The lowdown on British apples
Want to learn about traditional British apple varieties? olive's food director Janine Ratcliffe tells us why we should be championing homegrown varieties
Do you know which are the best British apples? Want to know about British apple varieties? Read our guide to traditional English apple varieties including cox apples, gala apples and bramley apples.
British apple varieties
(In order from top left)
Red Prince has glorious, deep-red skin and crisp, creamy, juicy flesh. Expect a sweet tartness, with aromas of roses. Available from April to August.
An apple for cooking, not eating, Bramley has the distinction of being the only apple exclusively grown in the UK. It’s available all year round and has a distinctive sharp flavour – perfect for pies, crumbles and sauces.
A cross between Golden Delicious and Cox’s Orange Pippin, this apple has a light crispness and a sweet flavour that has a hint of acidity to balance it out. Available from October to April.
The largest single variety of eating apple produced in the UK (although it’s originally from New Zealand). It’s a stripy red skinned apple with crisp, sweet, juicy flesh. Available from late September to early May.
Sweet with hints of honey and citrus, the flesh is very crunchy and juicy. Available from the end of October until May.
A truly British apple, the first Cox was grown in 1825 in Slough by Richard Cox (it was originally called Cox’s Orange Pippin). The flavour is a good balance of sweet and tart, with a firm texture. Available from late September to early April.
A dark, purple-skinned apple with white flesh and a crisp texture. Sweet with lots of acidity to balance. Available from October to November.
What’s the deal with British apples?
At the moment, 40% of the apples we Brits eat are from native orchards. That’s quite a climb from 10 years ago, when the level was 28-30%, and it’s hoped that in another decade it will be as high as 60%. To try to boost the numbers, growers are constantly looking into new technologies for both cultivating and storing apples, so that the season lasts longer.
But growing apples is no easy business. Each one sold commercially has to be selected and picked by hand at optimum ripeness and quality. There’s no way such a process can be automated, so the industry relies on thousands of extra harvesting hands every season.
Historically, apples have been stored in a cold environment – although these days the technology is far more advanced than that. Apples are essentially kept in a chilled, low-oxygen, low-carbon dioxide, nitrogen-rich atmosphere, which means they go into ‘stasis’, with no loss of quality. In fact, some apples thrive in this environment, often developing a sweeter taste as the sugars are converted.
Why can’t I buy British apples all year?
From September onwards there are plenty of British-grown apples to go around, but because the apple season effectively ends in May, it’s hard to find them in summer. Also, our unpredictable weather means that crops are a lot more vulnerable. A frost in 2017 severely damaged the British apple crop that year but, conversely, the hot summer of 2018 has seen a lot of varieties thrive.
Are new British apple varieties on the way?
Yes. Growers are trialling new types of apple all the time (the test period is approximately four years, so it’s not a quick process). The aim is to develop apples that respond well to the UK’s climate, have a long season and satisfy what consumers are asking for. This involves introducing varieties from different countries, as well as developing hybrids.
What are the supermarkets doing to help?
During apple season, most supermarkets will run promotions on British apples (look for Union Jack labels). As well as specific varieties, you’ll also find bags of generically labelled apples – such as ‘red dessert apples’. The apples in these bags will vary week to week depending on what’s available, but the supermarket is required to put the particular variety on the label, so you’ll know what you’re eating and can therefore look out for it again if you like it.