What is a Red Delicious Apple?

Lisa O'Meara

A Red Delicious apple is an American fruit unintentionally created in 1880 from a chance seedling and cultivated extensively since its introduction to the public in 1892. The earliest version of this apple was a yellowish, round fruit, but changes in growing conditions, fertilization and harvesting have turned the Red Delicious into a more oval shaped apple with a deep red color. The taste has changed as well and the apple that was once known for its superior sweetness has lost some of its original flavor, texture and general appeal. Since the 1980s, production of the Red Delicious apple has declined steadily as a result of decreasing consumer demand.

The Fuji apple is a cross between Red Delicious and Ralls Janet.
The Fuji apple is a cross between Red Delicious and Ralls Janet.

The Iowan farmer who grew the original Red Delicious named it a Hawkeye and entered it into a contest. Hawkeye won the contest, which was run by Stark Nurseries, and changed the apple's name to Stark Delicious. In 1914, it was renamed Red Delicious in an effort to more clearly distinguish it from the newly acquired Golden Delicious.

Three apples, including a red delicious in the middle.
Three apples, including a red delicious in the middle.

Over time, Washington state became the largest American producer of the Red Delicious apple. The trees, which need six to eight hours of sunlight each day, grow best in warm summer climates. But they are not drought tolerant and need cooler autumn weather to thrive. Washington state provided perfect growing conditions and began offering Red Delicious apples for sale year round. Although the harvest season is September through December, the apples are placed in abundance in cold storage so they are available in supermarkets the rest of the year as well.

A Red Delicious apple.
A Red Delicious apple.

As the Red Delicious apple became mass produced in a variety of orchards and more apples were placed in cold storage, their taste and appearance began to change. New cultivars were longer, redder and less sweet than the original Hawkeye. If growers didn't harvest their crops at the optimum time, the resulting apples could be mealy or bland. Consumers noticed these changes and inconsistencies in the Red Delicious variety and purchased them in fewer numbers. In 2003, the Red Delicious accounted for only 37% of Washington State's apple production, down from 75% in the early 1980s.

While Red Delicious production declines, some of its offspring have become more successful. The Fuji, a result of crossbreeding Red Delicious with Ralls Janet, has become increasingly popular. Red Delicious has also been bred with McIntosh apples to develop the Empire variety and crossed with Cox's Orange Pippin to create Kidd's Orange Red. As these offspring get more exposure and grow in popularity, demand for the Red Delicious may see a further decline.

The state of Washington is the largest producer of Red Delicious apples.
The state of Washington is the largest producer of Red Delicious apples.

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Discussion Comments


@feruze-- I agree with you. Too many red delicious apples have been harvested and the ones that are made available to supermarkets are usually bad. Fuji apples seems to be taking over its place.


@ZipLine-- I'm not an expert on red delicious apples, but I have one in my yard. I think what happens is that as the apple trees get older, the quality of the apples slowly decrease. The apples from younger apple trees taste better and tend to be larger. This might be one of the reasons why the red delicious has lost some of its flavor over the years.

Also, there are so many new types of apples now. Many different apples have been cross cultivated and new types of apples have been developed. There are more options and I think this is one of the reasons why red delicious apples are not as popular anymore.

If you can find organic red delicious apples, those taste better.


It's unfortunate that the red delicious apples don't taste as good as they used to. But it doesn't seem convincing that the change in taste, color and texture is due to the fact they the apples were put into cold storage.

There must have been some other change right? Maybe change in climate or a genetic change in the trees?

I prefer golden delicious apples to red delicious apples because the skin of golden delicious is thinner and the apple is sweeter. I like the color of red delicious apples but they don't always taste good like the article said.

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