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The History of Apples: A timeline of Apple Evolution

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  • Post published:October 5, 2022
  • Reading time:6 mins read

Humans have been eating apples for more than 10 thousand years, though of course a lot has changed since the first apple tree was planted. The first known apples were far from the juicy, sweet, varieties we know and love now…

In this blog, we look at how apples evolved from one species into thousands of different cultivars with different tastes, textures, and smells.

The first apples: When and where did it all start?

The history of apples dates back to around 8,000 years ago. Early apples were small, had a very low sugar content, and a high level of tartness. This was because they were descended from the Wild Apple (Malus sylvestris), which originated in Central Asia, specifically Kazakhstan. 

By 2.000 BC they had reached the Mediterranean, likely carried by merchants and travellers down the trade routes which crossed the Middle East. From Palestine apples were taken to Egypt and cultivated in the Nile delta during the twelfth and thirteenth centuries BC. where they were regarded as a luxury. Apples were also taken west to Greece and Italy, and in fact, Homer refers to them in The Odyssey, which was written between 900 and 800 BC.

Domestication of the apple

It is thought that apples were used mostly for medicinal purposes. In the 4th century, apples and pears were brought to the British Isles by the Romans. As apples spread around the world, different varieties emerged to cope with their new environments. The Romans added to this range by deliberately breeding apples for taste and size. This is how the phrase “as common as apples” came about. 

The Roman armies carried apples across Europe, planting pips wherever they settled. With the Romans, apples marched northwards and by the 10th century, apples were grown across Europe, and the first apple orchards had been established. 

As apple cultivation became more common, apples were bred (grafted)with other varieties to improve their taste, aroma, and texture. This is how all the most popular varieties of apples on the market today were developed.

How did apples get their name?

The scientific name for the domesticated apple, Malus domestica, refers to its cultivated status (domestica) and the ancient Greek word for fruit, melon.

But the common name for apple comes from the word ‘æppel’, an Old English word meaning fruit.This multi-purpose word was in use up until at least the 17th century, when ‘apple’ described every fruit that was a berry, as well as certain nuts.

This includes dates, which were called ‘fingeræppla’, bananas, known as an ‘appel of paradis’ and cucumbers going by ‘eorþæppla’, meaning ‘earth-apple’.

This is still seen today in French, where the term for apple, ‘pomme’, is used for other foods, such as the potato — ‘pomme-de-terre’ (apple of the Earth).

So now you know! 

Different types of apples

There are hundreds of different varieties of apples, each with its own unique flavours, textures, and scents. Some of the most popular varieties sold in supermarkets today are:

Gala – This is a cross-breed of Golden Delicious and McIntosh apples. It has a red colour and a sweet taste. It can be eaten raw, or used to make apple pie and apple cider.

Honeycrisp – A modern apple variety, developed in the 1960s and introduced to the market in the 1990s – sometimes trademarked as Honeycrunch. A medium-to-large sized apple, with a light green/yellow background largely covered with red-orange flush with a strong hint of pink if grown in good sunlight.

Red Delicious – One of the most common apple varieties, it is characterised by its bright red colour, sweet taste, and a glossy finish. It is often eaten raw, and can be used to make apple cider and apple pie.

Golden Delicious – This variety boasts a yellow colour and a sweet flavour. It is often eaten raw, and can also be used to make apple pie and apple cider.

Granny Smith – This variety is green in colour, and has a tart taste. It is often eaten raw, can be used to make apple cider and apple pies, and is also good for baking.

McIntosh – This apple variety has a green colour, and is sweet in taste. It is usually eaten raw, but can also be used to make apple pies and cider.

Fuji – This is a cross-breed of Delicious and McIntosh apples. It has a greenish-yellow colour, and a sweet taste. It is usually eaten raw, but can also be used to make apple pies and cider.

Conclusion

So there we have it! Apples are full of history, so the next time you pick one up, know that it has been specifically grown for you!