The apple has no core. It can, and should, be eaten whole, seeds and all. Eaten from the top down (or the bottom up), the fibrous ovary wall that is typically discarded and left to oxidize is indistinguishable from the flesh. The truth about apples was first disseminated en masse in 2013 via a video produced by Foodbeast. It went viral, was picked up by countless media outlets, and rehashed in other “Things You’re Doing Wrong” listicles. I hold these truths to be self-evident: The core is an illusion; the core is a construct.
Apples have always contained secrets. Western culture generally associates the forbidden fruit in Genesis with the apple due to the homonymic qualities of the Latin words mălum and mālum, the former meaning “evil” and the latter meaning “apple.” This wasn’t plucked from thin air. The apple’s place in mythology and religious texts as a symbol of sin and sacredness only corroborates the dualism woven in its chemistry.
What you might have heard about apple seeds is true: They contain a trace amount of cyanide, which won’t do you much harm unless you happen to eat 25 apples in one sitting, consciously gnashing on the seeds to release as much of the toxin as possible. I’ve willfully eaten plenty of apple seeds. It’s not that I don’t fear death; I just happen to like how they taste. They’re mildly bitter and nutty in taste and aroma, akin to an almond. That isn’t a coincidence — the cyanide, which lends those qualities, is present in certain types of almonds. (Relax, not the ones you’re likely to purchase at Whole Foods.) The specific cyanide compound is called amygdalin, which is toxic in the presence of certain enzymes. It is not to be confused with the amygdala, the part of the brain that plays a large role in processing emotion, memory, and addiction.
Amygdalin was first extracted in 1830, nearly 30 years before the first version of the expression “an apple a day keeps the doctor away” was coined in Wales. For more than a century, amygdalin was used as a cancer treatment. Practitioners theorized that cancer cells carried an enzyme that released the cyanide, thus killing the cells. Amygdalin, in a purified form, was patented as laetrile and marketed as vitamin B-17, “the missing vitamin.” It was an appeal to alternative medicine seekers hoping for all-natural cancer treatments. The scheme worked. In the 1970s, an era of paranoia and new value systems, the idea of the government withholding a natural cure to cancer to keep Big Pharma in control seemed reasonable.
“The laetrile crusade has achieved unprecedented triumph by capitalizing on a unique sociopolitical climate characterized by a growing hostility towards ‘the establishment,’ a demand for simple solutions, and frustration with the inability to solve the cancer riddle,” wrote Irving J. Lerner, a hematology and oncology specialist, in his paper, “Laetrile: A Lesson in Cancer Quackery.” The Supreme Court upheld a ban on laetrile in 1980, and the National Cancer Institute states that its use is not approved in the U.S.
Still, a cursory Google search to this day yields results for web pages that ponder its merits as a cure. People want to believe in a panacea. Eating an apple vertically, then, becomes a weapon of the weak. To shatter one illusion is to want to shatter more. How do you think I fell down this rabbit hole?
And for the smartasses who ask if the stem should be eaten, too, please know that you’ve been eating it all your life. The portion of an apple we consider the flesh is what is known as the hypanthium, or a swollen receptacle — the engorged end of the stem.