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June 30, 2014

Experts' Expert: Apples absorb other foods' flavors


Long story short: "Keeping apples next to onions in the fridge is a mistake."

Below, excerpts from Julie Beck's March 3, 2014 article in The Atlantic.


One of the central theories of my adult life was something I constructed to answer the question: Why do my apples taste like onions sometimes?

I decided that it was because I kept all my produce in one crisper together, apples and onions shamelessly co-mingling with clementines and bell peppers. The apples were leeching the flavor out of the nearby vegetables, I concluded, not bothering to employ the scientific method. Since then, I've kept my apples quarantined from my onions, and largely forgot about my apple flavor absorption theory. Until the other day….

I took to the Internet, and saw some promising links. Then I called up Kathleen Brown, a professor of plant science at Penn State, who explained to me that this is indeed a thing, and told me how it works.

Any food can actually absorb the flavor of any other food, she told me, but because of apples' mild flavor, it's easier to notice.

"An apple is so fleshy that there's a lot of air space in it to store those flavors in a way that they can be released later when you’re eating the apple," she says. "One of the reasons the flesh looks white is because [there are] air spaces in between the cells."

Pears, which are similarly delicate and mild-flavored, often do the same thing, as do potatoes. But since most of us don't just bite into a raw potato the way we would an apple or pear, that issue doesn’t come up so much.

With regard to... my specific issue, onions have particularly volatile aroma compounds, Brown says, and, what's more, they're sulfurous, "so you would be more likely to perceive them as objectionable." Their strong flavor, combined with apples' mild one, makes onion-flavored apples a likely occurrence if you keep them in the same crisper. A box of baking soda can help keep flavors where they should be, but Brown also points out that you don't need to keep onions in the fridge. So that's partially my bad. But the important thing is, I was RIGHT.

June 30, 2014 at 08:01 PM | Permalink


I have always kept my fruit together in one bin. My sons enjoy it when we have apples that absorb some of the flavor from neighboring limes. Sometime it is just a hint and at times it is like "wow"!

Posted by: asif404 | Jul 1, 2014 9:29:19 AM

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