By Frieda's Specialty Produce CEO Karen Caplan
Some people may think that all apples are created equal, butt not when it comes to heirloom varieties.
There are an estimated 15,000 or more apple varieties that have been grown in North America. Each variety is different in color, flavor, and texture, but they all have one thing in common - a long history. Many of these beautiful fruits can be traced back more than a hundred years, or in the case of the Orleans Reinette, as far back as 1776 France.
The most commonly seen apples in today's produce department were once considered heirloom varieties too - McIntosh, Gala, Red Delicious, and Granny Smith, to name a few. But after many years of year-round availability and shipping durability, these apples have lost their place in that "specialty" cache.
What we consider heirloom apples now, however, are still grown in much smaller quantities and are available only in the fall, from late September through November. The season for these heirloom apples is short. Some last a few weeks and others a month or two. You can see why we anxiously await their arrival every year. Blink and you'll miss them!
These heirloom apples come in a dazzling array of shapes, sizes, textures, flavors, and aromas. Some apple aficionados compare testing the flavor profiles of heirloom apples to wine tasting with all of the differences and subtle notes.
A hybrid of the Mutsu and Shisuka varieties, Green Dragons originated in Japan and were named after the Chinese symbol for royalty. They have a lime-green, bruise-resistant skin with brown freckles. Shoppers often mistake a Green Dragon Apple for a Golden Delicious because they are close in color. Some may also mistake the freckles for blemishes and pass them up, but they are missing out.
While Green Dragon Apples have been grown and harvested in the Pacific Northwest region of the U.S., they used to be mainly exported to Asia and were only available locally at farm stands and farmers markets until recently.
While still considered an heirloom variety, the fruit are now more commercially available and are gaining new fans everywhere, including myself.
Known as the most aromatic of apples, the Green Dragon is widely popular for its intense apple fragrance. It sounds silly to say that an apple tastes apple-y, but that's just how the Green Dragon is. Someone could even compare the aroma to an apple-flavored Jolly Rancher candy.
And then there's the flavor. The Green Dragon has a crisp and juicy texture and a low-acid sweet taste with a hint of pineapple and pear. Combining the perfect flavor with the perfect fragrance, there's no wonder why the Green Dragon wins over fans the world over.
I have heard many passionate fans of the Green Dragon Apple more or less consider it the perfect apple, or even the perfect fruit. There is only one way to find out if they are right. You’ll just have to try it - and other Heirloom varieties for comparison - for yourself.