Fall is quickly approaching, and the season delivers not only crisp, autumn air but our favorite crisp, autumn treat: apples. Originating in the Tien Shan Mountains of Kazakhstan millions of years ago, the apple has been part of the human diet for tens of thousands of years. Just in time for the change of seasons, here are a few more fun facts about this nutritious and delicious fall staple.
They were cultivated in Jamestown—but not for eating.
North American apple harvesting began with the settlers at Jamestown in 1607. They brought with them seeds and cuttings from Europe, and while the original varieties planted were not all suited for cultivation in the New World, their seeds began to produce all-new varieties of American apples. Many of these apples were still fairly bitter, unlike the sweet varieties we enjoy today, but they had an important purpose in colonial society: cider.
Cider had become a popular beverage in England in the wake of the Norman Conquest in 1066, after which new apple varieties were introduced from France. The New World settlers brought their taste for cider with them. Most colonists grew their own apples, and due to sanitation concerns, they often served a fermented cider at meals instead of water, including a diluted cider for the children. Cider became so popular that it was sometimes used to pay salaries, and Virginian statesman William Fitzhugh once remarked that the cider produced from his orchard of 2,500 trees was more valuable than 15,000 pounds of tobacco.
Thomas Jefferson was also a founding father of the Fuji.
Thomas Jefferson is not only a founding father of the United States, he’s also known for his love of food—in fact, he was responsible for America’s first ice cream and some of its first pasta. And he helped bring the popular Fuji apple to the United States, albeit unwittingly. As the story goes, Edmund Charles Genet, French minister to the United States in the 1790s, gave Thomas Jefferson a gift of apple cuttings that Jefferson donated to a Virginia nursery, which then cultivated a variety of apple known as the “Ralls Genet.” In 1939, Japanese apple breeders crossed the genes from the classic Red Delicious apple variety with that of Jefferson’s Ralls Genet, resulting in the now ubiquitous Fuji apple.
It’s not actually America’s favorite fruit, but it’s grown across the country.
Despite its iconic place in American culture, the apple is no longer America’s favorite fruit. Over the last 40 years, banana consumption has surpassed that of the apple. In fact, Americans eat an average of 28 pounds of fresh bananas per year, compared to an average of 19 pounds of apples.
While bananas are only grown commercially in Florida and Hawaii, though, apples are grown in every state, making it the third most important fruit for the U.S. economy, behind grapes and oranges. The United States is home to approximately 7,500 apple producers, which grow around 48,000 tons of apples per year, generating some $2.7 billion annually.
An apple a day may really keep the doctor away.
Apples are low in calories and free of fat, sodium and cholesterol. They are rich in fiber, disease-fighting anti-oxidants and a variety of vitamins and minerals including potassium, folate, niacin and vitamins A, B, C, E and K. Eating apples has been associated with lower risk of a variety of cancers, stroke and diabetes. In addition, these nutritional powerhouses may help protect the brain from developing Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease, and even lower a person’s risk of tooth decay.
Apples belong to the Rose family of plants and are joined in that family by a wide range of very popular foods, including apricots, plums, cherries, peaches, pears, raspberries, and almonds. Foods in the Rose family are simply too diverse in their nutrient value to allow for any one single recommendation about the number of servings that we should consume from this family on a weekly basis. However, when focusing specifically on apples, several anti-cancer studies show daily intake of this fruit to provide better anti-cancer benefits than lesser amounts. So there may be some truth to that old phrase, "An apple a day keeps the doctor away!" Still, we don't recommend that everyone eat one apple on a daily basis, given the wide variety of available fruits and the nutritional uniqueness of each type. But we do recommend that everyone eat at least 2-3 whole fresh fruits per day, or the equivalent of 2-3 cups' worth of fresh fruit. Within this framework, if apples are a type of fruit that you strongly prefer, there would be nothing wrong with consuming one on a daily basis, and you may get some special health benefits by doing so.