How Different Types of Apples Got Their Names

different types of apples illustration

Treehugger / Joshua Seong

I've been trying to eat healthier lately and I have to be honest: When it comes to apples, I just buy whatever's on sale. But the truth is, different apples taste differently and are good for different uses. What's more, there’s some unique history to the names of different kinds of apples. Herein, an apple primer:

Red Delicious

A collection of red delicious apples
The Red Delicious is perhaps the most iconic and well-known of apples. Zajac [CC BY 2.0]/Flickr

These are probably the most common apples you’ll find in the supermarket. Jesse Hiatt, a farmer in Iowa in the late 1800s originally grew the Red Delicious on his farm and called it the Hawkeye. He entered the apple into a contest run by Stark Nurseries in the early 1890s. After he won, Stark bought the rights to the apples and renamed them Stark Delicious. The name was eventually changed to Red Delicious to distinguish it from Stark’s Golden Delicious, which entered the market a bit later. The popularity of the Red Delicious has markedly risen and fallen from its heyday in the 1980s. Trying to appeal to the consumer in recent years, growers have focused on making the signature apple even redder, and in the process, some of the Red Delicious' sweet taste has been lost. You can still find Red Delicious apples in most supermarkets, and they are often cheaper than other varieties. While some experts are sure the Red Delicious is here to stay, others seem to think it's on its way out, much like the apple it replaced, the Ben Davis.


Fuji apple
Fuji apples are a bit sweeter than Red Delicious apples. [CC BY-SA 2.0]/flickr

Guess where this apple originated? That's right, like the camera and film company bearing the same name, Fuji apples originated in Japan in the 1960s. It was created by Japanese researchers by combining two American apples — the Red Delicious and a Ralls Janet. It didn't come to America until the 1980s but it has since become very popular. Most say that this apple got its name from a town called Fujisaki, located in a prime apple growing area of Japan. Fuji apples tend to be smaller than Red Delicious apples, much sweeter (some say it's the sweetest apple there is) and better suited for baking, since it maintains its shape better than the Red Delicious.

Golden Delicious

Golden Delicious Apples
Golden Delicious apples are a versatile fruit. Zyance [CC BY-SA 2.5]/Wikimedia Commons

The Golden Delicious apple is not related to the Red Delicious. It got its name from its golden skin, which distinguishes it from most other apple varieties. Originally grown on the Mullin’s farm in Clay County, West Virginia in the 1890s, it was originally called Mullin’s Yellow Seedling until it was bought by Stark Nurseries and renamed the Golden Delicious. It became so popular that it was also named the state fruit of West Virginia. Golden Delicious apples are known for their sweetness and are great for eating out of hand, baking and salads.

Granny Smith

Granny Smith apples sitting on a red plate
Granny Smith apples are green and tart. Apple and Pear Australia Ltd [CC BY 2.0]/Flickr

This apple was discovered by accident by "Granny" Maria Ann Smith in New South Wales, Australia in 1868. Granny Smiths stand out from most other apples because of their green flesh and their very tart flavor. Granny Smiths are great for eating out of hand, and they're great for baking as well.


Empire apples on a black plate
Empire is a solid apple choice. The Marmot [CC BY 2.0]/Flickr

Empire apples got their name because they originated in New York (the Empire State) in 1966. Created by the New York State Agricultural Experiment Station at Cornell, Empire apples are a cross between Red Delicious and McIntosh apples. Empire apples are known for their sweet-tart flavor, and their usefulness as an all-purpose apple.


Honeycrsip apples on a tree
Honeycrisp apples live up to their name. Dominic Rivard [CC BY-ND 2.0]/Flickr

Designed by researchers at the University of Minnesota by cross-breeding a Macoun apple with a Honeygold in the 1960s, Honeycrisp apples are sometimes referred to as a "name-brand" apple. They actually taste like they have a hint of honey drizzled on them, are incredibly crisp and cost more than the average apple. Many people are willing to pay the premium though because Honeycrisp apples are just that good.

This list is just a start. There are many more varieties of apples — McIntosh, Pink Lady, Jonagold, Braeburn, Rome Beauty — the list goes on!