Celebrating botanical discoveries

Apples-to-Apples: understanding how a-peel-ing different apple varieties are



You may have heard that “Not all apples are created equal” given that they come in a wide range of varieties. These varieties have been specifically selected for different qualities and purposes. For example, some of these varieties are tastier and more profitable than others. It is important that we better understand people’s preferences of various apple varieties so that new apple varieties can be developed that will prove to be profitable and engage our palettes with interesting and new flavors. 

We examined which characteristics of seven varieties of apples grown in Hendersonville, NC by Justus Orchard have the greatest influence on taste preferences. Specifically, we tested if people’s taste preferences depended upon six traits ranging from how sweet the apple was to how green and shiny the skin was. 


In the study, 16 participants tasted seven varieties of apples for a combined total of 111 samples (Figure 1). The apples were picked in the fall of 2022 from Justus orchard (orchard map). The analysis of each apple type was followed by a seven question survey where the subject ranked the apple in terms of: greenness, crispness, sweetness, waxiness, whiteness of the flesh, and juiciness on a 1-5 point scale (Table. 1) Subjects were not told the names of the varieties they were tasting ahead of scoring. Participants were asked to sample each apple and rate them from 1-5. 

Figure 1. The tasting area included seven varieties of apples: mutsu, fuji, stayman winesap, golden delicious, red jonagold, crimson crisp, and ambrosia.


Table 1. Subjects were asked to score each apple on a 1-5 scale for the following traits.

Trait Score = 1 Score = 5
Greenness  Red Green
Crispness Mealy Very Crispy
Sweetness Bitter Sweet
Waxiness Grainy Very Waxy
Flesh Color Brown White
Juiciness Dry Juicy
Taste Preference Would not eat again LOVED <3

We used correlation analysis and t-tests to test for correlations and differences in taste preference between apple varieties. 


We found that Mutsu was considered to be the tastiest apple (Fig. 2) followed closely by Ambrosia (t = 0.67, df = 30, p = 0.51) and Crimson Crisp (t = 1.84, df = 29, p = 0.25). The least preferred apple was the Fuji (Fig. 2). Specifically, we found that Mutsu was significantly more preferred than Fuji (t = 3.35, df = 30, p = 0.002). 

Figure 2. Seven North Carolina apple varieties ranked by average test score (1=poor taste to 5=great taste). Error bars represent 1 SE.

Of the seven traits examined, only crispiness was significantly correlated with taste (Table 2). Specifically, we found a significant positive correlation between apple crispness and the taste score (r = 0.532, df = 109, p < 0.05, Fig. 3). Sweetness had a marginally positive correlation but it was not statistically significant (Fig. 4). 

Table 2. Summary of variables relative to apple tastiness

Variable Correlation value (r) P-value conclusion
crispiness 0.532 < 0.05 Crispier is tastier 🙂
greenness  0.072 > 0.05 no correlation
sweetness 0.164 > 0.05 no correlation
waxiness 0.032 > 0.05 no correlation
juiciness 0.152 > 0.05 no correlation


Figure 3. Test subject taste preference vs. their score of crispiness (r =0.532, df = 109, p < 0.05). Note that the data points were jittered to increase visibility.


Figure 4. Test subject taste preference vs. their score of sweetness (r = 0.164, df = 109, p > 0.05). Note that the data points were jittered to increase visibility.



We found that Mutzu, Ambrosia, and Crimson Crisp were the most preferred apples, and that people preferred more crispy apples.  The Red Jonagold and the Fuji brand apples were the least desirable apples with a taste preference score of approximately 2.5 (50%). Interestingly, none of the varieties were found to be quite undesirable on average. Overall, the seven North Carolina brand apples were found to have a large variety of texture, sweetness and juiciness.

We were not surprised that crispy apples were preferred but it was surprising that the other variables did not show stronger relationships. This may be due to the fact that there was a large amount of subject-to-subject variation in taste preferences. 

For future experiments, it would be interesting to consider the environment in which the apple was grown in: soil, water, temperature and other variables could be considered. Also it is important to recognize that apple consumers may choose apples more based on looks than taste; therefore, more exploration of the aesthetics of the apple varieties should be examined. Subject variation in background taste preferences should also be considered in future studies. It would also be interesting to conduct the tasting trials while using a blind-fold which would eliminate any visual biases or cues that the subject has. 

Our results support the popular notion that not all apples are created equal – in fact we found that crisper apples tend to be the most a-peel-ing. What is your favorite variety of apple – leave us your thoughts and suggestions in the comments!

Authorship Statement: 

All members of the fall botany 2022 class at CofC helped to collect, analyze, and write this post.

Helpful links: 

Justus Orchard –

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