People are always asking us “What variety tastes best?”  “Which is the sweetest?”   Not only are they impossible-to-answer questions since there are over 7,000 varieties, but everyone likes something different. Some like sweet, some tart, some a combo, some a mellow flavor and some a sharp flavor…you get the idea. Now consider the flavor can change with amount of water, soil chemistry, sunlight and innumerable other growth factors.  Your apples from the same tree may change flavor from year to year based on environmental factors. Also many varieties were developed for a certain region or locale and may not taste the same here as if it were grown in New York.  Apples can change and improve taste after picking, some are recommended to wait 2-4 weeks in cold storage before eating. As you can see this really is an impossible task so we decided to jump in and give it a shot anyway. 

 This long awaited review of apple flavors is coming in now.  We started with 5 different varieties and 10 testers. They graded on appearance, tart/sweet, crispness strength of flavor and uniqueness of flavor.  2 of the testers were gourmets and/or gastronomes that also paired their tasting with wine and cheeses to give that perspective. The apple varieties were Gala, HoneyCrisp, Zestar!, Scarlett O’Hara and Jonagold. All of which would be considered a dessert or fresh eating apple, not a baking or sauce apple.

The tasting panels were one group of 3 adults who literally went from tree to tree picking , tasting and comparing while taking notes. The next group was a family of 2 adults and 3 children that all sat down and graded together as a project. Then of course the gourmets weighed in with their results also adding a rating with cheese and a rating with Merlot and Chardonnay. (it is possible some of their later scores may be suspect, depending on the amount of wine consumed!)  Just kidding, they spent 2 evenings on it. Each group only had 1 apple per variety so they were tasting the same thing and not thrown a curve by ripe versus under-ripe tasting.

 By doing this survey we may have learned more about people than about the apples.  The following are generalities we learned:

  1. Women grade harder on appearance, preferring a med to med-lg size and very smooth surface. The more solid red, the better.
  2. Men prefer and grade better the larger sizes and like red over yellow blush.
  3. Kids like a sweeter apple, the less tart or subacid the better.
  4. The older our group got, the stronger flavors were preferred.
  5. Juicier types are preferred even if not as flavorful.
  6. The crisper the apple the better at any age!
  7. All apples were rated better for taste than would be found at the store normally.
  8. Sweet apples were preferred for sweet wines. Or maybe the taster preferred sweet and chose both wine and apples that way
  9. Dry merlot preferred the acid tang in an apple and to balance the cheese

 So here we go!    

#5 Zestar! A good looking red over yellow, possibly picked a little early might account for it not winning (it was my pre-taste guess as #1)

#4 Jonagold  A large apple that turns from green to yellow when ripe, not mealy or mushy, just not as crisp, more subtle and complex flavors with a hint of vanilla

#3  Scarlett O’Hara A med-med large great strong flavor, storage would mellow a little and improve it. More on the sweet side with a subacid balance

#2 Honeycrisp – Everything it is supposed to be, unbelievably productive, much thinning needed, large size. Very sweet just a hint of tart.

#1 Gala – This screams APPLE!!!! With sharp sweet and subacid in perfect balance, very hard to stop eating, medium lunchbox size.

Again grocery store apples cannot compete with natural sun-ripened ones picked at their height. There wasn’t any of these that our testers didn’t like, just to different and varying degrees of preference. The variety of subtle flavors, hints of spices and other fruits is just amazing.  Trying them one next to another gives you a whole new appreciation and perspective.   An apple is an apple? Definitely not!