Red Delicious: King of the Apple Orchard?

More Antioxidants Than 7 Other Apple Varieties, Canadian Study Shows

From the WebMD Archives

May 26, 2005 -- If apples had feelings, some might be just a tad jealous of the Red Delicious variety right now.

Canadian scientists say Red Delicious apples have more antioxidants called polyphenols than seven other apple varieties. The findings appear in the June 29 issue of the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, an American Chemical Society (ACS) publication.

But there's no need to get bent out of shape about it, says researcher Rong Tsao, PhD, of Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada in Guelph, Ontario.

"When taste and texture do not matter, choosing an apple with a high proportion of polyphenols in the flesh and skin can potentially produce more health benefits. But eating any apple is better than eating no apple at all," says Tsao in an ACS news release.

'A' Is for Apple … and Antioxidant

Scientists already knew that apples are loaded with antioxidants, which protect against "free radicals" that may cause problems including cancer, heart disease, and Alzheimer's disease.

Last November, researchers reported that an antioxidant called quercetin in apples appeared to protect rat brain cells from free radicals. But those lab tests didn't involve living rats.

In March, other scientists said apples may protect against breast cancer. That study was also based on rats, not people.

There are different types of antioxidants; polyphenols are the main source of antioxidants in apples, say Tsao and colleagues. They wanted to see if any particular polyphenols stood out and which apples rated highest for polyphenol content.

Taste had nothing to do with it. Tsao's team was probably too busy peeling and producing apple extracts. They analyzed apple skin and flesh separately, measuring polyphenol levels

Polyphenol Champ

There wasn't a bad apple in the bunch, and the peels had many more antioxidants than the flesh. Here are the rankings for flesh phenol content:

  • Red Delicious
  • Northern Spy
  • Ida Red
  • Cortland
  • McIntosh
  • Golden Delicious
  • Mutsu
  • Empire

Red Delicious apples had more than twice as many polyphenols as Empire apples, the study shows.

What about Gala, Granny Smith, Pink Lady, Jonagold, Fuji, and other apple varieties? They weren't in the running. Tsao's team studied apples that are popular in Canada, not the U.S. All of the apples came from the same farm and were grown under the same conditions.


Delicious Data

The mildly sweet Red Delicious apple is a "classic … America' favorite snacking apple," says the Washington Apple Commission's web site.

It's got lots of company. There are 7,500 apple varieties grown worldwide, says the University of Illinois Extension's web site. A medium apple has about 80 calories and 5 grams of fiber; Americans eat nearly 20 pounds of fresh apples (about 65 apples) per year, says the university.

Gourmet Guide

Red Delicious apples may be antioxidant heavyweights, but your taste buds might appreciate a little variety. Here's a look at the Washington Apple Commission's guide to other apples:

  • Golden Delicious: Mellow and sweet
  • Gala: Crisp, snappy, aromatically sweet
  • Fuji: Immensely flavorful, crisp, big, super sweet; originally from Japan
  • Granny Smith: Extremely tart, juicy, crisp; often used in pies
  • Braeburn: Rich, sweet-tart, spicy flavor; very firm
  • Jonagold: Juicy, orange-tinted, delicate flavor
  • Pink Lady: Unique tangy-tart, sweet flavor
  • Cameo: Sweet with a zingy crunch

Some varieties -- like Granny Smith, Jonagold, and Pink Lady -- are favorites in pies, and all of them make good salad ingredients (as well as snacks), says the commission.

Building a Better Apple?

Two polyphenols -- procyanidin B2 and epicatechin -- were the most important individual antioxidants in apples, according to the study.

Quercetin -- the antioxidant from last November's rat Alzheimer's study -- wasn't a top-ranked apple component. Red onions are a better source of quercetin.

Tsao's findings could lead to the breeding of hybrid apples that maximize antioxidants, says the news release. Of course, taste will always be important.