Updated 26 February 2013

Seduced by an apple

It all started with Eve, the Greek gods quibbled over it, it helped Newton discover gravity and it made Steve Jobs loads of money. But how much do you really know about apples?


It all started with Eve, the Greek gods quibbled over it, it helped Isaac Newton discover gravity, it made Steve Jobs loads of money and Frank Sinatra serenaded the city by the same name.

From the beginning of time the apple has been an integral part of human existence. Eve’s seduction of Adam with a juicy red apple arguably has made it one of the most depicted fruits in artworks. It is also very much part of our language: The apple of my eye, one bad apple destroys the whole basket and, that tired old saying, an apple a day keeps the doctor away.

But how much do you really know about apples?

Did you know, for example, that apples originated in Kazakhstan and that there are more than 7 500 different cultivars in the world today? The last surviving wild apple forests in the world are found in the Tien Shan mountain range of southern Kazakhstan, the BBC reported recently.

In South Africa apples come from the beautiful Elgin Valley in the Cape (or from Woolies as some city kids like to believe). According to Capespan Commercial Director Wiekus Hellmann about 60% of SA’s total annual apple crop is produced here. “Elgin is South Africa’s largest apple producing area by far. Our apples are in great demand overseas and we export a total of 26 million cartons of apples per season.” The UK is the top destination for SA apples, with the Netherlands and Malaysia in second place.

Top Red rules in SA

Top of the crop is our Golden Delicious apple, with Granny Smith in second place, says Hellmann. “We export 7 million cartons of Golden Delicious per season, followed by Granny Smith with 6 million cartons.” It is said that South Africa is the only southern hemisphere country that produces a top quality Golden Delicious apple.

Interestingly enough, South Africans, however, prefer the Top Red as their favourite apple.

The apple belongs to the pome fruit family (of fleshy fruit with several seed chambers) which also includes pears, quinces and loquats. It has a long storage life and is one of nature’s best known fast-food snacks: it’s not only low in kilojoules, it also has a low GI, ensuring stable blood sugar levels and sustained energy. A bonus is that the apple is a natural mouth freshener!

Apples are loaded with important nutrients such as antioxidants, fruit flavonoids and vitamin C, and most of these nutrients are found in and directly under the skin. It is therefore a good idea to eat your apple with the skin. The skin is also an important source of fibre which adds bulk to the digestive tract and helps to maintain a healthy and regular digestive system. 

Health benefits

The many health benefits that are associated with apples include: protection against osteoporosis and improved bone density, asthma relief, the prevention of Alzheimer’s disease, lower cholesterol, prevention of cancers including that of the lung, breast, colon and liver, diabetes management and weight loss.

Elgin’s apples have also won international fame in a somewhat different guise, namely Appletiser “the champagne of fruit juices”. 
Created in 1965 by Edmond Lombardi on Applethwaite Farm, Appletiser contains no added sugar, preservatives or colourants and is based on only three simple ingredients: concentrated apple juice made from Elgin’s best apples, pure water and sparkle. In fact, it’s so pure that the 5-a-Day For Better Health Trust has recognised a 200ml serving as a 5-a-day portion. (The 5-a-Day Trust promotes consumption of at least 5 servings of fresh fruit and veggies a day for better health.)

Apple varieties

South Africans are fortunate to enjoy a great variety of apples. Do you know the names of our top apple varieties and would you be able to identify them in the shop?

Here’s a little help, courtesy of Capespan:

African Carmine is a red, striped variety with a yellow background that is harvested mid March to the beginning of April. Developed by the Agricultural Research Council (ARC) in South Africa and released in 1999, it is a cross between the Golden Delicious and Dedrick Starking. It is crisp with a sweet and juicy taste.

has a green-gold background colour and is covered with a partial reddish-orange blush or stripes. It originated in New Zealand from a chance seedling in 1950 and was first imported into SA in the mid 1970s. Braeburn has a crisp texture with a sweet tart taste and is harvested from late March to early April.

is a medium to large apple with a dull pink-red blush or stripes on a yellow background and harvested in early April, depending on the strain. It originated in the 1950s in Fujisaki, Japan, and is a cross between Ralls and Red Delicious. It was introduced to South Africa in the 1980s.
Fuji has a creamy flesh and a firm and very crispy texture. It is juicy and very sweet with an attractive aroma.

Golden Delicious
is a medium-sized apple, green when harvested and ripening to a golden yellow colour. The skin has conspicuous lenticels. In certain areas and under specific climatic conditions, the Golden Delicious can develop a delicate pink blush. Golden Delicious was found as a seedling in West Virginia, USA, in the 1880s and introduced into South Africa in 1930 by the Molteno Brothers of Grabouw. The flesh is creamy and the taste is sweet and juicy. It is a superb eating apple and harvested from the beginning to mid-March.

Granny Smith is a medium to large apple, varying in colour from light to bright green. In cooler areas it develops a red blush. The lenticels are well-developed. The Granny Smith derives its name from a real granny Smith, Mrs Maria Smith, who discovered this seedling in her garden in Australia in the 1860s. The first plantings in South Africa date back to 1919. The apple’s flesh is firm, white and crisp and has a tart taste. It is an excellent eating apple, good for baking, and excellent for sauces or pureés. It is harvested from late March to late April.

Pink Lady is the trademark given to the Cripps Pink variety. It has a bright pink blush on a lime green to cream background with a cream flesh colour and is harvested in mid-April. Cripps Pink was bred in Western Australia and is a cross between Golden Delicious and Lady Williams.
It was released in South Africa in 1994 by Topfruit. The flesh is firm and crisp and the taste is sweet with a slight tartness.

Royal Gala
is covered with bright red stripes and harvested in mid-February. When ripe, the background skin is creamy and with its deep red stripes, the Royal Gala has a beautiful deep orange appearance. This apple originated in New Zealand and is a Gala mutation. It was introduced to South Africa in the 1980s and is now preferred to the Gala because of its better colour. The flesh is cream and the texture is crisp. The apple has a unique, sweet, tangy flavour and a lovely aroma. The Royal Gala is a perfect eating apple and ideal for salads.

Starking is a medium sized apple with red stripes on a green-yellow background that is harvested in mid-March. The stripes are sometimes poorly developed and russeting often occurs at the stem-end. Starking originated in the USA in the 1920s and is a mutation of Red Delicious. It was introduced to South Africa in the 1940s. The flesh is cream coloured and the texture is crisp. It is sweet and juicy and a very popular eating apple.

is a medium sized apple that is harvested in mid-March. The skin has a full red colour with conspicuous lenticels and sometimes has a muddy hue to it. Like Starking, Starkrimson was found in the USA and is a Red Delicious mutation. The flesh is cream, the texture is crisp and the taste is sweet.

Sundowner is
the trademark given to the Cripps Red variety. It has a solid red blush on a green background with a greenish- white flesh colour. The fruit has a flat round shape with prominent lenticels.Cripps Red was bred in Western Australia and is a cross between Golden Delicious and Lady Williams. It was released in South Africa in 1994 by Topfruit. The flesh is firm and crisp, the taste is sweet-tart and it is harvested early to mid-May.

has a deep red colour, more uniform than a Starking, and has conspicuous lenticels. It is a medium-sized fruit and harvested in mid-March. This apple was discovered in the 1950s in Columbia, USA, and was introduced to South Africa in 1973. It is a mutation of Shotwell Delicious, which was itself a mutation of Red Delicious. The flesh is creamy-white in colour with a crisp texture. The taste is sweet and juicy and delicious to eat.

Now that you know your apples, why not make every day an applelicious day!

 -  (Birgit Ottermann, Health24, June 2010)

(Sources: Appletiser, Applethwaite Farm, BBC News, Capespan, Elgin Valley Tourism Office, 5-a-Day Trust for Better Health)

(Images: Appletiser, Capespan and iStock)

Read more:

3-Apple-A-Day Diet gets thumbs up
Apples for a healthy colon
The A to Z of apples


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