The apple tree was already growing in the wild in prehistoric times, in Eurasia, a huge region stretching from Caucasus to China. Hybrids were created spontaneously, the ancestors of the apples we eat today.
It is thought that the apple began to spread to the Middle East via the many trade routes, about 8,000 years ago. It was later spread by the Arabs, Greeks, and Romans during their numerous travels and conquests. According to Pliny the Elder, who listed around a hundred varieties, the Romans cultivated apple trees, some probably from Greece, made famous by Homer in his Odyssey.
The Latin word poma, which gave the French pomme, simply meant "fruit". Pomona, for the Etruscans and the Romans, was the goddess of fruit. The Romans called the apple malum, which became mela in Italian.
The apple has always been a highly symbolic fruit. Since Eve, in the Bible, catapulted it to fame by munching the forbidden fruit of Eden (which was not, in fact, an apple), the apple has often been associated with woman and her curves. In Greco-Roman mythology, it symbolized love, created by Dionysus to seduce Aphrodite.
It was also a symbol of immortality, wisdom, and power, not to mention the "Apple of Discord" or the one that fell on Newton's head, leading him to discover of gravity, nor the one that poisoned Snow White. More recently, the apple is a symbol of New York and is also the name of a famous brand of computers and other addictive communication tools.
Cultivation of the apple tree was spread through Europe by the Romans all the way to Britain. In the Middle Ages, although it was commonly said that "the apple is the source of all evil", monks cultivated and grafted apple trees, thus playing an important role in their development. These trees would go on to become very numerous in castle gardens and especially those of the Loire.
Apple trees started growing everywhere. Older varieties that were too fragile were abandoned, while others, with more marketable fruit, were created.
The apple is the third most consumed fruit in the world, after citrus fruits and bananas. 70 million tons are produced, mainly by China, the United States, Turkey, Iran, France, Poland, Russia, Germany, and India. In all these countries, it is also processed and exported.
A good-quality apple has smooth skin, without blemishes, and a very green stalk.
Fresh: most apples are stored in cold storage after harvesting for between one week and several months to ensure a year-round supply of this fruit. They are then all immersed in a water stream before being graded and packed.
Dried: quartered, sliced, with or without seeds, in cubes, in granules, sweetened or plain.
Frozen: quarters, wedges, cubes, sticks, chips.
Stewed: sweet, in a metal can, plastic pot, or jar.
As juice: pasteurized, sterilized, sweetened or unsweetened, from concentrate.
Fresh: Several days in the open air, or in the refrigerator if the room temperature is too warm, or if they are very ripe.
Dried: in a tightly sealed container, in a dry place.
Frozen: in the freezer without breaking the cold chain.
The old saying "an apple a day keeps the doctor away" has now been verified for many years by scientific studies conducted on this quite miraculous fruit.
The combination of fiber and the combined action of magnesium, potassium, vitamin C (which is not actually present in large quantities), and fructose (which is one of its main carbohydrates), plus several polyphenols (which have a remarkable antioxidant action) means that eating apples (three per day) can lower high cholesterol.
Apples also have a regulatory action on blood glucose, are beneficial for the respiratory system, and especially for the digestive system, by regulating intestinal transit. They are also excellent appetite suppressants.
The malic acid present in apples is good for urolithiasis.
Damaged apples should never be consumed, or even cooked, because a mycotoxin, patulin, develops on mold. Only toxic in high doses, it can nonetheless provoke an allergy. However, there have been incidents with commercially produced apple compote.
Over 2,000 varieties of apples have been identified. Only a few are still regularly cultivated.
. Ariane: red, sweet, and tart, firm and crisp. New variety, only cultivated in France. October through late May.
. Antares: orange-red, slightly flattened, crisp, and juicy. October through late May.
. Belchard Chantecler: yellow, slightly flattened, and a little rough, sweet and tart, fairly rare. October through late June.
. Belle de Boskop: streaked with red, green, yellow, firm, slightly sweet. October through mid-March.
. Braeburn: red and yellow, sweet and tart. November through late April.
. Cameo: red and yellow, striped, crisp, very sweet. November through late June.
. Choupette: yellow and red, crunchy, sweet, and tart. Created and cultivated in France. February through July.
. Cox's Orange Pippin: orange-red, fairly small, juicy, pear smell. October through February.
. Elstar: red and yellow, aroma of pear and lemon, soft. August through late March.
. Fuji: light green mixed with pink, very juicy. Mid-January through late June.
. Gala or Royal Gala: streaked with red and yellow, firm, very sweet. August through late February.
. Golden delicious: yellow, sometimes tinged with pink, sweet, crisp and juicy, produced almost all year round, except in summer. It dominates the market.
. Granny Smith: green, smooth, shiny. Very tart and crunchy. Mid-October through late April.
. Honey Crunch: Yellow and red, juicy, slightly sweet, flesh that does not oxidize easily. September through March.
. Idared: red mixed with yellow or pale green, very firm, and crisp. Mid-January through mid-June.
. Jonagold or Jonagored: red and green, juicy, sweet. Mid-October through late June.
. Pink Lady: mixed pink and yellow-green, juicy, crisp. November through May
. Pomme du Limousin PDO: slightly elongated, crisp, very fragrant. Grown in the highlands of Limousin. October through late July.
. Reine des Reinettes: orange-red crowned with yellow, sweet. Short season: August through October.
. Reinette blanche du Canada: yellow-green, irregular shape, slightly flattened, sweet, very fragrant. November through February.
. Reinette clochard: average size, slightly flattened, yellow mottled with brown, juicy, sweet, becomes floury as it ages. Mid-October through February.
. Reinette grise du Canada: bronze, quite small, crunchy. November through late March.
. Reinette du Mans: light green-yellow, gray spots, juicy flesh with varying degrees of softness (depending on its maturity). September through March.
. Red Chief, Starking, Starkinson, Red delicious: red, shiny, firm, crunchy. October through late April.
. Tentation: yellow flecked with a hint of pink, slight smell of aniseed. December through April.
. Cider apples: four types of apples are used to make this drink, which can be more or less sweet, sour, fragrant, tart, or sweet.
In North America, the most consumed varieties are the Golden, McIntosh (bicolor, juicy), Rome Beauty (red, sweet, September-February), Jonathan (red, November-January), Winesap, York, and Stayman.