If you’re planning a trip to the mountains this month, be sure to pick up some fresh North Carolina apples. Apples are delicious, easy to carry for snacking, low in calories and they are still very inexpensive.
Apples are a source of both soluble and insoluble fiber. Soluble fiber such as pectin actually helps to prevent cholesterol buildup in the lining of blood vessel walls, thus reducing the incident of atherosclerosis and heart disease. The insoluble fiber in apples provides bulk in the intestinal tract, holding water to cleanse and move food quickly through the digestive system.
It is a good idea to eat apples with their skin. Almost half of the vitamin C content is just underneath the skin. Eating the skin also increases insoluble fiber content. Most of an apple’s fragrance cells are also concentrated in the skin and as they ripen, the skin cells develop more aroma and flavor.
When selecting apples, look for fruit that is well colored for its variety. The outer red color is not as important as the background color, which is the best visual indicator of ripeness. The background color (the area not covered by red pigment on red varieties) should be greenish yellow, indicating that the apple was picked at full maturity. Apples with a dark green background color may have been picked before they were fully ripe, and will not be as flavorful. Yellow apples have no red pigment covering their background color, so maturity is easier to judge.
Apples with holes or bruises should be avoided or used first, since they will not store as well. Surface blemishes that don’t penetrate the skin have very little influence on fruit quality or storage life. Although apples are fairly durable fruits, take care to avoid bruising them.
The storage life of apples is mainly influenced by temperature and humidity. Apples will store the longest and retain best quality, when kept close to 32ºF. The best place to store apples is usually in a refrigerator. Warmer temperatures always shorten the storage life of apples. Apples stored near 32ºF will last about 8 to 10 times longer than apples stored at room temperature.
Humidity helps reduce the shriveling of apples in storage. If the storage environment is low in humidity, as most refrigerators are, the fruit should be stored in a perforated plastic bag or a covered container.
Although apples may be displayed in a fruit bowl at room temperature for a short period, these conditions will drastically reduce their usable life.
Nutritive value of apples
Apples can play an important role in home cooking and nutrition. An average size apple contains about 90 calories, and small amounts of vitamin A, vitamin C, thiamine, riboflavin, calcium, phosphorus, and potassium. Pectin and fiber aid intestinal activity.
Apples are thirst quenching because they contain about 85% water. They are a perfect snack food because their natural sugars provide quick energy, while the bulky pulp makes you feel full.
While there are over 2,500 varieties of apples grown in the United States, the most common varieties determined to be the best for eating fresh, baking and making applesauce include:
Eating fresh: Fuji, Cameo, Winesap, Gala, Honey Crisp, Jonagold, Granny Smith, Golden Delicious and Red Delicious
Baking pies: Jonagold, Granny Smith, Jonathan, Rome and Golden Delicious
Making applesauce: Jonathan, Gala, Granny Smith, Rome and Golden Delicious
Sources: Minnesota Cooperative Extension, Colorado Cooperative Extension, Illinois Cooperative Extension
Three-Grain Apple Muffins
Makes 12 muffins
1 cup bran flake cereal
1 cup rolled oats (uncooked oatmeal)
1 cup whole wheat flour
1 Tablespoon baking powder
3/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1 cup skim milk
3 Tablespoons maple syrup
1/4 cup sugar
1 Tablespoon oil
1 cup unsweetened applesauce
1 1/2 cups chopped apple
Directions: Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.; oil muffin tins or line them with paper.; combine cereal, oatmeal, flour, baking powder, and spices in a large bowl.; mix remaining ingredients in separate bowl and add to cereal mixture; stir just until moist.; divide batter evenly among muffin tins.; bake 20 to 25 minutes (until lightly browned).
Sandra R. Cain is the Bladen County Extension director. She can be reached by email at [email protected] or by calling 910-862-4591.