Today we will be determining once and for all which is better: apples, or oranges.
It has long been held that these two fruits were incomparable for some reason that was so obvious that it didn’t need to be explained. Indeed, it has been taken as axiomatic in many quarters: apples and oranges are the most fundamentally different objects in the known universe, objects to which all other pairs of very different objects must submit. Today, however, we will expose the truth. We will prove that apples and oranges can be compared by doing that which was thought impossible – we will, y’know… compare them.
A red or green-skinned fruit with a tartly sweet flavor, leaning more one way or the other depending on the particular variant. Apples range from roughly spherical to elongated, compressed ovals that are fatter at the top than at the bottom. They have a stem above, a hard knot and knobby “feet” below, and a seed-heavy, inedible core. You might recognize them from: apple pie, apple brown betty, proverbial upsettable carts.
A perfect orb-shaped fruit with predictably orange skin and similarly orange innards. Oranges are usually sweet with just a dollop of the bite of other citrus fruits (lemons, grapefruit), and they can be had with or without seeds embedded in their meat. You might recognize them from: orange juice, orange chicken, Orange Julius.
Apples and oranges both mitigate their sweetness in a way that makes their flavor more complex than the direct sugar wallop of something like a ripe banana. Apples are tart, verging on sour in the “baking” strains. Oranges are sweeter but have an acidic undercurrent. Apples are a baking favorite for a reason – the tartness lends itself so well to mingling with butter and sugar that its flavor has locked down a place in Americana, in the form of the traditional apple pie (e.g. “as American as…”). You don’t see orange pie on the menu… well, anywhere really.
On the other hand, orange juice shames apple juice as the breakfast beverage of choice. It’s nearly impossible to stomach eggs without OJ. And in the realm of candy, while orange is not as strong as popular favorites like cherry or “blue,” it certainly outstrips apple, which only shows up in inferior flavors of Jolly Ranchers and the like. I bet you can imagine eating orange Starburst when all the pink and red ones are gone, but what if they threw in a green-colored apple flavor? You’d just throw them away, wouldn’t you?
Finally there’s the head-to-head comparison. For pure eating, I believe the orange has it. Some oranges are better than others, but you wouldn’t usually think of a “bad orange,” whereas a “bad apple” is an established idea that is apparently so universal that it can be applied to things from non-fruit categories. Plus, there are plenty of types of apples that aren’t even “bad” per se, but are simply not good unless worked over by a knife and a cup of sugar mixed with cinnamon.
In the flavor category, the orange wins it. Orange: 1, Apple: 0.
Apples have a very distinctive texture – crisp, crunchy, but suffused with juice; and wrapped in a super-thin outer skin that requires you to puncture it with your teeth. Eating an apple is a textural delight as long as you avoid the stem and stop before you get to the core. Oranges have a thicker outer skin that cannot be eaten but requires peeling away, and feels somewhat leathery, like a basketball. The inside is very wet and pulpy, producing the odd sensation that your mouth can’t decide between eating it or drinking it. With very juicy oranges I often find myself draining them of juice and leaving the actual fruit behind. In all, the apple wins here. Orange: 1, Apple: 1.
III. Visual appeal
This is certainly our toughest category so far. Apples and oranges come from opposite schools of thought on visual presentation. The apple is rich and subtle in color, with a polished look almost like a well-finished piece of wood. The best apples inspire one to take up still-life painting. It also presents a little variety, usually with gradations of different colors around the top, and that little fleck of brown in the stem. Architecturally, the apple can be a bit odd-looking: top-heavy, not quite round. I do find pleasure in the more spherical look of (for example) a Golden Delicious.
Oranges, on the other hand, are almost modern art – almost Warholian. They are perfectly round (except with inferior specimens) and mono-hued. Their color is the most vibrant on the supermarket shelves, almost garish; it is in fact so distinctive that the color and the fruit have the same name. Whereas an apple comes off as fussy and complex, an orange is all about clarity and making a bold statement.
Ultimately I have to give the nod to the apple. Classicism wins over modernism in this instance – and it helps the cause of the apple that it offers so many different looks, whereas oranges are generally big or small, but always look like oranges.
Orange: 1, Apple: 2.
IV. Influence on and presence in culture
Apples dominate the world of baked goods and have given us a few catchphrases, as mentioned previously. On the other hand, oranges figured prominently in a funny “Seinfeld” episode about Japanese TV, and have spread out more broadly to various types of cooking. Apart from its uses with pork, the apple rarely branches out from the dessert menu.
The deciding factor in this category is everyone’s favorite fun fact: that there are no words that rhyme with orange. When you are a universally-acknowledged iconoclast, you win the culture war.
Orange: 2, Apple: 2
V. The coin flip
Heads! Oranges win.
The final tally: Orange: 3, Apple: 2.
Please come back for next week’s session, in which we will be dancing about architecture.