For 5000 years it has been said that eating apples keeps you healthy. Is that still true?
There are thirty known species of apples around the world. Of those thirty species, the vast majority of the apples found in the United States and around the world are believed to have come from one single wild species called Malus sieversii, which is native to central Asia. Forests of these wild trees can be found in the Heavenly Mountains of southern Kazakhstan. As large camel caravans of travelers found their way through these forests, they enjoyed the large, sweet fruits, which must have been a delightful change from the smaller, sourer varieties they were used to, as most wild apples are very small and very sour. These caravans were part of the spice and silk trade routes that connected China, India and Europe. It did not take long before apple trees from this species began appearing along this route.
Northern Greece, in 328 BC, received cuttings and seeds from these trees on the orders of Alexander the Great, whose army, when passing through southern Kazakhstan during his campaign against the Persians had come upon this fruit. Once established in Greece, these trees were the source of much study and the Greeks began to attempt to perfect the fruit. It was learned that trees established from cuttings produced much sweeter fruit. Grafting, or cloning, then became the method upon how new trees would be established, not as much as by seeds.
Apple trees are typically propagated by grafting because seeds do not produce true-to-type varieties. The top part of the graft is the variety of apple that will produce the fruit and is called the scion. The bottom part is called the rootstock and forms the roots. The choice in rootstock is determined by the special characteristics it offers. Some grafts are done to produce dwarf forms of apple trees; other times it is to take advantage of creating disease-resistant trees. (www.gardenguides.com)
This apple species next spread to Rome and then the entire Roman Empire and by 400 AD there were orchards from Egypt to England.
It was twelve hundred years later, when colonists would bring seeds and cuttings from their favorite English varieties to plant in North America. The first apple orchard in North America was established in 1625 by Bostonian Reverend William Blaxton. Soon after, American clones were being created. Thomas Jefferson used one of these apples, the Newtown Pippin, as a cash crop. By 1910, more than fifteen thousand named varieties of apples were growing in the United States orchards. This number over the years began to get much smaller as growers from large orchards found it more efficient to grow a small number of varieties. Today there are about five hundred varieties growing in the US. Fewer than fifty of these varieties are being produced in any quantity. Nine out of every ten apples we eat come from a mere dozen varieties: Red Delicious, Golden Delicious, Fuji, Gala, Braeburn, Granny Smith, Jonagold, Idared, Gravenstein, McIntosh, Cortland, and Honeycrisp.
The original known species, Malus sieversii, even though big and beautiful, was one of the least nutritious. But back then, nutrition was not a concern. It was cloned for its sweetness and overall size and taste. Along those same lines, the Golden Delicious variety, also low-nutrient, is the most popular apple in the United States, and also is now the top-selling apple in the world.
Jo Robinson in her book, “Eating on the Wild Side”, reports that in a 2003 survey by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), fruit researchers measured the phytonutrient contents of wild and domesticated apple trees. Lab tests showed wild apples to be much more nutritious than the cultivated varieties. The most nutritious apple tested was the Sikkim apple (Malus sikkimensis), native to Nepal. This fruit had 100 times more phytonutrients than today’s favorite apple varieties.