Crab apples are tiny fruits that grow on trees and resemble bigger apples.
You may have encountered them in orchards, as well as in decor that features dried blossoms or fruits on branches in vases or wreaths.
Since they look just like apples, you may wonder whether they’re edible.
This article reviews whether you can eat crab apples.
Crab apples are small, decorative wild apples. Like domesticated eating apples, they’re members of the Malus genus. Eating apples were simply bred to produce larger, sweeter fruit (
A common misconception is that crab apples are toxic. This is not the case, as long as you don’t eat the core and seeds, just like with bigger apples, they’re perfectly edible.
A good rule of thumb is that if the fruit is less than 2 inches (5 cm) in diameter, it’s considered a crab apple. Those bigger than that are simply called apples.
While the apples you find at the supermarket may come in a range of shades, crab apples are typically yellow-green. That said, some are a vibrant red, which may lead some to mistake them for cherries.
The only way to know is to cut the fruit open. If it has a core and seeds —and not a pit — it’s a crab apple.
Crab apple cores, like those of bigger apples, contain seeds that have small amounts of cyanogenic glycoside. When this naturally occurring plant compound is metabolized, it’s converted into cyanide.
Cyanide is a toxic substance. However, the amounts of cyanogenic glycoside in crab apple seeds is minimal. You would have to eat a lot of these seeds to see any ill effects, so swallowing one or a couple on accident won’t be cause for concern (
Crab apples are essentially little apples and safe to eat. Be sure to avoid the seeds and core, just as you would if you were eating a regular apple.
Just because it’s safe to eat crab apples, that doesn’t mean you’ll necessarily want to do so. This is because crab apples are not always palatable.
In fact, crab apples are usually simply not eaten because they can be extremely sour or spongy in texture. Those that come from the Dalgo and Centennial trees are considered the most edible.
Crab apples, like most fruit, have been bred through time for different purposes. Some crab apples were bred for their beautiful flowers, while others were bred for their not-so-tasty but very decorative fruits.
Still, if you want to give them a try, there are many ways to enjoy them, such as raw, fresh off the tree, or tossed into salads or smoothies.
Alternatively, slice them down to create a crab apple jam. To do so:
- First, wash 2.2 pounds (1 kg) of crab apples, or about 30 crab apples.
- Combine them with 2 cups (473 mL) of water in a large pot. Simmer for 35–40 minutes until softened and mushy.
- Run the fruit through a food mill, or mash it with an immersion blender.
- Strain the pulp through a fine-mesh sieve to help remove the seeds and stems.
- Take 3 cups (237 mL) of your pulp and add it to a pot. Combine with 2-1/4 cups (288 grams) of cane sugar. Add vanilla, ginger, star anise, or cinnamon if you would like, to taste.
- Simmer for 30 minutes over medium heat, stirring frequently to prevent the mixture from sticking to the bottom of the pot.
- The jam is done when it’s no longer runny.
- Store in a sterilized jar or container. Refrigerate.
Alternatively, you can simply bake your crabapples until they caramelize and are a bit sweeter. Chestnut and Whitney crab apple varieties are especially good for culinary purposes (3).
While crab apples are safe to eat, you may not always find them palatable. Bigger crab apples usually offer the best flavor.
Crab apples contain many of the same wide-ranging health benefits of regular apples — which extend to the gut and heart (
However, you’d need to compensate for their smaller size by eating more crab apples to get the same nutrients as you would from a bigger apple.
For instance, a crab apple can range from 3/4 of an inch (2 cm) to 2 inches (5 cm) in diameter, while a medium-sized apple is about 3 inches (8 cm) in size (5).
Therefore, you would need to eat about four crab apples to reap the same benefits as you would from eating one medium apple.
One crab apple (1.2 ounces or 35 grams) packs the following nutrients (
- Calories: 18
- Carbs: 5 grams
- Fiber: 1 gram
- Vitamin C: 2% of the Daily Value (DV)
- Potassium: 1% of the DV
- Copper: 1% of the DV
Thus, one crab apple delivers 4% of the DV for fiber, which is important for proper digestion and heart health. The same serving provides 2% of the DV for vitamin C, which is needed for healthy skin and immune function (
What’s more, crab apples have anticancer compounds, as well as antioxidants — which help fight free radicals associated with aging and chronic disease (
Remember to eat your crab apple with the skin on, as it contains about half of its fiber and polyphenols, which are beneficial plant chemicals (
Crab apples contain many of the same great nutrients as their larger counterparts — just on a smaller scale. These include fiber, vitamin C, and various powerful plant compounds.
If you’re unsure about what’s hanging off the tree, consult a botanist or wild edibles expert.
Never eat fruit from the wild that you can’t identify with confidence. Doing so may lead to the accidental ingestion of toxic plants.
If you definitively have a crab apple on your hands, be sure to avoid the seeds and core.
The seeds contain cyanogenic glycoside, which your body metabolizes into cyanide, a toxic compound.
Still, there’s no need to panic if you accidentally swallow a few seeds — it would take a lot of them to make you sick.
However, if you have a crab apple tree in your yard, as well as a dog or other small animal, make sure they don’t eat these. If they ingest a large amount of them, it could pose a threat to their health.
Furthermore, larger animals like horses and sheep are even more likely to eat high amounts of them, and their access should also be limited.
While they don’t pose a real threat to humans, crab apples may be dangerous for your pets and animals if they eat the seeds.
Crab apples are basically little apples, and they’re safe to eat as long as you discard the seeds and pit.
Like bigger apples, they pack healthful nutrients — just on a smaller scale.
However, they may not always be palatable, which is why they’re not as commonly consumed as their larger counterparts.
Still, if you want to give them a try, you can eat them raw, tossed into salads or smoothies, or even made into a scrumptious jam.
Generally, bigger crab apples are the tastiest. As for the tinier ones — it may be best to leave those for the birds.