It’s always sad to see the summer come to an end but it’s been too hot, even for my Mediterranean blood. I’m looking forward to the crisper air that the fall delivers. Plus, with the change in season comes different, locally grown fruits and vegetables, especially apples.
According to the U.S. Apple Association, only 5% of the the apples consumed in the U.S. are imported. That means most of our apples are picked from trees in three of the country's largest apple-producing states Washington, New York, or Michigan. Here in the U.S. apples generally ripen between August and September but you can find them year round in grocery stores.
Over a century ago, apples were stored in outdoor facilities that maintained a colder temperature. In the early 1900’s, refrigeration enhanced the storage capacity of an apple. But even with refrigeration, apples have a limited life expectancy. Apples keep better if cooled to a storage temperature within 24 hours after picking. For multi-acred apple orchards that’s a lot of apples to pluck. So once the bustling apple pickers are gone, growers send their crops to cold storage warehouses. These apples can be sold as late as January or early February in grocery stores.
Beyond cold storage refrigeration is Controlled Atmosphere storage. This type of storage requires air tight, refrigerated warehouse rooms to be sealed after the apples are placed inside. Here, low temperature and oxygen levels, and high carbon dioxide and humidity levels, slows down the apples’ natural production of ethylene gas (FYI to follow). The next step for the long-term storage of apples is applying a chemical called 1-methylcyclopropene (1-MCP), which acts aa an ethylene inhibitor. The 1-MCP is released as a gas into a sealed room; the apples sit there for 24 hours. Growers pick the apples when they're slightly unripe, treat them with 1-MCP, wax them, box them, stack them on pallets, and keep them in cold storage warehouses for an average of 9-12 months.
So that brings us to the “wax on-wax off” scenario. Another Mother Nature marvel—did you know that apples produce a natural wax to protect its high water content? After the harvest, apples are washed, which removes the fruits’ original wax coating. To promote their longevity, a commercial grade wax (certified by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to be safe to eat) is applied; similar waxes are also approved for use as food additives for candy. They are all made from natural plant sources including carnauba wax; candelilla wax; and food−grade shellac.
How about organic fruit? Under the USDA National Organic Program rules, waxing of organic fruit is allowed using non-synthetic, food grade substances such as beeswax, Carnauba wax, or wood resin. It’s up to the organic farmer to decide to add wax. Some organic growers choose not to. While there is no worry about eating the wax on fruits, remember to wash them before eating!
We know the apples in the grocery store have been treated already so they can stay in your refrigerator for months. But what’s the best way to store your apples after a day of picking at the orchard?
In sync with the Osmonds’ groovy rendition, “one bad apple spoils the whole bunch,” it’s best to pick unblemished, unbruised, ripe apples, preferably with the stems still attached. Apples ripen 10 times faster at 70 degrees, so refrigerate them when you get home. Apples can last up to six months if you keep them in your crisper drawer where humidity is higher. Also, as an FYI, it’s best not to store them with other produce as the ethylene gas will accelerate the ripening of other produce around them.
I found this next tidbit interesting. For long term storage, the recommendation is to wrap each apple individually in newspaper or plain newsprint so they don’t touch one another. Some newsprint (including recycled) uses soy-based ink but some use ink laden with toxic chemicals. It appears that plain newsprint is the way to go to be safe. Or wrap in brown paper bags, butcher paper, or paper towels.
Apples are a good source of Vitamin C, potassium, and fiber. The soluble fiber content of apples is especially good for helping to lower cholesterol so the adage “an apple a day” can also protect you against heart disease—and not just keep the doctor away!
In good health,