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August 06, 2005

Elegy for the Red Delicious apple


Like BattlePanda, I have fond memories of the Red Delicious apple:

Believe it or not, I remember the days back when the Red Delicious was me and my Grandma's favorite apple. They were marketed as "five clawed" apples in Asia because of the prominent bumps on their blossom end. The sticker proclaiming that the fruit came all the way from Washington made it seem so exotic. My grandma would take off all the gross red peel and divide the fruit up into little slices. Unlike other apples, they were perfumed, sweet and devoid of tartness, a little pulpy rather than crunchy.

The Red Delicious I remember were dense to the point of being crunchy. They weren't crisp like Granny Smiths, but they were firmer and snappier than the Macintosh apples.

Red Delicious have been getting worse for years. At first, I attributed the apparent decline to the increasing distance between me and the Pacific Northwest. I figured that those nasty greyish red apples in the East Coast supermarkets were a perversion. If anyone said anything against the RD, I'd get in their face about it. Anyone who said that Red Delicious were inherently waxy on the outside and soupy-mealy in the center was just culturally deprived. They'd obvious never had a real Red Delicious. If only they could sample the pure local Red Delicious, then they'd understand. One taste, and they'd never go back to those effete Fujis and Galas.

Now my worst suspicions have been confirmed. The free market killed the 125-year-old Red Delicious:

Who's to blame for the decline of Red Delicious? Everyone, it seems. Consumers were drawn to the eye candy of brilliantly red apples, so supermarket chains paid more for them. Thus, breeders and nurseries patented and propagated the most rubied mutations, or "sports," that they could find, and growers bought them by the millions, knowing that these thick-skinned wonders also would store for ages.

"Did they do it because it has less flavor? Obviously not," said Eugene M. Kupferman, a post-harvest specialist at Washington State University's tree fruit research center in Wenatchee, Wash. "They did it because it has better legs and they are getting more money for it." [WaPo]

Hat tip to Ann Althouse.


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Moral of the story: Don't eat those nasty corporate apples from the supermarket. Stop at your local roadside farm market and buy them right from the grower. Or go to a good health food store and buy the quality apples that they offer.

The Red Delicious I buy here in Monterey are crunchy and sweet. I buy organic apples because apples are one of the fruits & vegetables where organic makes a real difference. Also, Red Delicious apples have more antioxidants than other apples, though those are concentrated in the peel (another reason to buy organic).

Mmm, come to New Zealand & buy your Reds at the Farmer's Market. Yum. But you can also choose from the other 12 varieties available...

I live in New Jersey, a LONG way from Washington State. We too go organic. We get outstanding organic apples here, even at the big chain supermarkets. This time of year is esp. good. A simple pleasure, indeed.

Same thing they did to tomatoes.

University of California, Davis, has been hybridizing tomatoes for the color (admittedly, a gorgeous red, but long before it is ripe), shape (squarish, the better to put more of them into a shipping box), toughness of skin, (tough enough to crack a chipmunk's incisors), and density (more fiber, less seed and juice.

They sell 'em in the stores on those little pale green pasteboard trays. The trays taste better than the fruit.

I just picked a nice heirloom tomato from my Wisconsin garden--it's purple. I ate the whole think like an apple,(an old fashioned RD), salt shaker in my left hand, juice running off my chin.

There is a spot in the fifth ring of the inferno for those who trade the real stuff for "better legs".

And don't get me started on Irish Setters. Color and conformation were traded for brains. They are gorgeous and stupid.

I believe those nasty mealy shiny apples are not really "red delicious" in the sense of being genetically the same as the reds you remember. There was a great book about ten years ago on this topic, called -- wait, yeah, here it is -->Can You Trust a Tomato in January, in which the author discusses the century-long process by which the (previously) hundreds of varieties of tasty apples available across the country were whittled down to the three or four bland but more or less indestructible changelings we now see everywhere on earth. These are the varieties that (1) can survive machine picking, (2) survive long rides in trucks and ships to distant shores and (3) look really pretty in those fruit pyramids (c.f. apples that taste good, which these don't).

I find it interesting that capitalism has brought us many of the crappier aspects of Oceana (from 1984). But instead of the government shoving tasteless, overprocessed food and second-rate produce at us, consumers are demanding it. The good stuff is still available, but only to the select few who can afford to do their shopping at Whole Paycheck.

It's gotten to the point that I can't browse the supermarket without thinking of Victory Apples, Victory Maple Syrup, and Victory Pizza. Wal-Mart offers low quality Victory Clothing and Victory Appliances. Add in the doctrine of perpetual warfare, and I have to wonder who actually won the Cold War.

I like a nice red Rome apple myself, but buy the ones loose in the bin at the market instead of already bagged.

Same thing for strawberries too. They've been breeding the flavor out in favor of "better legs". The current supermarket variety, called Camarosa, has bigger berries that can be shipped cross-country with little loss. They also taste like they should have been named Cardboardrosa. They've also breed out pest resistance in the process, and most strawberry varieties are dependent on pesticides.

Maybe I'm a freak with no taste buds, but I still like Red Delicious apples. I do have to be extra-vigilant to make sure I get the ones I like, though -- I can't stand mealy apples. They have to be crisp.

This may seem like an odd tangent, but it's not unlike what happens to dog breeds: they become popular, then overbreeding causes the breed to develop more negative traits. From what I've heard, the movie "Lady and the Tramp" made cocker spaniels so overbred they became stupider, grouchier. 101 Dalmations did that breed no favors. And the popularity of pit bulls has led to more hostile breed of dogs.

Just another reason mutts are the best dogs of all.

I miss those Red Delicious apples too. Will have to check out the local organics...

This is why winesap is the one true apple.

in pennsylvania they grow a varietal called "nittany york". they are amzingly great. weget them at our farmer's mkt in takoma park maryland. I reccomend them very highly.

I despise Red Delicious apples. Always have. I've been a lifelong McIntosh person myself.

Of course, virtually every apple they sell here in Washington, it seems, is some sort of hybrid of Red Delicious and something else, so I actually eat very few of the apples out here.

Great post. When I was a kid growing up in Kansas, "apple" meant "Red Delicious" apple. No one called it a "Red Delicious" -- it was just an apple. I don't know if there were any other kinds of apples even available at the store.

My mom bought them and I ate them, growing up, apparently not noticing their slow but steady decline in quality. Then, when I began grocery shopping for myself, in the early 1990s, I found that there were all these new (to me) apple varieties at the store. And they all blew the mealy, taste-free RD out of the water. I haven't had an RD since.

My favorites now are Fuji and Braeburn. But based on this thread I will try to find an organic RD.

A macintosh in season is a joy unto the world. Pure candy!

My motto is, Don't buy organic; buy local. Admittedly, both is best--but anything shipped from CA to the East Coast, organic or not, is to be avoided.

Last weekend I went to Vintage Virginia Apples, an orchard in the foothills just south of Charlottesville VA (a traditional apple-growing area) that grows traditional apple varieties (they have 200 varieities of apples). Both the apples and the peaches were orders of magnitude better than anything I've had from a grocery store in years.

There was a LA Times article a few years ago on this that I commented on

I find the article's claim that everyone is to blame to be disingenuous. Everyone involved knew that the apples were tasting worse and worse, but either they didn't care or didn't think it worthwhile to change. Eventually, the apples became so bad that it became a great market opportunity for those who did care.

This is the worst news I've heard all day, although I've found even the organic red delicious absolutely tasteless and mealy for years now.

As for tomatoes --- people, if you're not growing your own from seed, you simply aren't eating tomatoes. i've been growing heirlooms from seed for a while now --- but I sprang for a couple storebought heirloom plants this year, just to experiment --- and they COMPLETELY SUCKED in comparison to my nice, tasty, homegrown varieties. Same with strawberries.

From Henry Beard's Cooking dictionary:


Fruit used in salads and desserts. There were once hundreds of varieties of apples, but mass production has reduced the number available to a few bland, easy-to-process hybrids like the Golden Delicious and Red Delicious. Other common commercial apples include the Basketbaldwin, a huge, semisoft, somewhat mealy fruit useful for making apple sludge and holding doors open; the Northern Insippen, a doughy reddish globe with a flavor something like library paste; the Macadam or Tarmac, a slightly oily, gritty apple with handy ridges along the top and bottom that make it very good for throwing at dogs; and the Waterproof Macintosh, which has a nearly impervious quarter-inch skin and rubbery flesh that tastes vaguely of Scotchguard.


Granny Smiths have gotten blander, too, seems to me; and they were probably successful at first because they specifically didn't have the mealy, low-acid faults - er, characteristics - of Red Delicious.

East Coast folks, look out for Staymans and Northern Spy apples if you can find 'em. I wish to hell we could grow 'em in sunny California.

Well, since someone brought in tomatoes, I have a short story to tell about a banana.

Bought two organic bananas at the store. Brought them home, they got sorta gray. I felt them. Sorta soft. Damn organic bananas!

But then I peeled and ate one. It was the platonic ideal of bananadom. I had never tasted a more flavorful 'nana.

The scales have fallen from my eyes! I will never again look at a perfectly yellow, firm Chiquita in the same way again!

Organic apples require much more pesticides ("natural" being copper and other known carcinogens) and are typically fertilized with manure. There is a huge increase in disease risk with organic products. 75% of all food bacteria sickness reports in the US come from organic food - even though only 12% of all food is sold as organic! This is primarily due to the manure and composting conditions of organic farms and the lack of health control on smaller (non-institutional) farms. Just like "hand-made" does not mean better for durable goods, locally grown or small organic farm products do not lead to better health. Because of the price premium growers and grocers get for organics, they pick and choose the best looking ones to sell under the organic name. Much of the "non-organic" fruits are just the average-looking organics. Summary: Organics are not all they are cracked-up to be. If you want to be safe and healthy, avoid fruits and veggies labeled organic.

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