Cutting & arranging apples appealingly is a waste of time if the fruit browns and the kids won’t eat it!
Why do apples brown?
Apples are rich in iron. When you cut into an apple, its cells are damaged. Exposing those damaged cells to the air allows the oxygen to react with the iron and an enzyme called polyphenol, causing iron oxide to form. Essentially, the apple rusts! The “rust” is harmless, but doesn’t look very appealing, and my kids insist brown apples don’t taste as good.
Tip: The sharper the blade, the less cellular damage it does. An apple cut with a dull or serrated knife will brown more than one cut with a sharp knife. Those handy apple coring tools may conveniently make wedges, but they don’t make as clean a cut. I like a sharp paring knife best!
How Do You Keep Apples From Browning?
When I started packing fun lunches for my kids and blogging about them, this was probably the question I was asked most often. I had never given it much thought; I’d always just dipped them in cold water & lemon juice, and this worked, but sometimes my kids complained that their apples tasted too lemony. I wondered if there was a better way, so I asked my facebook fans what they did to keep apples from browning. I got a lot of great suggestions from them, as well as from a few of my favorite blogs.
Tips for Preventing Apples From Browning
- Slice the fruit in water. There’s no need to stop the oxidization process if it never starts! I’ve never tried this – my sink is very small.
- Brush or dip sliced apples in lemon juice. Lemon juice, lemonade, orange juice, even apple juice – any fruit juice containing citric acid will slow the enzymatic reaction. The downside to this is the apples may taste a little like the juice used.
- Soak cut fruit in ginger ale. Michelle of Muffin Tin Mom uses this method to keep her apple slices looking good without affecting the flavor. Any soda with citric acid would work; Sprite was another suggestion I came across. This method does add extra sugar however.
- Soak the slices in salt water. Not too much though, and not for too long. Monica of The Yummy Life suggests soaking in a mixture of 1/2 teaspoon of salt per quart of water, for about 3-5 minutes.
- Sprinkle with ascorbic acid powder. What’s that? Vitamin C! You can get ascorbic acid/Vitamin C powder from health food stores. Trader Joe’s makes Vitamin C crystals which can be dissolved in water. I use an ascorbic-acid based product called Fruit Fresh, found with the canning products in many grocery & department stores.
- Wrap a rubber band around a sliced apple put back together. Details from The Kitchn. The rubber band secures the apple slices tightly together so they aren’t exposed to the air. This is a great trick if you’re packing a whole apple, but won’t help if you’re packing just a few slices or need to fit them in a container.
- Use Nature Seal for fresh-cut produce like Laura Fuentes does.
- And then there’s always, well, don’t do anything. Maybe your kids won’t care as much as you think they will. More about that from What Lisa Cooks.
Which Method Works Best?
Some of the suggestions for what to dip apples in were very similar – they all had citric acid in common. I wondered if one kind of juice or soda worked better than another, so I put them to the test with a little not-very-scientific apple browning experiment.
The above picture clearly shows the apple dipped in Fruit Fresh fared better than the rest after sitting out for 8 hours, so that’s what I’ve used ever since. It’s main ingredient is ascorbic acid powder (vitamin C). The lemon juice & water was a close second, but it does add a lemony flavor. I didn’t try the salt water solution. Keep in mind that my apple slices had much more oxygen exposure than apples packed in a lunch would. Sealing them in a container protects them from the air and helps slow browning!
But wait! Is there something else to try?
Lisa Marsh explores how the sharpness of the cutting tool may have something to do with it…
Cristi Messersmith is a busy military wife, and mum to 5 picky sproutlets, 1 with autism. In her spare time she enjoys… oh, who are we kidding, she doesn’t have any spare time! She chronicles her efforts to provide her family with nutritious, affordable, fun trash-free lunches for school and work. Find Cristi on Facebook.