Crab apple trees are common backyard trees and many wonder if you can eat the small fruits they produce.
So, can you eat crab apples? The good news is crab apples are perfectly safe to eat, although they may taste bitter straight from the tree.
However, when ripe and prepared correctly they can make an excellent addition to baked goods or preserves and are packed with antioxidants and vitamin C.
Let's take a closer look at the the crab apple, and answer not just “can you eat crab apples”, and what to look out for when picking and prepping them.
What Are Crab Apples?
The term “crab apples” doesn’t actually refer to a specific type of apple. It tends to be simply used as a catch-all term for small, wild apples.
As with other, domesticated, apples, there are hundreds of varieties and hybrids that range in appearance and flavor.
Some have been selected for flavor but others simply to be ornamental, so if you have a tree in your garden, it is luck of the draw on what flavor to expect.
Why Are They Called Crab Apples?
The unusual name of the crab apples can be one of the reasons people assume they are inedible, it certainly isn’t an appetizing name!
And, in fact, they may get that name from a certain sour or bitter flavor. As crabby can mean ill-tempered the apples may have been associated with particularly bitter species.
It may, alternatively, be derived from the Norse, “skrabba” meaning “fruit of the wild tree.”
Are Crab Apples Edible?
You may have heard that crab apples contain cyanide and should therefore be avoided. However, it is only true that crab apple seeds contain small amounts of cyanogenic glycoside, which can be converted by the body into cyanide.
This means you should avoid eating the core and stems while eating or preparing crab apples. However, the compound is in such a low amount you don’t need to fear swallowing a couple of seeds.
Some crab apples are more palatable than others, some were bred for their beautiful flowers more than their tasty fruits. The crab apples from Dalgo and Centennial trees are considered the tastiest.
How To Tell if a Crab Apple Is Ripe
If you have a crab apple tree in your garden you will see a more vivid color develop as it ripens. For some species, this is a deep red, for others a bright yellow.
As there are so many varieties there are different ripening periods for each. Start checking in August, but some won’t ripen until late fall.
What Do Crab Apples Taste Like?
The general rule is that bigger crab apples taste better than smaller ones. Crab apples can be quite bitter and unpalatable to many.
If you want to eat crab apples straight from the tree you’ll have to plant or find one of the sweeter varieties. With bitter crab apples, you can sweeten them by baking them or creating a jam as discussed below.
How to Use Crab Apples
If you have a variety that is on the sweeter side, you can enjoy them fresh off the tree. They also work well in salads and smoothies.
One of the best uses for crab apples is to make crab apple jam. This is a delicious spread to have on morning toast. Sauces and pickles are also great ways to use a harvest of crab apples.
Baking crab apples until they caramelize is an easy way to sweeten them, or you can add them to pastries and other baked goods. Chestnut and Whitney crab apples work especially well for baking.
Can You Eat Crab Apples – Conclusion
Crab apples won’t often be the tastiest thing to eat from the tree. However, if you have a tree growing nearby or in your garden, there are lots of easy ways to enjoy them.
They can bring a unique flavor to sauces, jams, and baked goods, and as they grow so easily, are a great way to enjoy fresh produce from your garden.