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Let's talk about Apples

Updated: Dec 25, 2023

Apples boast a rich and extensive history in Japan, believed to have originated in Central Asia before spreading across Europe and eventually reaching the Americas. During this historical trajectory, apples were notably smaller than their modern counterparts and served various purposes, including cooking, beverage production, and fresh consumption.

The introduction of apples to Japan occurred in the Heian Period (around 918) when small varieties from China were brought in, primarily used as offerings in Buddhist temples. A significant turning point in Japanese apple history transpired in 1871 when 75 varieties were imported from the United States, marking a pivotal moment in the evolution of Japanese apple cultivation.

These imported varieties were distributed nationwide, gaining particular importance in the northern regions of Aomori, Iwate, and Nagano prefectures. These areas, facing challenges in rice cultivation due to colder weather, found success in growing apples. Over time, initial imports underwent development to increase their size, and novel varieties emerged through experimentation.

Aomori prefecture, notably in the northern regions, predominantly contributes to Japan's apple production, with red and yellow varieties being prevalent. Fuji, holding around 50 percent of Japan's market share, has gained global popularity due to its crisp texture and sweet taste.

Annually, Aomori prefecture produces over half of Japan's total apple harvest, amounting to 50 million tons. Beyond quantity, Aomori is renowned for producing apples of unparalleled quality, often acclaimed as the most delicious globally.

Cultivation of apples in Aomori involves meticulous manual labor throughout the year. Despite deep snow covering the region from January to March, essential tasks such as training and pruning commence to ensure each tree receives sufficient sunlight for optimal growth. A commonly heard saying in Aomori reflects the dedication required: "If you don’t prune 1,000 trees, you won’t become an adult."

A notable distinction between Japanese apples and their Western counterparts lies in their size. While standard apples grown overseas typically weigh between 150 and 200 grams, Japanese apples often surpass 300 grams. This size disparity has given rise to cultural differences in apple consumption.

In many countries, it is common to include a whole apple as part of a lunch or snack, given their ease of portability, lack of packaging requirements, and suitability for direct consumption. However, in Japan, the larger size of apples often leads to a shared eating experience. Consequently, it is customary to cut and peel the apples before consumption. Their size makes them less convenient for inclusion in work or school lunches, imparting a more "special occasion" or "exclusive to home" ambiance.

Fuji (ふじ)

From: Aomori, Nagano, Iwate

The most popular variety of apple in Japan, known for its large size, sweet flavor, and crisp texture.

The Fuji apple reigns supreme in the realm of Japanese apples, beloved for its perfect balance of sweetness, crispness, and visual appeal. Named after the town of Fujisaki in Aomori Prefecture, where it was developed in the 1930s, this apple quickly rose to become a global sensation.

Tsugaru (つがる)

Shinano Sweet (シナノスイート)

Orin (王林)

Gunma Meigetsu (ぐんま名月)

What is so special about Japanese apples? They're typically much larger than Western apples, often weighing over 300 grams compared to the standard 150-200 grams. This has led to a cultural difference in how they're eaten, with Japanese apples often being shared or cut and peeled before enjoying.

They're generally sweeter and less tart than their Western counterparts. This is due to several factors, including the specific varieties grown in Japan and the ideal climate for apple cultivation.

Japanese apples are known for their high quality and meticulous care. Farmers employ dedicated techniques like thinning branches, hand-pollination, and individual bagging to ensure each apple reaches its full potential.

A chart showing the overall taste of an apple (sweet vs sour) and the hardness of the apple.

甘み = sweetness

酸味 = tartness

食感(硬)= Describes an apple with firm and dense flesh. This can range from slightly crisp to quite hard.

食感(柔)= Describes an apple with soft and juicy flesh. This can range from slightly yielding to quite soft, depending on the variety and ripeness.

Credits to Weathernews

Each apple has some degree of sweetness and tartness. This chart shows the amount of sweetness and tartness each apple has.

Credit to Klublr

濃いめ: richness. Refers to an apple with a more intense sweetness and sometimes a deeper, complex flavor with additional notes like honey or caramel. It might also have a higher sugar content.

さっぱり: Describes an apple with a bright, clean sweetness that is not overpowering. It often has a hint of tartness to balance the sweetness.

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