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All About Empire Apples

There is an apple for every set of tastebuds, and the Empire apple will be your cup of tea of you prefer a slightly sweet apple that trends more toward tartness than sugary sweet.  This article will help you learn all you need to know to determine whether this cultivar is right for you, and if it is, how to plant and grow your own Empires!

Red Empire Apple
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    What Are Empire Apples?

    Empire apples are one of the most popular apples in the United States and Europe.  Expect a sweet tart taste and a texture that holds up well for baking.  They produce fruit across several hardiness zones, and the trees are widely available for purchase. These apples are more than just a common lunch box apple; they are so versatile that they are practically a kitchen staple along with your flour and sugar.

    History of Empire Apples

    Empire apples, like many modern Americans’ other favorite apples, are a human-made apple created by cross-pollinating different apple species in order to make a brand new variety of apple.  The Empire’s parent apples are the McIntosh and the Red Delicious.  Those two are classic apples for a reason, so crossing them together makes for an extra yummy apple.  

    An apple specialist at the New York State State Agricultural Experiment Station in Geneva, New York developed the Empire.  Geneva is also the home of the Cortland apple.

    Roger Way at Cornell University

    Empire Apples in Orchard

    Dr. Roger Way of Cornell University is the man behind the Empire, and the apple named after the Empire State of New York.  He created 16 new apple cultivars, including the Jonathan apple byproduct the Jonagold,  throughout his career, and became the go-to guy for all things apple.  He nursed over 100,000 trees and taste-tested the fruit off of every one of them.  

    “We chew on about 200 apples a day,”  Way told People magainze in 1984.  “It does takke a certain amount of physical stamina.”

    Dr. Way’s long life lived up to the adage that an apple a day keeps the doctor away.  He passed away at the age of 100 in 2019.  

    What Do Empire Apples Taste Like?

    Empires are most commonly described as having a sweet tart flavor, but what does that mean?

    The sweetness of apples is measured by the amount of natural sugar in an apple, also called Brix.  The Empire’s parent apple, the Red Delicious, is very highly ranked on the Brix scale, but an Empire does not crack the top 10.   Brix is expressed in degrees. 

    Empire Apples on a Tree

    The Red Delicious generally ranks toward the top of the scale along with the Fuji.  The Empire will be several degrees lower on the scale along with its McIntosh parent, but this is not a bad thing.  The Red Delicious has a lot of sugar but is often critqued for a bland taste and deep, red skin that, while beautiful, is thick and tough.

    This is why the McIntosh was introducted to the Red Delicious; the McIntosh is popular for its refreshing acidity.  Voila  – a sturdy apple that has palatable skin with sweet flesh accented by tart flavor notes. 

    All this being said, the Empire will still taste sweet when you bite into it, but it will follow with those tart notes, giving it a more interesting flavor profile that that also gives it more versatility in the kitchen.  

    How to Use Empire Apples

    Empire apples are considered a good, all-around apple for more than just fresh eating.  This means if you have them on hand, it will be hard to go wrong regardless of the recipe you decide on. 

    They have the benefit of staying whiter after slicing than many other apples.  This will be a good one for fruit salads, salad topping, or serving sliced.  With the Empire, you will not have to wait until the last second before guests come over to keep the white flesh from looking brown and unpalatable.

    Baked Red Apples Stuffeed With Granola

    The crispness also makes it a good cooking apple.  The benefit to this is that when you make an apple pie or other baked dessert, the apple will retain shape better and will still taste like an apple when you eat it instead of turning to mealy mush.  Most of us have had one of those pies made by someone who chose the apples on sale rather than the best apples for the job. 

    Empires are resistant to bruising (but don’t drop them to test it), so these are ideal lunch box apples or desk-drawer snacks.  They are also an medium size and will not be overly wasted on children.   

    Here are some options for integrating it into a dish or making it the star:

    Rosemary-roasted chicken with apples and potatoes:  Versatility is the name of the game for Empires as demonstrated by their ability to be in sweet or savory dishes.  Adding them to this savory dish will bring unexpected sweetness and brightness to the chicken and potatoes.  Because they hold their shape well, they will not turn into a mushy mess in the dish.

    Apple Baked Chicken

    Apple Tart:  The tartness of an Empire is really important when making desserts with apples.  When you use a tart apple, you can also add a sweet topping of caramel or, like in this recipe, preserves combined with melted mutter.  Avoiding the sugar overload that would come from an apple with a predominantly sweet flavor will let you appreciate the dish rather than pushing it away after a few bites because it is too rich.  

    Apple Salad:  The Empire can go anywhere an Heirloom Apple could, particularly salads.  That white flesh will stay pretty until served, and the crisp texture will actually stay crisp, even after you dress the greens.

    Health Benefits of Empire Apples

    There is a reason mothers and doctors everywhere push apples into children’s hands: they are consistently a low-calorie snack with important nutritional elements.  

    Empires apples have plent of soluble and insoluble fire, which in addition to controlling cholerol, helps with digestion.  The skin is loaded with Vitamin C.  Calorie counters can plan for 70 to 80 calories per apple.  

    Similar Apples

    Other tart apples to look for are the Braeburn, McIntoshPink Lady, and Cortland apples.  If crispness is the appeal, Honeycrisps, CortlandsGalas, and Braeburns will give you that crunch.  Granny Smiths are known for tartness, but they would not be ideal substitutes for Empires because they lack the moderate sweetness of an Empire.

    Overall, Cortlands will likely be the closest match because they also have bright, white flesh that is resistant to browning.

    Where to Buy Empire Apples

    Given how popular these apples are in the United States and Europe, you will be able to find the fruit in most grocery stores.  Harvest time is mid-Septemer in North America, so expect the freshest produce in the fall.

    Home gardeners should be able to get an Empire tree (or orchard!) of their own at a local nursery or tree farm.  

    How to Grow Empire Apples

    Empire apple trees are not  unique from all of their other apple relations in terms of growing.  Plant in hardiness zones 4 through 7 in full sun.  The soil should be well-drained and loamy. 

    The mature tree will be 12 to 15 feet tall and the same size in width, so plan accordingly.  

    These trees were bred to be disease resistant to the common apple blights of Apple Rust and Cedar Apple Rust, but they are still susceptible to winter damage and other pests.

    Frequently Asked Questions

    Can I plant only one Empire apple tree?

    Empire apples require another apple tree within 50 feet to permit for cross-pollination.  Pollinators like bees and birds will unintentionally bring pollen from other nearby apple trees to fertilize the white blossoms.  Without cross-pollination, your tree will not produce fruit.  

    How long until I get apples from my tree?

    Your tree will bear fruit within 3 to five years.  

    Fun Facts

    • Dr. Roger Way, the man who created Empire apples, was the subject of a Jeopardy! question and answer.  The answer:  “Roger Way tasted 200 of these a day, helping him develop the Empire and Jonagold types. The question?  “What is an Empire apple?”
    • Empires are the ninth most produced apple in the United States.


    I see many trendy, new apples claiming to better than any of the rest.  The Empire is a versatile apple that has earned its place in stores and gardens in the United States, and it is one of our favorite varieties of apples.  This tree will give you fruit that is easy and delicious to work with so that your hard work does not go to waste. 

    Excited for more apple content? Visit my apple trees page to learn more about apple planting, growing, picking, cooking, and more!

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