Food for Thought: Answering questions about apples

By Nancy Schuster
Frontier Extension District Agent

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I believe that we learn something every day. That is one of the reasons I like my job as a district Extension agent. Sometimes I don’t know the answer to a consumers’ question, and I learn a lot by talking with a K-State Research & Extension specialist.

Recently I received a phone call from a lady who was making an apple pie. She had purchased a bag of apples at a local store. While she was slicing the apples, she noticed the inside of the apple flesh, next to the skin was red. She had a two part question, are the apples safe to use, and what causes this? I knew the apples were safe to use, but had no idea about the cause.

Here’s what I found out from Ward Upham,  K-State’s Rapid Response Center coordinator for horticulture, forestry and recreation resources: There are a number of varieties of apples that are red-fleshed and others, such as Red Rome, may be pink or have red streaks at time. The apples produce the red pigmentation because of growing conditions.

Did you know that there are many red flesh apples grown? The apple varieties in this group all have flesh that ranges in color from bright pink (Pink Pearl) to beet red (Clifford) to pink stained (Taunton Cross) to orange (Apricot Apple)! Another unique thing about the apples in this group is that their blossoms range from solid light pink to solid crimson pink as compared to the white blossoms of other apples. Imagine biting into a bright yellow apple and seeing bright pink. With these apples you can make pink apple jelly, pink apple cider and pink apple pie. The flavors range from sweet (Pink Pearmain) to tart (Pink Pearl) just like other apples. More than just a novelty, they are great eating.

foodforthoughtAnother question was “Can you eat apple seeds?” This consumer worried the seeds were poisonous. Apples pips (seeds) contain amygdalin, cyanide and sugar compound that degrades into hydrogen cyanide (HCN) when metabolized. Cyanide itself is a poison that kills by denying blood the ability to carry oxygen and thereby causes its victims to die of asphyxiation.

Our body can detoxify cyanide in small doses, and the number of apple seeds it takes to pack a lethal punch is so huge that even the most dedicated of apple eaters is extremely unlikely to ingest enough pips to cause any harm.

Apple pips also have a tough protective coating which unless pulverized keeps the amygdalin safely contained. Apple pips have hard, durable shells that allow them to pass intact through the digestive systems of animals.

Apples produce a natural wax to protect their high water content. Without wax, fruits and vegetables like apples would lose their vital crispness and moisture through normal respiration and transpiration.

After harvest, apples are washed and brushed to remove leaves and field dirt before they are packed in cartons for shipping to your local market. This cleaning process removes the fruit´s original wax coating, so to protect the fruit many apple packers will apply a commercial grade wax. One pound of wax may cover as many as 160,000 pieces of fruit; perhaps two drops is the most wax covering each apple.

Waxes have been used on fruits and vegetables since the 1920s. They are all made from natural ingredients, and are certified by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to be safe to eat. These waxes are also approved for use as food additives for candy and pastries. (Now you know why your chocolate bars melt in your mouth but not in your hand.)

The commercial waxes do not easily wash off because they adhere to any natural wax remaining on the fruit after cleaning. Waxed produce can be scrubbed with a vegetable brush briefly in lukewarm water and rinsed before eating to remove wax and surface dirt. (Using detergents on porous foods like apples is not recommended!)


schustersmNancy Schuster is a Frontier Extension District family and consumer science agent whose responsibilities include providing information about food safety, nutrition, food science and food preparation. She is based in the Garnett office of the Frontier Extension District and can be reached at 785-448-6826 or email [email protected].

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