Exploring the Diverse World of Apple Varieties: Classics, Heirlooms, New Varieties, and Club Apples.

Apples are one of the most beloved and versatile fruits, enjoyed in various forms, from fresh snacking to delicious desserts and refreshing beverages. I’m so glad we grow them at Chelan Ranch! As a true apple advocate, I eat an apple a day. I have my favorites, and I love how they taste and make me feel. What makes apples genuinely fascinating is the vast array of apple varieties available to us. In this blog post, I’ll take you through the diverse world of apple varieties, from the time-honored classics and cherished heirlooms to exciting new varieties and the exclusive club apples. I’ve organized the varieties by how the trees originated by chance seedlings or bred apples within each category. I've included an explanation for GMO, Genetically Modified Organisms as another apple tree origin. 
1. Chance Seedling Tree Origin

A chance seedling apple variety is not intentionally created or bred by humans. No one deliberately planted a chance seedling. These apple trees grew naturally from seeds dispersed by existing apple trees. They occurred by chance in orchards, gardens, or the wild. Chance seedling trees are discovered, not bred. A chance seedling apple tree can have a wide range of genetic diversity since it results from random pollination. This diversity can lead to unique and unpredictable apple characteristics. Seedlings may possess traits that make them well-suited to local climates and growing conditions.

2. Bred Apple Tree Origin

Bred apple varieties are different. This intentional process of natural hybridization involves the cross-pollination of apple trees of different varieties to create new combinations of genes. The cross-pollination mimics how apples evolve and adapt in nature. Humans bred these apples with specific qualities in mind, such as flavor, texture, appearance, and storability. As a result, these traits are more predictable and consistent. With consistent quality and taste, bred apple varieties offer consumers a more reliable choice at the grocery store.

Apple breeding programs do not involve genetic modification or manipulating the apple’s DNA. They rely on traditional breeding techniques to achieve their goals.

3. Genetically Modified Organism Apple Tree Origin

Genetic modification involves the direct manipulation of an organism’s genes using biotechnology. Specific genes are inserted, deleted, or modified to achieve desired traits. This process is more precise and targeted compared to traditional breeding. An example of a genetically modified apple on the market, is the Arctic Apple, which is engineered to resist browning.

We’re organic growers at Chelan Ranch Organics, therefore we don't grow GMO apple trees. If an apple variety is genetically modified, it would not be considered organic under the USDA organic certification standards. GMOs, being products of genetic engineering, are considered synthetic. Organic apples must be grown without the use of synthetic pesticides, herbicides, and genetically modified organisms.

Classic Apple Varieties: Timeless Treasures

Classic apple varieties are known for their widespread popularity, recognizable appearance, and consistent quality. Often, they are grown on a large commercial scale and are readily available in grocery stores and markets. The classics prominent in the Pacific Northwest are Red Delicious, Golden Delicious, Gala, Fuji, and Granny Smith. They became a classic variety in one of two ways: chance seedling or bred apple variety.

Classic Chance Seedlings

Red Delicious

Red Delicious Apple

The Red Delicious apple tree is an example of a chance seedling discovered in the late 19th century in Iowa, specifically in Madison County. The apple was initially known as the “Hawkeye” apple or the “Hawkeye Red” due to its Iowa origins.

Golden Delicious

Golden Delicious Apple 

The Golden Delicious apple tree is another chance seedling discovered in Clay County, West Virginia, on a farm in 1890. The tree produced fruit with a striking golden-yellow color and a sweet, mild flavor. The farmer, Anderson Mullins, recognized the potential of this new apple variety and began propagating it.

Granny Smith

Granny Smith

The Granny Smith is another chance seedling discovered in Australia around 1860 by Maria Ann “Granny” Smith. She propagated the tree after recognizing the tart flavor and crisp texture would be great for baking.

Classic Bred Apples


Fuji Apple

The Fuji apple is an example of a classic bred apple. Since its origin came from Japan, its name is from the famous Japanese mountain Mount Fuji. The Fuji apple comes from a crossbreeding between two American apple varieties, the Red Delicious and the Ralls Janet. This crossbreeding occurred in the late 1930s and early 1940s at the Tohoku Research Station in Morioka, Japan.

Today, Fuji apples grow in various parts of the world. Consumers enjoy their balanced sweetness, crispness, and versatility in culinary applications. They are a testament to the success of controlled breeding programs in creating new and appealing apple varieties.


Gala Apple

Another classic bred apple is the Gala. This sweet, slightly tart apple originated in New Zealand in the 1930s from controlled crossbreeding of two existing apple varieties, Kidd’s Orange Red and Golden Delicious. They were initially named “Kidds Orange Red” and then renamed “Gala” in honor of the Royal New Zealand Gala Society, which supported apple breeding research. After exporting them internationally, they became one of the world’s favorite apples in the 1970’s. Currently, the state of Washington produces more Gala apples than any other.

Heirloom Apple Varieties: A Taste of Tradition

Heirloom apples often carry historical and regional significance and are appreciated for their unique flavors and heritage value. They are typically older varieties cultivated and passed down through generations. They often have a long history and may have been grown for centuries.

Heirloom apples are often in home gardens and orchards focused on heritage preservation and local markets. They may not have the disease resistance bred into modern commercial varieties, making them potentially more susceptible to pests and diseases. Heirloom apple varieties in the Pacific Northwest include Gravenstein, Winesap, Yellow Transparent, Rome Beauty, and Arkansas Black. Like the Classic apples, they became an heirloom variety in one of two ways: chance seedling or bred apple variety. Yes, our ancestors were breeding apples.

Heirloom Chance Seedlings


Gravenstein Apple

The Gravenstein apple originated as a chance seedling in Denmark in the region of Grasten in the 17th century. The apple’s excellent flavor and adaptability to the local climate made it famous in Denmark and the surrounding areas. It became known as the Gravenstein apple due to its association with the town of Gråsten. Over the years, the Gravenstein apple faced challenges, including reduced commercial cultivation due to changing consumer preferences and challenges in commercial orchard management. However, due to its historical and culinary value, efforts have been made to preserve and promote this heirloom variety for future generations.

Yellow Transparent

Yellow Transparent Apple

The Yellow Transparent is an early-season apple that likely originated from a chance seedling in the 18th century in Russia. The Yellow Transparent apple became popular in Russia and neighboring regions due to its early ripening and early harvest date before all other varieties. Its tartness made it suitable for various culinary uses, including applesauce, baking, and fresh eating. The short harvest window and lack of storability challenge this heirloom variety. Despite these challenges, I prefer this variety for applesauce, which has a beautiful sweet-tart flavor.

The Yellow Transparent apple holds historical significance as one of the early varieties European settlers introduced to North America. It became a part of the rich apple heritage in the United States.

Heirloom Bred Apples

Calville Blanc d’Hiver

Calville Blanc d’Hiver Apple

Developed through controlled breeding in France, likely in the Normandy region, during the 17th century, this heirloom apple variety originated from a breeding program dating back centuries, the Calville Blanc d’Hiver. It is considered one of the oldest cultivated apple varieties.

The Calville Blanc d’Hiver apple has cultural significance in French cuisine. Over the centuries, in culinary traditions, this gourmet apple has been the show’s star.

Cox’s Orange Pippin

Cox’s Orange Pippin Apple

The Cox’s Orange Pippin is another heirloom apple variety from a formal breeding program. This classic English apple is known for its rich, aromatic flavor and is one of the finest dessert apples.

Cox’s Orange Pippin resulted from controlled crossbreeding efforts in the early 19th century, specifically in England. It was developed by Richard Cox, a retired brewer and horticulturist, in Buckinghamshire, England. The apple first fruited in 1825. This beloved heirloom apple has a solid following among enthusiasts with its rich cultural history in England.

Arkansas Black

Arkansas Black Apple

A formal breeding program in the US, led by John Crawford, a farmer from Benton County, Arkansas, in the mid-19th century, gave us the Arkansas Black apple. John Crawford’s breeding program involved controlled crossbreeding and selection of apple varieties to develop a new cultivar with specific characteristics. He aimed to create an apple with excellent storage qualities and a distinctive appearance and flavor.

Arkansas Black apples are for fresh eating and have unique flavor and appearance. The Arkansas Black is known for its deep red to almost black skin and a complex, spicy-sweet flavor. It is often used in baking and cider making as well. While many heirloom apples originated from chance seedlings or older varieties, the Arkansas Black apple is an example of an American heirloom that came to be through a formal breeding program with specific breeding goals in mind.

New Apple Varieties: Exciting Discoveries

Most new varieties are the result of apple breeding programs around the world. These programs continuously create new apples with unique flavors, appearances, and qualities. Here are a few examples of new apple varieties: Honeycrisp, Cosmic Crisp, and Pink Lady(Cripps Pink)

New Bred Apple Varieties

Honeycrisp Apples

The University of Minnesota developed the Honeycrisp in its apple breeding program in the late 1950s, continuing for several years. Researchers sought to combine desirable traits, including crispness, juiciness, flavor, and resistance to browning, into a single apple. The controlled crossbreeding included the apple varieties, the Keepsake apple, and an unnamed variety with good qualities. As consumers experienced the refreshing and satisfying apple-eating experience in the 1990s, Honeycrisp began to take the apple world by storm. The unique attributes include the thin skin that is easy to bite into and does not have a tough or chewy texture. The skin doesn’t detract from the crisp and juicy flesh underneath. The excellent eating quality includes a sweet-tart flavor with a hint of honey. Honeycrisp became a commercial success due to its appeal to consumers seeking a refreshing and satisfying apple-eating experience.

Cosmic Crisp

Cosmic Crisp Apple

The Cosmic Crisp apple, also known by its varietal name WA 38, was developed in the United States, specifically by the state of Washington State University’s Tree Fruit Research and Extension Center in the late 1990s in Wenatchee, Washington.

Researchers at Washington State University initiated a controlled breeding program intending to create a new apple variety that would combine desirable traits from existing apple varieties—the program aimed to produce an apple with exceptional flavor, texture, and storage capabilities.

The Cosmic Crisp apple is a crossbreed between the Honeycrisp apple (known for its crispness and sweet-tart flavor) and the Enterprise apple (known for its disease resistance and storage qualities). By combining the genetic characteristics of these two apple varieties, the breeders aimed to create a superior apple.

Cosmic Crisp apples have remarkable crispness, dense texture, and sweet-tart flavor profile. The thick dark red skin makes them sunburn resistant and extends their storability. These attributes make them grower-friendly; time will tell how consumers like them.

Pink Lady (Cripps Pink)

Ambrosia Apple

John Cripps, a horticulturist from Western Australia, developed the Pink Lady apple. The breeding work that led to the Pink Lady began in the 1970s and involved a controlled cross between two apple varieties: the Golden Delicious and the Lady Williams.

In the 1980s, when the Pink Lady apple hit the market, it quickly gained popularity due to its attractive appearance, excellent eating quality, and storage ability. Pink Lady apples are known for their bright pink to reddish-pink skin, crisp and dense flesh, and sweet-tart flavor profile. As a late-season apple, they have become a commercial success worldwide. They are grown in various countries, including Australia, the United States, France, and others. The variety has a dedicated following of consumers who appreciate its taste and unique appearance.

Club Apple Varieties: Exclusivity and Excellence

Organizations or associations known as “apple clubs” or “fruit clubs” control these club apple varieties. The organizations manage the apple varieties’ production, marketing, and distribution. Trademark or patent rights protect club apples, and growers need to be licensed by the club to cultivate and sell these apples. By managing an apple variety as a club apple, the organization can protect the brand, maintain quality, and ensure consumers receive a consistent and enjoyable apple-eating experience when choosing those apples. It also allows for a coordinated approach to marketing and distribution. of well-known club apple varieties, including SweeTango, Envy, and Ambrosia, which was a club but recently became an open variety.

Club Bred Apple Varieties

SweeTango Apple

The University of Minnesota’s apple breeding program developed the SweeTango, also known as Minneiska, in the late 1990s. Combining the crispness and sweet-tart qualities of the Honeycrisp and the early ripening zesty taste of Zestar! SweeTango came to be.

SweeTango is a club apple because it is a trademarked and controlled apple variety managed by a specific organization, the “Next Big Thing” (NBT) cooperative, a consortium of apple growers and marketers. The NBT cooperative oversees the production, marketing, and distribution of SweeTango apples. It may be the only club variety owned and operated by the growers.

In the early 2000s, SweeTango hit the market. Their launch generated significant consumer excitement due to their parentage, including the beloved Honeycrisp. As an early harvested apple, SweeTango’s have gained commercial success and become popular among apple enthusiasts for their flavor and texture.


Envy Apple

The New Zealand Apple and Pear Breeding Program developed the Envy Apple. The Envy apple is a cross between the Braeburn and Royal Gala apples to create an apple variety with exceptional taste, texture, and appearance. It is marketed and managed by the “Enza” brand, a consortium of New Zealand apple growers. Envy apples are known for their sweet, crisp, and juicy flesh.

The Envy Apple hit the market in the early 2000s. It quickly gained popularity for its taste and texture and has become a well-regarded apple variety in several countries.

Envy apples have achieved commercial success and are grown in New Zealand, the United States, and other countries. Consumers appreciate them for their eating quality.

Club Chance Seedling Variety

Ambrosia Apple

The Mennell family orchard discovered the Ambrosia apple in the early 1990s in the Similkameen Valley of British Columbia, Canada. The family noticed a new apple tree growing in their orchard that had sprouted from an errant seed. The apples from this chance seedling were sweet, crisp, and pleasingly low in acidity. The flesh of the apples had a creamy texture, and the fruit had a distinctive bi-color appearance with a red blush over a yellow background.

The Ambrosia apple was granted US Plant Patent protection in 1999 and was exclusively licensed in the US as a managed club variety for about 15 years. At the same time, the “Ambrosia Council” in British Columbia coordinated growers’ efforts to ensure consistent quality and marketing of Ambrosia apples grown in Canada. The Ambrosia apple went on to become an established and well-recognized variety during this period of plant protection. However, when Canadian Plant Breeders’ Rights expired in 2016 and the US Plant Patent expired in 2017, Ambrosia became an open variety in North America.

Although Ambrosia apples are now grown and sold by various orchards and producers in the US and Canada, it is still a protected and managed variety in Europe and the Southern Hemisphere.

The Ambrosia apple is a commercially successful variety that is grown in various apple-producing regions worldwide. It is known for its sweet and crisp eating quality and is a favorite among consumers for fresh eating. Given that it is now an open variety in North America, it is legal for anyone to grow and market it there.


An Apple for Every Palate

In conclusion, whether you’re drawn to the timeless classics, intrigued by the rich history of heirlooms, excited by the freshness of new varieties, or enticed by the exclusivity of club apples, the world of apple varieties offers something for everyone. So, the next time you embark on an apple-picking adventure or stroll through your local market, explore the diverse and delicious world of apples. You will discover an apple variety perfectly suits your taste buds and culinary creations. At Chelan Ranch Organics, we offer some of the new varieties and a club variety. Stock up for that apple a day habit and enjoy the apple season to the fullest!

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