If apple trees came with a default setting, it would be Red Delicious. This is one of the larger apples, with bright red skin covering pale yellow flesh. It's instantly recognizable to just about anyone, looking for all the world like your generic cartoon apple.

But what a case of false advertising this is. The Red Delicious is a relatively bland apple compared to many others, and isn't very crisp either. I'd describe the taste as "inoffensive" if I wanted to be kind. It's the safe choice if you don't know if someone prefers a sweet or tart apple, what with being neither. And it isn't very good for cooking with either. I'd pass this one up if there were any bolder, more exciting apples to choose from.

But you wouldn't think so to see your average US grocery store. Red Delicious apples are by far the most common find in the apple section of the produce department. They're usually the apples found in fruit baskets and mixed fruit bags too (along with Navel oranges, the Red Delicious of the orange family).

So why is such a disappointing apple popular? Probably because this particular variety was developed specifically to keep well in cold storage, meaning it's available year-round and ships easily. The end result is inexpensive apples and consistent profits for growers, sacrificing flavor and crispness to get there.

So pity the poor Red Delicious apple, but don't eat it. Its story is typical of industrialized agriculture, bred for shipping and shelf appearance rather than quality. Fresh ones are available in late fall, the ones available the rest of the year will be from a warehouse somewhere. But they're still everywhere, because when faced with a choice an uninformed consumer will go for price and appearance first, which is exactly what they were designed for.

A lot of people who think apples are nothing special were probably raised on Red Delicious. If you're one of them, I recommend trying a Braeburn, Fuji, Gala, Granny Smith, McIntosh, or even a Honeycrisp if you can find one outside of Minnesota.

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