The apple tree is a member of the Rosaceae family belonging to the genus Malus. It is related to almonds, pears, and apricots. The tree can reach heights of six to fifteen feet, depending on soil, weather conditions, and the variety. Flowers of the apple tree are pink-white in colour and have five petals. It is among the most commonly cultivated fruit trees on the planet, with over 7,500 recognised cultivars.
It is believed that apple trees originated in Asia where its distant relative Malus sieversii can still be found growing in the wild. Apples are referred to in mythology and associated with many cultures including Greek, Roman, Norse, Muslim, and Christian folklore. According to Norse mythology, magic apples keep people young forever. The story of Adam and Eve in the Bible is often associated with apples, even though apples are never specifically mentioned. Pomona, a Roman goddess, tended her orchards and presented gifts of apples to her favourite subjects as a reward for flattering acts. In more recent history, Isaac Newton came up with the law of gravity after seeing an apple drop from a tree.
Different varieties of apples are bred for varying purposes. These include cooking, eating fresh, and for the production of cider and vinegar. Wild apples can be grown easily from seeds, but domestic varieties are usually propagated by grafting. In 2010, the apple genome was decoded, allowing for an enhanced understanding of how to control pest problems and selectively breed apples.
China is the largest grower of apples, producing more than thirty million tonnes in 2010. United States is the second largest apple producer adding over 6% to the world’s production. Other major apple producers include Turkey, Italy, India, and Poland. There are many health benefits associated with the consumption of apples. They are sometimes labelled “nature’s toothbrush” due to the belief that they clean teeth and help in massaging gums.
History of Apples
Theory has it that apples originated in central and southern part of China, as this area is home to the Malus species. Over the course of time, seeds were spread by birds in the entire Northern Hemisphere. Crab apples arose from these, bitter-fruiting varieties. It is also believed that the edible apple (Malus domestica) is a complicated hybrid arising out of the wild, primitive apple species.
Around 2500 BCE, apple cultivation was common in Persia and northern Mesopotamia. The apple trees not only provided culinary delights but were also admired for their ornamental beauty in the gardens of Persia. Wealthy citizens of ancient Rome and Greece enjoyed apples as a dessert andforuse at banquets. With advanced horticultural knowledge, the Greeks understood grafting techniques and were able to propagate special varieties in their orchards. Theophrastus, a Greek writer, noted “Seedlings of . . . apples produce an inferior kind which is acid instead of sweet . . . and this is why men graft.” The Roman writer, Pliny, detailed more than twenty varieties in his journal, Natural History. As the Roman Empire expanded, apple orchards were established throughout Europe and Britain.
In North America, apple orchards constituted an important portion of farms in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. They were cultivated mainly for the production of hard cider, which at that time was the drink of choice seeing as water was not considered safe to drink. The whole family enjoyed apple cider, and any surplus was used as barter for goods or services needed.
Health Benefits of Apples
Consumption of apples is associated with numerous health benefits, among them being the prevention of cancer and heart disease, sugar control, lowering of cholesterol, protection against inflammation, and assist in weight loss. The flavonoid phloridzin is only found in apples and is said to protect against osteoporosis in post-menopausal women and enhance bone density. Boron is another element found in apples which promotes bone strength. The phytonutrient quercetin, also found in apples, offers protection against Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s diseases. Other phytonutrients found in apples include phenolic acids which protect the apples from attacks by fungus, bacteria and viruses, as well as providing anti-oxidant and anti-cancer benefits.
Anti-oxidant protection is important to human health because the free radicals produced in the human body are atoms with odd number of electrons. Electrons prefer to travel in pairs, so the odd numbered free radicals are on the look-out for electrons from cells within the body. When an free radicals takes electrons from a cell in the body, it changes the cell, and instead of having a permeable membrane that allows passage of food, oxygen and waste, the cell becomes rigid and starves to death. If the free radicals steal electrons from the cell’s mitochondria, it shuts them down and again the cell dies. Cell death occurring in this way leads to aging and illnesses.
Apples also have pectin, the material responsible for allowing jelly to solidify. Pectin helps to decrease LDL, the bad cholesterol in the body, thus helpingto prevent heart diseases. The high fibre content in apples stops the absorption of LDL in the colon. The dietary fibre gives a feeling of being full for longer durations, which helps dieters lose weight faster, and it helps diabetics to keep blood sugar levels stable. It is also believed that flavonoids such as quercetin and Naringin are found in apples, and these may be responsible for halting lung and breast cancers.
Nutritional Value of Apples
Apples are a favourite fruit for health and fitness conscious individuals. A rich source of antioxidants and phytonutrients, apples are a ‘must eat' for optimal health. A medium sized apple, roughly three inches in diameter, has 95 calories. It also contains 4.4 grams of dietary fibre, which makes up 18% of daily recommended intake for women and 12% for men. It also provides 21 grams of carbohydrates, which aid in metabolising fats and enables the nervous system to work at optimal levels.
About 10% of an apple is made up of carbohydrates while another 4% constitutes vitamins and minerals. Over 80% of the fruit is water. Apples float because they have a lot of air trapped in them. Removing the apple peel and core eliminates half of the vitamin C and dietary fibre. The apple pips have a bitter taste and contain traces of cyanide, but not enough to cause any harm. However, if you are juicing a lot of apples for young children, I do recommend you core the apples first.
Apples have a large variety of vitamins including folates, niacin, pantothenic acid, pyridoxine, riboflavin, thiamin, vitamins A, C, E and K. Electrolytes found in apples include sodium and potassium while the minerals include calcium, iron, magnesium phosphorus, and zinc. Phyto-nutrients carotene-B, Cryptoxanthin-B, and Lutein-zeaxanthin also make up part of an apple’s nutritional profile.
How to Use Apples
There are numerous ways to enjoy apples, starting with the old fashioned approach of just biting into a whole apple and working around the core.
Applesauce topped with cinnamon is one way to get all the nutrients apples have to offer, andwhether one buys the grocery store variety or prepares it at home, it tastes great either way.
In addition to apple juice, apple cider is a traditional drink served in the holiday season at Thanksgiving and Christmas time.
Apple juice served hot or cold, mulled or spiced, is one of the best ways for young and old alike to drink the juice of apples. Apple cider can be used instead for those who savour something a little stronger. The varieties of apples that have a higher tannin and acid content are especially grown for cider production.
Apples make great additions to certain types of salads. They complement a wide variety of ingredients like pecans, walnuts, cheddar and gorgonzola cheese, as well as citrus and poppy seed vinaigrette. Apples can be preserved as jams, turned into a jelly, dried or cooked in sweet and savoury dishes, and made into a pies or compotes.
To keep apples from turning brown in salads, lightly brush cut slices with lemon juice.
To stop whole peeled apples from becoming discoloured, add some peeled slices to cold water with a little salt added to it, and then place the whole peeled apples in the water.
Discolouration from aluminium utensils can be eliminated by boiling apple peels with the utensils in a large pot for a few minutes.
Clinical Trials with Apples:
Because apples have been enjoyed the world over since ancient times, there are obviously plenty of health benefits associated with them.Many studies have been carried out over the years to test these claims. According to one paper published in 2008, flavonoids in a diet reduce the risk of heart disease. Other studies concluded that consuming quercetin, a flavonoid found in ample supply in apple peels, can aid in eliminating chronic inflammation which contributes to cardiovascular disease.
In a separate study, it was suggested that quercetin provided protection against such atmospheric pollutants like cigarette smoke. This is achieved by cutting down on the number of free radicals that are exposed in tissue. Australian researchers found that consuming apples can lower the risk of asthma in people in their late twenties to early forties. Another study carried out in 2000 by Butland et. al. found that there was a definite link between lung function and the quantity of apples consumed in a week. Consumption of five or more apples a week showed a better overall lung function.
Apple juice plays a positive role in memory. It was found that mice consuming two to three cups of apple juice performed better in a maze with less oxidative brain damage. It is thought that this is due to the large number and quantities of antioxidants available in apple juice, which prevents damage caused by free radicals. In humans, fruits like apples have been linked with a reduction in degenerate conditions like Alzheimer’s.
See our Versatile Apple Juice recipe.