Granny Smith Apples: Green on Purpose or Not Ripe?

I have so much knowledge in my head and so many life experiences for a 30-something-year-old that I think I know it all. However, life keeps bringing me questions to show that the map of my knowledge is far from being complete. Recently, I researched one of such questions that arose in my head 14 years ago. Yes, 14 years ago. Are Granny Smith apples green on purpose, or are they just unripe apples that are sold before they get ripe? 

The first time I came across Granny Smith apples was in the United States during my first visit to the U.S. I stayed a year in Texas as a high school exchange student and lived with an American family. One day I noticed that their fruit bowl had these very unripe-looking green apples and asked my host mother about them. “Well, they ARE ripe. These are Granny Smith apples. They are just green, a little tart, but are great for cooking! Just wait until we turn them into an apple pie!”, my host mom said with an intriguing and exciting smile.   

While I’m always down for an apple pie, or any apple pastry, or just apples, I wasn’t quite sold on this one. You see, I am from Ukraine, and in Ukraine, almost every other person is a gardener. Growing vegetables and fruit for Ukrainians is as natural and mundane as talking about the weather for the British. Also, apples grow very well in Ukraine. There are many kinds of them there. So many, that it was perplexing to me that the U.S. stores had only a few standard ones like Red Delicious, Gala, or Granny Smith. On top of it all, my father has an orchard with dozens of apple trees. I tried white, red, yellow, orange, burgundy – and all shades in between. One common factor among them was that all of them were considered unripe if they were green. 

The pie turned out delicious! However, I was still skeptical. First, if you mix enough sugar with lemons, one can get a deliciously sweet lemonade. Adding sugar to counteract the tartness of an unripe apple could blind people to a simple fact that the apple is unripe. It isn’t uncommon in America for the marketing to be so good that they’ll sell you an unripe apple, claim that it is great for baking, and Bam! Profit comes! 

Another factor that kept me skeptical was that some Granny Smith apples have a little bit of yellow, even red, spots on them as though they could ripen and turn color if they lay long enough. 

And so, many many years later, I finally decided to deal with my skepticism. This is what I found out through my research.

In the late 1800s, an Australian orchardist, Maria Ann Smith, went to a market and got some French crab apples to use for baking. She discarded the apple cores into a compost pile by a river somewhere on her property, and some of the seeds sprouted. However, the seeds from the kind of apples that she discarded do not contain the DNA of the original apple, so to speak. Every seed can contain a different set of genetics leading to a different kind of apple. One of the chance seedlings turned out to be this green-looking apple that just wouldn’t turn any other color like other apples usually do, but was pretty delicious and great in baking.

Mrs. Smith confirmed with another orchard friend of hers that this apple was a new kind of apple. Seeing its value, she decided to multiply it by grafting to preserve its exact genetic material. (Source)  The apples got popular in Australia. They also turned out to have great long shelf-life and that enabled the export of Granny Smith apples. They reached the U.S. in 1970s, about 100 years after Granny Smith apples were born.

Through this research, I’ve discovered that Granny Smith apples are green, but not on purpose, more like by chance. However, they are also ripe even though they look green. The yellowish-reddish spots on Granny Smith apples are just sunburns. Also, if the entire Granny Smith apple turns yellow, then it’s overripe. I confirmed this fact last year. I bought the apples to make some pastries, but due to me being pregnant and hating the smell of the kitchen for a while, I just didn’t do anything with the apples until they turned yellow. They tasted like they started fermenting on the inside. Good for making apple cider, but maybe not for a pregnant woman to eat.

What else have I learned from this research? My past knowledge was helpful in identifying the questions to research. However, just because I come from a background with huge knowledge about apples, it doesn’t mean that I’ve seen it all. When I see something that doesn’t fit my knowledge map of the world, I’ll remember that my map is far from finished. There is yet a lot to discover.