Determining apple ripeness

Apples mature over a long period of time, depending on the cultivar. Some are ready now, others are weeks out. When to pick apples depends on if you’re going to eat them right away or store them for later.

Teryl Roper is an Extension horticulture specialist at Utah State University. He says it’s important to know the difference between “ripe” and “physically mature.” Ripe apples are at their peak of flavor, juiciness, and aroma. Physiologically mature means they’re ready for harvest but not fully ripe. This stage is important for growers who ship their fruit and don’t want it past its prime when it reaches its destination.

So how do you tell if your backyard apple trees are ready for harvest? Sometimes you can tell by the color of the skin, but not always.

"You may see an apple that has a solid red skin, but it’s all starchy inside and isn’t a very good apple. Skin color is important. It’s not the be-all-end-all, but it is one key," says Roper. "Another color change to consider is the “ground color”. The ground color is the color of the cavity inside the stem end of the apple, so that indentation. That changes from green to yellow."

You can buy fancy instruments that help detect an apple’s ripeness, but there is an easier way. Take a bite.

"Taste is a really important determinant. There’s a lot of components when you take a bite out of an apple. You can certainly tell the crispness versus, eh, that one’s not so much anymore," he says. "As apples mature, the amount of starch in the flesh declines. That starch is converted to sugar. The acidity tends to decline so the sweetness increases and the aromatics also develop, so your nose is involved in that as well."

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