No matter if they are organic or not, people with an apple allergy usually can’t eat them. But some apples can be safe to eat for allergic persons, as they don’t result in that awful scratching and itching. Here’s why and which.
Childhood Apple Trauma
It started around the time when I was 13 or so. At that age I already was not big on fruit and vegetables,but my mom finally managed to coax me into eating an apple, because “they are so healthy”. Having images of various toothpaste commercials in front of my inner eye (here in Germany they usually featured people biting into apples with shiny, healthy teeth), I took a huge bit and chewed.
Moments after I swallowed, all hell broke loose in the upper ends of my digestive tract. An itching so strong started inside in my throat, I was tempted to try pushing my hand inside there to start scratching. This was then accompanied by what felt like a slight swelling of the affected tissue. Not able to unhinge my jaw, I simply sat it out, but after that, apples were dead for me.
Walk On The Wild Apple Side
Years and years later my girlfriend and I were on vacation on the pleasant little Friesian island of Föhr on the German coast. While on a bike ride, we came upon a wild apple tree that bore equally wild luscious little apples. Their appetizing looks and getting something for free fought with my unpleasant childhood memory. The inner “it’s on sale” conditioning won out and I bit into one. And ate it. And then another. And another. At the end, I had eaten five or six of them, savouring the delicious taste without getting even the slightest hint of an allergic reaction.
But what had happened? At first I reasoned that the lack of an allergic reaction came down to the wild apples not being treated with any fertilizers or insecticides. But when I bought organic apples, the allergy was there alright. This had me stumped until recently, when I finally tried to get to the ground of it. After all, I couldn’t take trips to a Friesian island just to eat some apples.
It’s In The Phenols
It turns out that the difference between wild and supermarket apples lies in the phenols – organic compounds that occur in apples and give them resistance against bacteria and add to their color. As they also give apples a sour taste, they have been bred out of most varieties of apples that today are sold in supermarkets.
That was a crucial decision for allergy sufferers, because the phenols also provide another function: they keep the allergens people react to in check. This possible connection was already discovered in 1980, when it was shown that the allergens in apples probably are proteins and that they only get active when an apple’s phenols are neutralized, but apparently the discovery was never widely regarded.
What Should Allergic Apple Lovers Do?
If you are allergic to apples, but still want to eat them here and then, there are a couple of ways you can still your craving.
First of all, you can of course find a wild apple tree of your own, but that may be a bit impractical. What you may want to do instead is shop for “old” apple varieties; a read through this Smithsonian article should give you an idea what to look out for. It’s fairly safe to say that anything found at a supermarket and called “Granny Smith”, “Braeburn” etc. won’t work for you, but you may get lucky on a farmer’s market.
Another option is to buy one of the usual suspects, picking a variety you don’t react that strongly to. Then simply let it sit and wait. Over time the amount of phenols in apples builds up and you may be able to eat them.
Whatever you do, be careful, because your allergic reaction may not be identical to mine and come on much stronger. When you give it a try, take a small nibble and look for any reaction. If it doesn’t come, take a slightly bigger nibble etc. If there is any unpleasantness, stop. If you ever suffered from or have any reason to believe that you may experience anaphylaxis, you may not want to try it at all.