What are Crabapples?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Crabapples are small, extremely tart fruits in the same genus as table apples, and some botanists believe that they may be the survivors of wild ancestors of the domesticated apple. The fruits and their trees look remarkably like apples, which can lead to unfortunate confusion, as the taste of crabapples is rather distinctive, and often unpleasant on its own. In addition to being grown for their fruit, crabapple trees are also cultivated for their decorative flowers and often dwarf size, which makes them suitable for landscaping in cramped places.

Crabapples are small tart fruits related to apples.
Crabapples are small tart fruits related to apples.

Some consumers call crabapples wild apples, since the trees and fruit have a more wild look. As a general rule, crabapple trees are smaller than regular apple trees, and they may develop twisted, gnarled branches and thorns. The small fruits may be yellow to red when ripe, and they often grow in dense clusters. If well cared for, the trees can live for decades, and many of them are remarkably frost hardy, dropping their leaves in the fall to conserve energy through the winter.

Crabapples are high in pectin and can be made into jelly.
Crabapples are high in pectin and can be made into jelly.

Anyone who has bitten into a crabapple can describe the flavor. It is intensely sour and tart, much like biting into a lemon. Because the flavor alone is distasteful, crabapples are sometimes added to other dishes as a supplement. A few crabapples in a batch of cider, for example, can make the end flavor more interesting and complex. They are also pickled for use in chutneys and savory sauces.

The place where crabapples come into their own is crabapple jelly. The small fruits are high in pectic, a natural fruit based gelatin, and when they are cooked with a liberal helping of sugar, they develop a rich, flavorful, very tart ruby red jelly which some consumers find quite delightful. Crabapple jelly may be cut with other ingredients, or used plain. It is often paired with toast, scones, and other baked goods, especially sweet ones.

Just as with apples, there are a wide range of crabapple trees. Some are hardy all the way to USDA zone one, while others cannot tolerate winter conditions colder than those found in zone seven. The flowers range from white to pink, and the trees may or may not develop thorns. People who are interested in cultivating crabapples should seek out trees suited to their climate, and they may want to research how large the trees will grow, as some crabapple trees can get quite large. Hardy crabapples also make excellent rootstock for grafting.

If properly cared for, crabapple trees can survive winter conditions.
If properly cared for, crabapple trees can survive winter conditions.
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments


Crabapples do not taste horrible/bitter. They are just a bit tart but tasty when ripe, usually when deep red.


Can crabapples really be used to get rid of vermin? I was told it is poisonous to rats?


I just want to add here that I live in Canada's mid arctic in Zone 0. There are crabapple trees living here and they have been thriving for decades.


I've been trying to identify fruit tree fruit like crab apples size of walnut early Oct hard as a rock. Six or seven stems in clusters, from a big stem two inches long.


@dega: Crabapple jelly is great. Get a five gallon bucket full, put in a large stock pan and boil until soft, and the skin cracks, put cheesecloth triple layer into another pan and take apples out of water and put into cheese cloth and wrap. Let the juice drain overnight, lightly squeeze and then to to 7 cups of juice, add a dab of margarine, and sure-gel into the pan and bring it to a rolling boil. Add nine cups of sugar, (have this all measured out) and dump it into juice and let it come to a rolling boil, stirring occasionally. Once boiling, time it for one min. then take off heat and skim any foam if there is any and pour into sterilized canning jars. Clean top edge and put fresh clean sterilized covers on and process into hot boiling water 15 min. Great jelly after it sits for at least 24 hours.


@dega2010: I like to make pickled crabapples. They are very easy to make and very yummy! You need enough crabapples to fill 4 quart size jars. The ingredients are: crabapples, 5 cups sugar, 4 cups water, ¼ cup vinegar, and cloves.

Stick several cloves in each apple. Fill your jars with apples. Bring the sugar, water, and vinegar to a boil. Pour the syrup in the jars over the apples. Process the jars in boiling water for about 30 minutes.


@dega2010: I don’t have the recipe, but my mom makes canned spiced crabapples and they are really good. I know that she puts cinnamon and cloves in it. They also look really nice arranged around the table for Thanksgiving.


I have a crabapple tree in my back yard. I remember my grandmother using crabapples for different things but I don’t have any idea how to cook them or prepare them. Any suggestions?

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