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Can You Eat Crab Apples?

Reviewed by Dan Brennan, MD on October 25, 2021

Crab apple trees are common backyard plants. It’s common to wonder if the tiny apples from these trees are safe to eat.

What Are Crab Apples?

Crab apples are miniature apples made by flowering crab apple trees. These trees are excellent pollinators, and their fruit feeds many kinds of wildlife. As a whole, crab apple trees are attractive and valuable for the environment.

They belong to the genus Malus, like other apple trees. But, they make small, sour fruits — much different from the Red Delicious or Honeycrisp apples you see while shopping for groceries.

What do crab apples look like? Crab apples can almost look like cherries sprouting from their trees because they’re very small. These little fruits come in many colors, including red, yellow, and green. The telltale sign of a crab apple is its mini size.

How can you tell if a crab apple is ripe? To check if a crab apple is ripe, cut it open and look at the seeds. If they’re brown instead of white or green, it means the crab apple is ready to eat. It should also feel squishy when you press it with your hand. A ripe crab apple’s taste will be sour but not overwhelmingly so.

What makes a crab apple different from an apple? The fruit needs to have a diameter of two inches or less to be considered a crab apple. Anything more than that is an ordinary apple. Beyond the size, crab apples and apples have very different flavors.

Are Crab Apples Edible?

Yes, you can eat crab apples, but you may not want to eat them straight off the tree. These tiny fruits pack a bitter punch if you eat them raw. But their apple-like taste shines through in baked goods or other homemade recipes.

Are crab apples healthy? As for crab apple’s nutrition, they’re a good source of vitamin C and have small amounts of other nutrients. One cup of raw crab apples has 83.6 calories and contains low levels of iron, calcium, phosphorus, manganese, and magnesium.

These fruits also have high antioxidant activity, which may help your body get rid of harmful free radicals.

Are crab apples poisonous? A crab apple’s flesh is perfectly safe for people to eat. But like other apples, the seeds contain a toxic compound that can turn into cyanide when eaten. But don’t worry — these apples are safe as long as you avoid the seeds and core.

What Do Crab Apples Taste Like?

The name “crab apple” is an accurate representation of these fruits’ mouth-puckering flavor. The deeper red varieties are well-known for being more bitter than those of other colors. Not even the ripest of crab apples resemble the sweet taste of an apple from an orchard.

Some crab apple types are more palatable than others, but most people prefer not to eat them raw. The best way to enjoy these fruits is in baked goods and other sweetened recipes.

Where and How Are Crab Apples Commonly Used?

If you have a crab apple tree in your backyard and don’t want the fruit to go to waste, the right recipe can help you turn their sour bite into a delicious treat. 

Sugar is a great way to curb the intensity of these little apples, and their sharp flavor can become delightfully tart when combined with a sweetener. They’re excellent in desserts such as pies, chips, and tarts.

Crab apple enthusiasts also love making them into jelly or jam. The high levels of pectin in these fruits help to give jelly or jam its jiggly texture. 

It’s up to you how you use these little apples. And if you find that the taste isn’t for you, you can always enjoy the beauty that blooming crab apple trees bring to the environment. 

Show Sources

Sources:

Antioxidants: “Dietary Antioxidants and Health Promotion.”

Colorado State University Extension: “Flowering Crabapple Trees – 7.424.”

FoodData Central: “Crabapples, raw.”

Journal of Agricultural Food Chemistry: “Profile and antioxidant activity of phenolic extracts from 10 crabapples (Malus wild species)."

North Carolina Extension Gardener Plant Toolbox: “Malus sylvestris (Apple, Crabapple, European Crab Apple).”

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