We all know that apples come in a myriad of different types, from small, sweet-eating apples to juicy, tart-cooking apples. Occasionally you will come across an apple with a bitter flavor, but why is this?
Why would an apple taste bitter? Apples can taste bitter for one of two reasons. It may be that the apple is naturally bitter due to high levels of tannin, or that it has become bitter due to a disorder in the apple tree. Bitter apples are perfectly safe to eat, and peeling them is the best way to remove the bitter flavor.
If you’ve bought a bag of apples from the store that have a bitter taste, you might be wondering why this is and what to do with them! Let’s find out everything you need to know about bitter apples.
Why Are Some Apples Bitter?
There are two reasons why apples might be bitter. Some varieties of apples are naturally bitter; this is because the skin of the apple contains high levels of a substance called tannin.
Alternatively, your apples might be bitter because they have a condition called bitter pip.
All apples have tannin in them, but the amount varies according to the type of apple. Eating apples have the lowest levels of tannin, so you have probably never noticed this bitter flavor in your everyday fruit bowl apples.
Cooking apples have higher levels of tannin, but once they have been baked, stewed, or whatever else you want to do with them, the tannin taste will have disappeared.
Cooking apples also have lower levels of sugar that would normally disguise the tannins.
The apples with the highest levels of tannin of all are those used for brewing alcoholic beverages, such as cider.
Tannin is very useful when it comes to brewing, as it is a natural preservative that enables the cider to be stored and matured for longer. However, human tastebuds are very sensitive to bitter tannins, so it is important to get just the right balance!
So, what happens when an apple has a bitter pip? This disorder can affect any type of apple, whether it is intended for eating, cooking, or brewing.
It occurs because of low levels of calcium in the fruit, causing discoloration and changes to the flavor.
An apple with bitter pip will have small, sunken pits on the surface of the skin. The flesh under these pits will be dry and discolored.
In severe cases of bitter pit, the flesh inside the apple will turn brown and a distinctive bitter flavor will develop.
Often, an apple will not show signs of bitter pip until it has been stored for some time. This means that an apple can look and taste perfectly delicious when it is picked, and within a short space of time become bitter and unpalatable.
What Types of Apple Are Naturally Bitter?
Whether you are deliberately seeking a bitter apple or trying to avoid it at all costs, it helps if you know which apples are more likely to taste bitter.
When it comes to naturally occurring tannins, generally speaking, it is eating apples that are the least bitter. Cooking apples will have higher levels of tannins, and cider apples are the bitterest of all.
Here are the most popular varieties of eating apples, which are the least likely to have a bitter flavor:
- Fuji—this variety comes in a range of colors, with shades of yellow, green, and red. Fuji apples are high in natural sugars with low acidity.
- Ambrosia—the name of this apple translates to ‘food of the Gods’, and it is easy to see why! The Ambrosia apple has a sweet flavor with floral aromas and a hint of honey.
- Kiki—this is a crisp and juicy apple with high levels of naturally occurring sweetness. They are red-skinned and have light-colored stripes.
- Gala—a firm favorite around the world, the Gala is a variety of apples that you will find in nearly every grocery store. Sweet and juicy, these apples have a distinctive red and yellow striped appearance that matures to a deep red over time.
- Pink Lady—the skin of this deliciously sweet variety of apples is pink, hence the name. The Pink Lady apple does have a slight hint of tartness, but this is perfectly balanced and makes for a refreshing, juicy snack.
Cooking apples, with moderate levels of bitterness, include:
- Granny Smith—renowned around the world for its excellent cooking properties, the Granny Smith is one of the most well-known varieties of cooking apples. It is juicy and crisp and retains its shape well after baking.
- Bramley—this large, green apple has a tart, juicy flavor with a tiny hint of sweetness.
- Cox’s Orange Pippin—this is the quintessential English apple, grown for nearly two centuries in orchards and gardens. It has a slightly spicy flavor which comes through well when cooked.
And finally, these are all varieties of cider apple, that will have eye-watering levels of naturally occurring bitterness:
- Dabinett—this apple variety contains the perfect balance of sugars and tannins to produce a classic cider, without the need for blending with other types of apple.
- Kingston Black—cider makers love this variety for its perfect balance of acidity and tannins that create a full-bodied and flavorsome drink.
- Harry Master’s Jersey—another variety of apple that can be used alone to make delicious cider.
So, now we know which apples are likely to be sweet, and those that are so bitter they will make our mouths instantly dry. However, don’t forget that any type of apple can also turn bitter if the tree is suffering from bitter pip!
There are some varieties of apple tree that are much more susceptible to bitter pip, including:
- Bramley’s Seedling
- Cox’s Orange Pippin
- Egremont Russet
- Hamling’s Seedling
- Merton Worcester
- Newton Wonder
- Warner’s King
(Incidentally, is anyone else loving all these wonderful old-fashioned names for apple varieties?! We definitely are!)
Some varieties of apples appear to be unaffected by bitter pip, such as Jonagold and Gala apples.
Are Bitter Apples Safe to Eat?
Bitter apples are perfectly safe to eat, no matter what the cause of the bitterness is. Bitter pip is a disorder caused by a nutritional imbalance in the fruit, rather than any kind of disease.
Apples with naturally occurring bitterness are also safe to eat, although you might want to take some steps to reduce the bitter tang first!
If you’ve got some apples in storage that look like they are developing bitter pip, they should be consumed as soon as possible before they become inedible.
If you have a large number of apples, you can peel and cook the fruit to store in the freezer, ready for a quick apple dessert!
Best Ways to Eat Bitter Apples
For many varieties of apples with naturally occurring bitterness, this tangy flavor comes from the skin.
So, if you’ve bought a batch of apples that are bitter and unpalatable, try peeling them first. This may be just enough to transform them into a sweet and flavorsome fruit!
If peeling alone is not enough to make your bitter apples taste great, then you might need to try and disguise the bitter flavor.
The problem is that bitterness tends to overrule most other taste sensations, such as sweet flavors. However, some added sweetness might take the edge off the bitter flavor enough to make your apples good enough to eat.
If this doesn’t work, then you’ll need to find another way to deal with your batch of bitter apples. So, unless you fancy trying your hand at brewing cider, cooking with them may be the way to go!
How to Cook With Bitter Apples
Cooking with bitter apples does not necessarily remove the bitter flavor, but we can make it more subtle and help it to blend in with other taste sensations.
The first step is to remove the parts of the apple with the highest concentration of bitter flavor. This is the skin, pips, core, and stalk, so peeling and coring the apple will be a great start.
Next, we need to try and disguise the remaining bitterness in the apple. There are many ways to do this, and the method you choose will depend on the recipe you are cooking:
Using Fat to Disguise Bitter Apple Flavors
Fat is our number one weapon when it comes to masking bitter flavors! Think about how just a splash of cream or milk transforms a bitter coffee into a smooth and palatable drink—well, we can do the same to your bitter apples!
Depending on your recipe, you can add cream, milk, soft cheese, olive oil, or butter to hide the bitter flavor of your apples.
Use Sweet Flavors to Balance Bitter Apple
Sweet flavors will naturally cover bitterness, so if you’re using your bitter apples for a sweet dessert or dish then this method can definitely help.
You can use sweeteners such as sugar or honey, or mix the apples with sweeter fruits such as berries.
This is the basis of one of the most classic cooked apple dishes: the blackberry and apple pie!
Use Acid to Balance Out Bitterness
This might sound counterintuitive, but acids are actually very good at reducing the bitter flavor of foods. So, if you’re avoiding fats and sugars, add a splash of lemon juice to your bitter apple slices to see if it mellows out the flavor.
If you’re a fan of infused vinegar, then try combining raspberry vinegar with bitter apple slices for a true taste sensation!
Add Spice to Disguise Bitter Apple Flavors
Now that we’ve gone over all the different kinds of bitter apples, let’s take a look at a few related questions on the subject!
What’s the Difference Between Cooking Apples and Eating Apples?
If you’ve ever bitten into a raw cooking apple by mistake, you will quickly notice the difference from an eating apple!
Cooking apples contains much lower levels of naturally occurring sugar than eating apples and has a tart, almost sour taste.
However, it is not just the taste that is different when it comes to cooking vs eating apples.
The texture of cooking apples is generally much firmer and holds its shape well when cooked. When cooked, an eating apple will normally turn to mush!
Cooking apples are also prized for their ability to store well. A crate of cooking apples if stored correctly will be good to use for several months.
Can You Cook With Eating Apples?
If you can’t find cooking apples in your local store, you might be wondering if you can use eating apples instead. There is no reason why you can’t swap cooking for eating apples in your recipe, but you may need to make some slight adjustments.
Firstly, many cooking apple recipes call for added sugar to compensate for the tartness of the fruit. Eating apples are naturally much sweeter, and you will not need to add as much sugar if any at all!
Secondly, eating apples do not hold their shape as well when cooked. Whether this matters or not depends on your recipe. If you are making apple sauce, then you want soft, mushy apples anyway!
For recipes that are better with a firm textured apple, such as apple pie, slice your eating apples much thicker than you would an eating apple.
Can you Eat Cooking Apples Raw?
Theoretically, you can eat cooking apples raw, but most people wouldn’t want to!
Cooking apples have very low amounts of sugar, resulting in a very tart, sour taste. However, some people like to eat slices of raw cooking apple, as it is said to cleanse the palate.
If you only have cooking apples, there are ways to make them more palatable. Slice them thinly and sprinkle with sugar or a drizzle of honey to add sweetness.
Alternatively, mix finely chopped cooking apples with sweeter fruits such as grapes and melon for a refreshing take on the traditional fruit salad.
Why Does My Apple Taste Like Alcohol?
Did you know that an individual apple contains everything necessary to make alcohol? The naturally occurring juice and sugars within the fruit, combined with yeasts that colonize the skin, are the perfect blend for fermentation to occur!
This means that, in some instances, a whole apple will start to ferment, giving it a taste of alcohol.
It will not necessarily be very potent when it comes to alcohol levels, but if you are avoiding alcohol then it might be best to give this particular fruit a wide berth!
What Is the Best Way to Store Apples?
Whether you’ve bought a bag of apples from the store, or have been gifted a crate of homegrown apples from a neighbor, you will want to store them correctly to keep them fresh for as long as possible.
A small number of apples will stay crisp and fresh for several weeks if stored in a cool, dark place. If you have space, the crisper draw in the refrigerator is also a good option.
Place a damp kitchen towel under the apples to increase humidity, and store other fruits and vegetables separately.
If you’ve got a large apple harvest, they can be stored for several months in the right conditions. Place them in a single layer in a crate, tray, or drawer, ensuring that they are not touching each other.
Wrapping each apple in a piece of newspaper can also help to retain freshness, although this does mean they’ll take longer to inspect whenever you check for bad ones.
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