Apple Superfoods

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An apple a day keeps the doctor away?

The phrase may be cliché at this point, but it is still among the more sound pieces of nutrition advice echoing through popular culture. Though apples alone are not enough to keep you out of the doctor’s office, they definitely pull their weight in helping you stave off some of today’s most common diseases.

Illustration: Maria Schoettler

What Is It

Apples are a pomaceous fruit of the rose family, of which pear and quince are also members. Though apples are often available year round, their peak season is from September to November. Apples are thought to be the oldest cultivated fruit, with over 7,500 known varietals worldwide. Throughout history and in mythology apples are considered “the forbidden fruit,” and have come to represent knowledge, immortality, temptation and sin. To foodies, apples are prized for their versatility. Though they are frequently enjoyed raw, the texture of apples holds up well in cooking and they are delicious in both sweet and savory dishes.

Health Benefits

Research on apples has shown them to protective against a spectrum of common diseases. Apples are high in both soluble and insoluble fiber, and not surprisingly are associated with a decreased risk of colon cancer. Both their high antioxidant levels and soluble fiber content have been shown to improve cholesterol ratios in favor of the healthy HDL cholesterol, a measure now thought to be more important in heart disease than total cholesterol levels. Apples have also been shown to be useful in reducing food allergies, boosting immunity and preventing bladder cancer. Interestingly, research on cloudy apple juice has demonstrated that the beneficial micronutrient components are not as effective at fighting disease in isolation as they are when combined. This means the best medicine is the whole apple itself, not the pectin, fiber or polyphenols alone.

Sourcing and Storage

San Francisco is blessed with an abundance of heirloom apple varieties that can be sourced from local growers. At the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market the Philo Apple Farm sells over 80 varietals of apples including Philo Gold, Pink Pearl, Ashmeade’s Kernel and Bramley’s Seedling, which owner Tim Bates calls “the best baking apple in the world.” Bates also recommends the small, crabapple-related Wickson, which has flavor complexity comparable to a glass of wine. Devoto Gardens also carries heirloom apples including Arkansas Black, Honeycrisp, Empire and Jonathan. If you can’t make it to the farmers’ market, Bi-Rite market (18th Street) offers a variety of apples from farms that rotate through the season.

Compared to softer fruits, apples possess an extraordinarily long shelf life and storage capacity. Though apples continue to ripen after being picked, they can be kept for two weeks or longer in the refrigerator. The shelf life of apples can be extended by months when stored in a high carbon dioxide, low ethylene environment, which slows the rate of ripening.

At Home

Whether in the house or on the road, apples make an ideal healthy snack. They are easy to transport, delicious to eat, are low in calories and, due to their high fiber content, are quite filling. Cooked, apples blend beautifully into autumn soups including carrot and butternut squash. Raw apples pair well with bright or spicy salad ingredients such a fennel and arugula.

When in doubt, think cheese. For a quintessential autumn snack add sliced apples and a handful of walnuts to a cheese platter. The sweet, tart taste of apples freshens the palate and provides the perfect balance to almost any style of cheese. Pair it with a glass (or three) of local California wine for a perfect Sunday afternoon.

Eating Out

Though apples are certain to grace many lovely salads this season, the real fun comes in dessert form. Emeryville-based Scream Sorbet features a Pink Pearl apple flavor to die for. Unlike other apples, Pink Pearls don’t require roasting before they are processed into the sorbet, so you get the pure flavor and bright pink color of the raw fruit. You can find Scream Sorbet at the Thursday farmers’ market at the Ferry Building. Apples can also sweeten your morning if you head to Nopa for brunch, which features pain de mie French toast with Pink Lady apples and maple butter. On a few lucky days this fall you might also find Devoto apples in the bread pudding of the day at Tartine Bakery. For a classic apple crisp, head to Baker and Banker for a taste of decadence.