Can You Eat Crab Apples? – What You Need To Know
If you have crab apple trees on your property, you’ve no doubt looked up at the delicious little fruits and asked yourself, “Should I eat those?” Like Eve reaching out for the forbidden apple, it’s easy to assume that any fruit should be safe for the picking.
So can you eat crab apples? Although the short answer to this question is, “Yes, you can,” the decision of whether you should eat them won’t always be as cut and dry. Not all varieties of crab apples are as safe—or as delicious—as others, so it’s important to be knowledgeable before you eat.
What is a Crab Apple?
The domestic apple was first cultivated in the Middle East sometime around 6,000 years ago. Modern domestic apples come in a variety of flavors, colors, and textures, enough to suit any kind of taste buds.
A crab apple is not an apple of a specific species, but actually just refers to a small wild apple. Crabapple trees sport fruits smaller than two inches in diameter. These apples can be red, orange, or yellow.
All are edible, but some produce sweeter better-tasting fruits. This is because most ornamental or wild apple trees have been bred for their beauty, not their fruits. As a result, you might find that the prettier your tree is, the less likely it is to produce scrumptious apples for snacking.
Are They Safe to Eat?
Crabapples are in no way dangerous to eat. Although some varieties may be sour or unpleasant-tasting, eating any type of crab apple will not harm your health or wellbeing. However, some types of crab apples are more palatable than others.
Interestingly, all apples (even domesticated ones) contain small amounts of toxic cyanogenic glycosides (known commonly as cyanide). Like with any type of apple, you shouldn’t eat the seeds, stems, or leaves of a crab apple. If you happen to swallow the seeds, though, it’s not a big deal—you would have to swallow quite a few for any harmful effects to take hold.
Best case scenario when experimenting with crabapples? You find a delicious snack! The worse case is that you might find the fruit so sour that you have an upset stomach or nausea. Besides that, crab apples are just as safe to eat as domestic apples.
Just as domestic apples have different flavors, so do wild apples. They come in several varieties, with the most popular being pink spires, chestnut, whitney, centennial, dolgo, and hopa.
However, it can be difficult to tell which kind of crabapple tree you have. Wild apples hybridize easily, so it’s possible that you own a variety of crabapple that is entirely different from what you think it is.
Dolgo apple trees grow to about thirty-five feet. These produce brilliant white flowers in the spring and provide beautiful decoration to your yard. These trees are generally hardier than others in regards to resistance to blight.
These apples are edible for fresh snacking when they reach a larger size, and can be used in jellies, sauces, and ciders.
Whitney flower crab trees are shorter but have the ability to self-pollinate. These apples are usually sweeter and larger than other varieties of crab apples. They can be eaten fresh or preserved.
Centennial crabapples are semi-dwarfs and usually only reach about fifteen feet. They sport rather a bland coloring but are optimal for jellies, butter, and spices.
Chestnut crabapples are most common in cold regions and produce an apple that tastes rather nutty. Although this isn’t a great variety for eating fresh, it is optimal for jams and sauces.
Hopas is one of the prettiest varieties of crabapples, and produce gorgeous, sweet-smelling flowers in a calming shade of pink. They are more susceptible to disease than other varieties, but also extremely cold-hardy. This variety is edible, but best cooked instead of fresh.
The last species of crab apple in this list is the pink spires flowering crab apple tree. This tree produces green, yellow, and red fruits and leaves in the fall. Though beautiful, it does not produce fruits that should be eaten, whether cooked or raw.
When you’re ready to buy a crab apple tree, visit your local nursery or order seeds online. Some helpful tips for first-time buyers can be found in the video below.
How Do I Grow Crab Apples?
Crab apples are easy to grow because they are happy in sun or in light shade. They tolerate any kind of soil and moisture, so you don’t have to worry about weak cultivation.
When you’re ready to plant, make sure you dig a wide planting hole so the roots of the sapling can spread out freely. Loosen the soil in the bottom and sides of the hole so that developing roots can dig into the surrounding soil.
Make sure to water in dry weather and apply an organic mulch every spring. You may need to prune in late winter in order to remove any dead or dying branches.
How Should I Eat Them?
Depending on the variety, crab apples can be eaten raw or cooked. Some common uses for these miniature fruits include jellies, sauces, butter, ciders, and jams.
Even bitter apples will work well in these concoctions because you must add sugar to the recipes anyway. Wild apples are naturally high in pectin and acidity, which make them suitable for canning and making jam. They make great gifts any time of the year, and it doesn’t take a lot of apples to produce a nice, well-rounded batch of treats.
You can even make a mellow sloe gin out of wild apples. Simply add sugar and steep in gin or vodka (depending on your preferences) for three months. It makes a great beverage for a cold winter evening.
Why Should I Eat Them?
Crabapples might not be as large and juicy as the apples you buy at the grocery store. However, they are incredibly easy to grow, and many properties already host wild apple trees.
This means you can harvest until your cellar is full without breaking the bank or creating more work for yourself in planting and cultivating. Apples are naturally good for you, and it’s easy to whip up a batch of delicious apple jam.
If you’re ready to get planting, check your local nurseries and department stores for seeds. Even Amazon offers quality crab apple tree seeds. They are inexpensive, easy to grow, and can be planted in the early spring.
Do you have other great uses for crab apples that we didn’t mention? Comment below, and let us know!