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Apples loom large on the world’s nutritional, cultural and culinary menu.

THE FOLKLORE

Many believe the Romans are to thank for cultivating the first wild apple – small, sour, and riddled with seeds – into the crisp, sweet, tart and juicy globes we enjoy today.

Historians may not agree whether the apple originated in Southwestern Asia in 6,500 BC or in the Neolithic period in England, but there’s no disputing the apple’s culinary (cider, pie, fritters) or cultural (The Garden of Eden, Johnny Appleseed, Sleeping Beauty’s poison apple) influences. The time tested adage, “An apple a day keeps the doctor away,” is a nod to its nutritious attributes.

THE FACTS

Apples (Malus domestica), part of the rose (Rosaceae) family, are among the most widely cultivated fruit trees. Along with pears, quince and loquats, apples are classified as pomes, fruits with many tiny seeds within a central core. There are more than 7,500 varieties of this white-fleshed favorite with skins of red, yellow and green. Flavor varies significantly by variety.

Red and Golden Delicious are subtly sweet and often eaten whole and raw, as are the slightly tart Braeburn and Fuji. Cortland and Empire apples also are popular in upstate New York this time of year. Pippin and Granny Smith offer a very tart bite, with a taste and texture preferred in cooking. No matter the variety, apples have earned their healthy reputation.

One medium apple is only 95 calories, but packs a plump dose of health-protecting plant chemicals known as polyphenols, a filling 17 percent DV (Daily Value, based on 2,000 calories per day) of dietary fiber, and a healthy 14 percent DV of the powerful antioxidant, vitamin C.

THE FINDINGS

Composed of more than 4,000 flavonoids, a category of polyphenols, apple consumption has long been studied for its role in disease prevention, including several cancers: breast, larynx and ovarian. Eating just one apple a day was shown to reduce risk of colorectal cancer by more than one-third, according to a study in a 2010 issue of the European Journal of Cancer Prevention.

Several studies show that consuming apples and apple juice may protect against symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease and oxidative brain damage that can lead to memory loss. In addition, drinking apple juice was shown to improve dementia-associated behavior and mood in Alzheimer’s patients, according to a study published in the 2010 American Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease and Other Dementias.

THE FINER POINTS

Try several apple varieties and enjoy those that suit your palate and culinary purposes. Apples are best in season, from the end of summer until early winter, though some varieties may be found year-round. Choose firm apples with deep coloring and store in the refrigerator crisper. Avoid pesticide residue and other contaminants by seeking out organic apples when possible.