Bag of Red Delicious Apples

Red Delicious Apples

Red Delicious apples are an iconic variety. They’re the classic American red apples. Some people condemn the fruit as bland, but the history of this apple is interesting enough to make up for lack of taste. Here you’ll learn all about Red Delicious apples, from the best recipes to the fascinating origin.

Where Do Red Delicious Apples Come From?

Red Delicious apples are the most iconic red apple variety you’ll encounter. If you think of a red apple, know it or not this variety is likely what comes to mind. Red Delicious is certainly the most popular apple produced in the United States.

However, the Red Delicious is slowing down in popularity. Red Delicious apples have a very mild and sweet flavor. Most people find them bland in comparison to varieties such as Gala, Golden Delicious, or Fuji. Even so, the bright red color and historical significance of the Red Delicious apple makes it an iconic variety.

While they’ve had their ups and downs, Red Delicious is still one of the top five most popular apples in the world. So where did this well-known variety come from? Surprisingly, they were introduced to the market as part of a fruit show contest.

Jesse Hiatt was a Quaker farmer who lived in a log cabin with his family of 12. He and his family planted an orchard on their farm, and eventually a chance seedling grew between the rows. Jesse Hiatt tried to chop down the seedling three years in a row. The tree kept growing back, so he gave up and let the tree grow.

Ten years later, the apple bore fruit. The bright red and yellow fruits were sweet and crisp. Jesse Hiatt and his family were delighted with the fruit. They brought the apples to fairs and fruit shows for years. Eventually, one of the Stark Brothers realized the potential of the variety. The Stark Brothers Nursery bought the variety in the 1890s and named it Red Delicious.

For years, the Red Delicious variety thrived as one of the most popular types of apple in the United States. It was a favorite for snacking because of its pleasant flavor and texture. In addition, Red Delicious trees were easy to grow and bore many apples.

What Red Delicious Apples Taste Like

Girl eating red delicious apple

Red Delicious is the center of debate. People don’t agree on whether the apple is actually “delicious” or if it’s bland. While it’s true that Red Delicious has a mild flavor, we believe this famous variety has its place.

This variety is juicy and slightly crisp. Red Delicious apples have thick skin, so they resist bruising and store well. Of course, ripe Red Delicious apples fresh off the tree will always taste the most crisp and flavorful.

Red Delicious apples are primarily sweet with a hint of acidity. You’ll taste notes of melon. Beyond that, there’s not much flavor complexity to your average grocery store Red Delicious. The apple is refreshing chilled but won’t win any awards for incredible flavor.

There’s speculation that pressure on growers to breed perfectly shaped, bright red fruit has caused the flavor to decline over time. Furthermore, grocery stores wax Red Delicious apples and store them for months. Over that time the flavor gradually become more mild and the apple gets softer.  Everyone who discovered the apple thought it was delicious. Perhaps the original variety was better than what is sold now.

Still, Red Delicious apples are perfect for juicing, dehydrating, and tossing in your favorite salad. They’re a fantastic variety for the right purpose. After all, they are famous for a reason.

How to Use Red Delicious Apples

Apple Juice from Red Delicious Apples

Red Delicious apples are a great choice for any fresh apple recipe. They work well for anything where it’s fine if the apple becomes soft, like applesauce. You’ll also find that adding a few Red Delicious apples to juice is the perfect way to make it a little sweeter.

You won’t want to use Red Delicious for most baking projects since they are low in acid. When an apple is baked, some of the starches break down and the apple becomes softer. The more acid in an apple, the less the starches break down. That means tart apples like Granny Smith are usually the best choice for baking.

If you’re making apple juice or apple cider, consider using Red Delicious apples. By themselves, Red Delicious apples make a pleasantly sweet and mild juice. They’re perfect for juicing with tarter apples like Pink Lady or Granny Smith. The mild flavor of Red Delicious will balance the sharp acidic tang of a tart apple.

Everyone loves making food that looks just as appealing as it tastes. You’ll love using Red Delicious apples as a garnish. Cut the apples into spirals with the red peel on. Then toss it on top of a salad, cocktail, or even soup. Just like that you’ve added color and texture to bring your dish to the next level.

Next time you have a few Red Delicious apples on hand, try using them in these apple recipes.

If you don’t have Red Delicious apples around, don’t worry. If you’re looking for an apple similar in color to a Red Delicious, McIntosh or Arkansas Black will come close. Gala, Golden Delicious, and Fuji all work perfectly as a substitute for Red Delicious in recipes. However, no apple quite rivals the rich red color of a Red Delicious.

Where to Get Red Delicious Apples

Red Delicious apples grow best in cooler climates. You might see it at an orchard near you in growing zones 5-8.  This variety becomes ripe from late September to October. Of course, you can find Red Delicious at almost any grocery store or order it online.

A large portion of the crop in the United States comes from Washington State. The sunny fall and cold winter is perfect for Red Delicious trees. That’s because the apple only gets its trademark red color if there’s enough sun, but it also needs 700-800 chill hours to produce fruit.  

The most flavorful Red Delicious are the ones picked perfectly ripe of a tree. If you have a home orchard or are going to a local farm, pick the apples later in the season around mid-October. The longer a Red Delicious is left on the tree, the sweeter and more aromatic it becomes.  You might be surprised just how much better it tastes!

How to Grow Red Delicious Apples

Boy with a basket of red delicious apples

Full-size Red Delicious trees grow up to 25 feet and are fairly easy to grow. It’s a common choice for apple producers because the trees are sturdy and produce well. Add it to your orchard if you’re looking for a pollinator for another variety – it pollinates many other popular varieties such as Honeycrisp.

If you’re growing Red Delicious for your home orchard, first be sure to pick the right location. The tree will need full sun to bear fruit. Plant a seedling in well-draining soil to help avoid fungal diseases. Red Delicious apples grow best in slightly acidic soil.

Prune the tree as needed once or twice a year. Water the tree regularly to keep the soil moist, as these trees are not drought-tolerant. Red Delicious apples are susceptible to apple scab and mildew. Be sure to treat with fungicides as necessary to keep your trees in top shape.

A full-sized Red Delicious tree will bear fruit within 6-10 years. It blooms in late April or early May and bears fruit in September or October. It does require a cross-pollinator – a Gala tree or Granny Smith tree would be a good option.

Red Delicious Apple Fun Facts

Red Delicious Apples

The Red Delicious is the parent apple of several popular modern varieties. The Fuji apple is the sweetest apple in the world, a cross between Red Delicious and Rawls Janet. The Empire apple is a cross between Red Delicious and McIntosh, and gaining popularity in the United States.

There’s a legend about the name of Red Delicious. Some say that when Clarence Stark tasted the apple he said,  “Delicious!” His exclamation of delight stuck as the name of the apple. Since the bright color became so important, eventually the apples were called Red Delicious.

When the Red Delicious apples were discovered, it was as part of a contest to replace the Ben Davis apple. Ben Davis apples were the most sold apple before the late 1800s. However, people had begun to complain that Ben Davis apples didn’t taste very good. The new apples were supposed to be a more tasty alternative. Ironically, now some think Red Delicious apples are bland! It may be that as the apples were bred for color, the flavor was left behind.

Red Delicious apples are the perfect addition to your fruit bowl. Next time you’re at the grocery store, pick up a Red Delicious (or several!) for old time’s sake. Even better, pick some fresh from your local orchard.

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