZ or Forest Lodge, Bulls Hill, Walford, Ross-On-Wye, Herefordshire, HR9 5RH
Represents the industry and promotes English Apples and Pears
Tel. 01732 529781
 http://www.independent.co.uk/environment/coxs-is-top-of-the-pips-as-the-nations-favourite-apple-621573.html (no longer available)
 M. J Amoit-Carlin et al (2007) Flavonoids in Food and Wine, Proceedings of the 1st International Symposium on Human Health Effects of Fruits and Vegetables, Acta Horticulturae, Issue 744, Pages 107-116.
 Tribolo, S. et al, (2008) Comparative effects of quercetin and its predominant human metabolites on adhesion molecule expression in activated human vascular endothelial cells, Atherosclerosis, Vol. 197, Issue 1, Pages 50-56.
 Wach, A. et al (2007), Quercetin content in some food and herbal samples, Food Chemistry, Vol. 100 , Issue 2, Pages 699-704.
 B. K Butland et al (2000), Diet, Lung Function, and Lung Function Decline in a Cohort or 2512 Middle Aged Men, Thorax, Vol. 55, Issue 2, Pages 102-108.
 R.K Woods et al (2003) Food and Nutrient Intakes and Asthma Risk in Young Adults, American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Vol. 78, Issue 3, Pages 414-421.
 F. Tchantchou et al (2005), Apple Juice Concentrate Prevents Oxidative Damage and Impaired Maze Performance in Aged Mice, Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease, Vol 8, Issue 3, Pages 283-287.
 Q. Dai et al (2006) Fruit and Vegetable Juices and Alzheimer’s Disease: The Kame Project, The American Journal of Medicine, Vol. 119, Issue 9, Pages 751- 759.
 http://sciencesearch.defra.gov.uk/Default.aspx : Development of a molecular map for top fruit rootstocks and extension of the portfolio of markers to include cider traits
Updated June 2017