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Tart Apples Guide: Discover the Best Varieties for Baking and Snacking

By Melanie Smeltzer
Updated Jun 04, 2024
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What Type of Apples Are Tart?

With a staggering 7,500 varieties of apples grown worldwide, as reported by the University of Illinois Extension, the quest for the perfect tart apple is a flavorful journey many fruit enthusiasts embark on. According to the U.S. Apple Association, tart apples like the Granny Smith, which originated in Australia in 1868, have become a global favorite for their zesty flavor and culinary versatility. These types of tart apples, including the Northern Spy and Braeburn, are not only enjoyed fresh but are also highly sought after for their robust performance in cooking and baking. The Granny Smith, for instance, holds a significant share of the apple market due to its firmness and tartness, making it ideal for recipes that require a distinct apple presence, from savory sauces to classic apple pies. For more information on apple varieties, visit the U.S. Apple Association.

Granny Smith is one of the most beloved tart apples in the United States, and is said to be the first green apple introduced into the American market. These apples are thought to be a good combination of tart and sweet. In appearance, they are firm, round, and generally a medium green in hue, but may also bear a pink blush. Though these apples may be eaten raw, many feel that their true flavor potential is only reached upon cooking.

Braeburn and Northern Spy tart apples are a streaked golden red in color, and both have a distinctly sweet flavor underlying the tartness. The Northern Spy is a larger apple that is considered vintage, having been discovered some time in the 1800s. Braeburns are medium-sized apples first discovered around the 1940s.

Other popular types of tart apples include the Golden Delicious, the Blushing Golden, and the Paula Red. Jonagold and Stayman apples are both known for their tart kick. The Jonagolds are generally milder in flavor and tend to be a little sweeter, while Staymans usually have more of a bite.

Some of the lesser-known, but equally flavorful, varieties of tart apples include Rome Beauties, Jonathans, and Newtown Pippins. Winesap apples are a unique type that have a distinctive flavor and scent. Though these are tart apples, they are also said to have a spicy undertone, and bear an odor similar to wine. Because of its strong flavor, the Winesap apple is not well known, as many find it to be overpowering.

Gravensteins are another lesser known tart apple variety. These fruits are juicy and round with thin, red-green skin, and a flavor that is said to be similar to white wine. The Suncrisp apple is a relatively new type, having only been introduced around 1994, and is said to bear a full, tart flavor that is mildly spicy. These apples are generally yellow with a red blush, giving them an unusual orange hue.

What Are Tart Apples?

Most tart apples have the sour sweetness that is generally expected from a green apple. If you have never eaten a green apple or any tart apple, you will experience the flavors in the same place on your tongue as you do sour. The side areas near the back of your tongue are where tart hits; those are the same watery twinges you get in your mouth when you think about sour candies or lemons. A light sweetness and a light tartness combine to make many people enjoy both raw and cooked in many different recipes.

Which Apples Are Tart?

Despite the overwhelming familiarity with the green apple, it is not the only tart apple available to eat or use for cooking. It indeed is the most readily available. It is resistant to pests and easy to grow, and the flesh holds up over time and through the heat of cooking. It can be eaten alone, with peanut butter as a snack, or baked into a mile-high apple pie. Other tart varieties are equally as delicious but with subtle differences in flavor.

Pink Lady

Pinks are indeed a sweet-tart miracle, and they are juicy, crisp, and pleasant to eat raw. Pink Lady apples do well on cheese boards and baked goods. Find them in early fall.


The McIntosh is a peculiar apple. It is tart, but the skin is hard, and the flesh is soft. Many people prefer it as a mixer apple for ciders and applesauce. Find this apple all season long.


Jonathans are small and well-suited for caramel apples because peeling can remove so much flesh. They are more tart than sweet and pair well with caramels and chocolates. Find them all season long.


A spicy and crisp apple that holds up during baking? Yes, please. Be mindful of the skin, which can be a little chewy, so make sure your Mutsu is fresh if eating raw, otherwise use it for cider. Enjoy as an early to mid-season pick.


This apple is firm and crispy when raw but gets mushy and sourer when baked. It’s known for its bright white flesh, and you can find it all season long to enjoy on salads and in cider.


This spiced combination of a Jonathan and a McIntosh has the best of both worlds. It is sweet-tart with a medium crunch when eaten raw but good for sauces and ciders because it doesn’t hold up when baked. Look for the Jonamac mid-fall.

How To Get Tart Apple?

Finding a tart apple is as easy as searching any grocery store’s produce section. Apples can be purchased throughout the year, no matter the season, thanks to growing and shipping technologies. Whether you’re in a grocery store or you head out to a u-pick farm, there are a few different ways to tell if the apple is ready to head home with you.

  • Skin is brightly colored
  • Flesh feels firm
  • The smell is pleasant and fruity
  • Minimal bruising or discoloration
  • No holes or mold

If you like the idea of picking your apples, search for the growing guide for your region. Many u-pick farms will also tell you which apples are in season during certain times of the year. One of the great things about apples is that they are in season in waves. Apples technically can be grown year-round but are in peak season from late summer to early winter across the United States.

Heading out to a u-pick farm is a day’s worth of fun. You, your family, and friends can sign up for hayrides, cider making, and maybe even pumpkin picking, depending on whether or not the time of year lines up with apple picking season. When you head out to the apple orchard, they will usually give you a basket to place your picked apples in there, so you most likely won’t need to bring your own. Double-check ahead of time because carrying all those apples otherwise is sure to be a juggling act.

Once you choose all the tart apples for your pies and cobblers, you will head back to the weighing station to check the poundage of your haul. For some reason, weighing your bounty is always much more than you think it will be. Steel yourself; the apples are worth it, and you don’t pick your own every time. Once you’ve paid, head home to reflect on your journey and get ready to make goodies with your freshly picked apples.

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Discussion Comments
By renellsmith — On Sep 24, 2011

I'm trying to figure out the difference between Staymen Winesap apples and Staymen or Winesap. I always thought they were one and the same but this year I'm seeing several produce stands selling Staymen and Winesap as 2 different apples? Are Staymen Winesaps really two varieties that have been bred together?

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