Are Crabapples Edible?

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As a child, you were likely told more than once to avoid eating crabapples. Why? There’s a common misconception that crabapples are toxic.

However, this couldn’t be further from the truth. While crabapples do have a bitter taste and there are small amounts of cyanide in the seeds, they are more than safe to eat.

Are Crabapples Edible?

If you find yourself staring at the tantalizing fruits hanging from your backyard crabapple tree, wondering whether crabapples are edible, wonder no more. The short answer to this question is yes – it is more than safe to eat crabapples from any kind of crabapple tree.

Yes! Crabapples are edible, however, they may not always be tasty. Because crabapples are essentially just immature apples, they have a wide variety of flavors and may not always be palatable. Rest easy, however, knowing that you will not get sick from eating fruit from your crabapple tree.

What are Crabapples?

Crabapples aren’t their own distinct kind of tree. They are just a different size. Here’s an easy to follow tip – if a tree produces fruits smaller than two inches, it is a crabapple tree. If it produces fruits larger than two inches, it is an apple. That’s all there is to it!

The confusion lies in the fact that apples that were bred to be larger were also usually bred to be better-tasting. There are multiple varieties of ornamental crabapples that were bred especially to produce attractive flowers, meaning those fruits aren’t particularly great to eat.

In any case, eating crabapples won’t make you sick – but they might not be super tasty. The exact taste will vary depending on the kind of tree you plant, with some varieties of crabapples producing fruits that taste great even when consumed raw. Others will be extremely sour.

Ornamental vs Edible Crabapples

Apple trees have been cultivated for many thousands of years, with the domestic apple originating in Kazakhstan. This cultivar has been around for over 6,000 years, but apples were also eaten in steady supply by the Romans, Greeks, and Scandinavians.

Today’s domestic apples are large, sweet, and supple, with multiple varieties available including Fuji, Gala, Honeycrisp, and Pink Lady. All varieties of apples were hybridized from two basic originals: Red and Golden Delicious.

Crabapples, as previously mentioned, can occur on any of these varieties. They are a reference to size and nothing else.

There are some types of crabapple trees that produce tastier fruits than others. For example, Centennial and Dolgo crabapples produce tasty fruits that you can eat fresh off the tree. However, other kinds of crabapples, like Chestnut and Whitney, should be saved for baking into pieces, butters, preserves, or sauces.

Some crabapple trees are prized more for their decorative, ornamental quality than their ability to be eaten. Here are some popular crabapple trees that you might consider growing on your property.

Dolgo

This apple tree grows to about 35 feet in height and is prized for its ornamental and edible qualities. Most people prepare the apples from this tree in sauces, jellies, and ciders. These apples can also be eaten fresh. It is very resistant to certain diseases, like scab, making it a great choice for landscaping as it produces gorgeous white flowers and yellow leaves in the fall.

Centennial Crabapple

This dwarf tree is a good choice, growing up to eight feet in height in most cases. It produces delicious fruits that are great for eating raw or cooking in jellies or butters.

Chestnut Crabapple

Chestnut Crabapple

The chestnut crabapple tolerates cold and produces a sweet, nutty fruit. This tree is a great pollinator, and holds up well to being cooked in sauces, jams, and other dishes.

Hopa Flowering Crab

This tree produces gorgeous pink flowers with white centers. It is a bit more vulnerable to disease than some other varieties of crabapple trees, but it’s incredibly tough and designed for growing in Zone 2A. It grows to a whopping 25 feet in height.

Whitney Flowering Crab

This is a shorter tree that only reaches about sixteen feet maximum. It produces lovely white and pink flowers that attract birds and other pollinators, but it can also self-pollinate. You can eat the fruits directly of this tree or you can use them in canning or other kinds of preservation, too.

pink spires crabapple flowers

Pink Spires Flowering Crab

The Pink Spires Flowering Crab is a narrow tree that makes it ideal for smaller chunks of property. It grows to about fifteen feet tall and planting one is a great way to attract birds and other pollinating visitors to your land.

This tree displays multiple colors in the fall, including red and yellow. It is definitely more of an ornamental tree than an edible one – this fruit doesn’t even hold up well when cooked into jams.

Where are Crabapples Found?

Crabapples are found all over the world but prefer to grow in mild areas of the northern hemisphere. You can find them in the temperature areas of North America, where they were introduced in the 1700s, as well as in countries such as Russia, Kazakhstan, and China.

What are the Health Benefits of Crabapples?

Eating crabapples offers all the same health benefits as eating regular apples. These fruits are highly valued for their diverse nutritional profile. You can get a ton of nutrients by eating these tasty fruits. In particular, crabapples contain the following vitamins and minerals:

CalciumCopper
IronMalic acid
NiacinPhosphorus
Omega-3 Fatty AcidsOmega-6 Fatty Acids
RiboflavinTannis
Vitamin AVitamin C
Amino acidsCitric acid
FlavonoidsKaryotin
MagnesiumManganese
PectinPotassium
SodiumThiamin
Vitamin B12

What’s interesting is that crabapples actually have a variety of medicinal benefits. Although eating too many of these delicious fruits can cause digestive upsets, counterintuitively that can also be used to treat tummy troubles, too.

Ripe crabapples have powerful digestive agents to help speed up digestion, helping to relieve conditions like diarrhea and stomachaches

Even the bark of the tree can be used to improve your health. You can grind it into a powder and consume it to reduce bile production, often associated with conditions like acid reflux. This miracle plant can also improve hiccups and throat diseases, too.

Crabapples contain high levels of vitamin A, so there is evidence to suggest that a diet that includes regular consumption of crabapples can reduce your risk of prostate cancer and fight premature aging. They can also improve your ocular health.

Because crabapples have so many vitamins and minerals, your immune system will benefit, too. These fruits are a fantastic source of vitamin C and also have a tremendous amount of iron. This can be particularly helpful to women, in particular, pregnant women, as well as athletes.

Are There Any Risks Associated with Eating Crabapples?

Crabapples are not toxic, but like all other apples, the seeds do contain cyanogenic glycosides – aka, cyanide. You should avoid eating the stems, seeds, and leaves of the plant to avoid any danger of cyanide poisoning.

Even if you do accidentally eat some of these inedible portions, you’ll likely be fine – the quantities of cyanide or so low that you’d have to eat a lot of seeds – over 200 – in order to have any ill effects.

That being said, because crabapples are so sour, it’s not unheard of for some people to develop some digestive problems after eating them. You might have a sour stomach if you eat too many.

Cyanide poisoning symptoms would be much more severe, causing issues like seizures and shortness of breath. Again, however, this would be extremely difficult to do.

The same goes for feeding crabapples to animals. If you choose to feed livestock, like pigs or cattle, crabapples, they should be fine when the fruits are fed in moderation.

However, if you have crabapples inside your livestock pens, you might want to do something to put the trees out of their reach (such as building a fence around the base of the tree so the animals can’t gorge themselves on dropped apples).

Can I Grow Crabapples?

Growing your own crabapple trees is a great way to double up on your homestead – not only will you receive a fruit tree that pushes out hundreds of tasty morsels each year, but you’ll also have a new eye-catching focal point on your property.

In the spring, your crabapple tree will produce gorgeous colors (which will also help to attract beneficial pollinators), and in the fall, the colors will change to another lovely shade.

Crabapples produce foliage throughout the year and most varieties work well on smaller lawns, as they don’t grow to exorbitant heights. They require very little pruning and are drought-tolerant. They can also grow well in challenging soils, such as heavy clay, as well as in harsh conditions (such as extremely cold temperatures).

To grow crabapples, first select your variety. Decide whether the appearance or fruit-bearing ability of your tree is more important, and then select a variety based on that factor, as well as how well it withstands the conditions of your specific growing area.

In general, you should select a cultivar that has good fruit persistence -meaning it keeps their fruits until they are mature- and disease resistance. Most crabapples are hardy to zone 4, but some can be kept in colder weather. Most crabapples will prefer rich, well-draining and slightly acidic soil. They will need regular water during the first year, but after that thrive in dry conditions.

How are Crabapples Prepared?

Crabapple trees tend to produce fruits that are small, round, and hard. They can be green with a pale pink blush or golden yellow. While most crabapple will be small and sour and not ideal for eating raw, you can make some tantalizing recipes with these fruits. The most popular options are jams and jellies, but there are some more unique recipes you can try, too.

Crabapple jelly is one of the most popular ways to eat crabapples. It’s a great choice because you add so much sugar to the mixture that even super sour crabapples will have a fantastic taste when prepared this way. Crabapple jelly or jam also makes a fantastic gift!

You can make this with as few as a handful or as many as several bushels of crabapples, depending on how much jelly you want to make (and how many crabapple trees you have on your property).

All you need to do is cook down the apples until they reach a mushy consistency, and then add sugar to make preserves. Then you can process the jelly in a water bath canner to be used up to a full year later.

If you like fruit liqueurs, either for baking or for use in cocktails, you’ve got to give crabapple liqueur a try. This recipe combines about thirty to forty crabapples with some gin or vodka, as well as ample amounts of sugar. It does take about two months to steep, so there’s commitment involved – however, it’s totally worth it in the long run.

Another option for crabapples is pickling them. Pickled apples are great for adding a zesty spin on boring salads or sautees, but you can also use them as desserts. You can also make crabapple sauces with cinnamon and sugar, or butters that are great for spreading on toast.

If you have a crabapple tree on your property, you might never know what it truly is. Why? Crabapple trees hybridize very easily, so it’s difficult to determine the exact origins or breed of a tree.

However, it’s always safe to eat apples off any kind of tree, so you don’t have to worry about getting yourself sick by experimenting with the fruits of mystery apple trees.

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Rebekah White
About Rebekah White 26 Articles
Rebekah is a high-school English teacher n New York, where she lives on a 22 acre homestead. She raises and grows chickens, bees, and veggies such as zucchini (among other things).

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