Science ideas for young children - Part 12: Apple tasting and science

Teach young children about science by hosting an apple tasting!

Michigan State University Extension will be continuing a series of articles on science activities about the natural world that adults can conduct with children.  This can be done within a family, in a day-care setting, as part of school activities, a 4-H club or with any group working with young children. 

Michigan is a great state for apples as a wide variety of different kinds are grown here, even though only a few can be found at supermarkets. Although Washington State grows more total pounds of apples than Michigan does, many Michigan residents pride themselves on having tasty apples!

I have gone into my daughter’s classrooms several times, starting in preschool, to host an apple tasting.  This is a great way to showcase Michigan’s harvest, and also to teach science skills.  I slice several varieties of apples into small pieces.  I use an automatic apple corer and peeler because it goes faster, although I do not peel the apples, I just use it for coring and slicing.  I place the apples pieces on a plate, with a single whole apple and the name of the specific variety.  I give each child a penny and put a small cup in front of each plate.  The child puts their penny in the cup of the apple that they like best.

I usually try to include four to six varieties of apples that have a range of flavors and textures.  If you go to a local orchard, the people working there can help you pick varieties that have a good contrast.  I also usually include some Washington Red Delicious apples for comparison.  Before the tasting starts, I tell the children to move the apple pieces to different parts of their mouth and notice how the apple tastes different in different places.  This introduces them to concepts about the tasting areas of the tongue and observation, an important scientific skill.

After the apple tasting, I talk to the children about what they observed in the different apples.  I ask them to compare the appearance of each apple and if that had any bearing on the taste.  Below are some good questions to ask to encourage scientific thinking.  Remember to let the kids guess; there are multiple answers to each question, beyond what I have listed.

  • Why do apples taste differently?
    • This can be particularly interesting if you have a Red Delicious apple from both Michigan and Washington.  The weather in Michigan is much different and it causes different flavors to develop in the apple.
    • Different apples are good for different things. Some are good for fresh eating while others are good for pies, sauce, drying or cider.  Farmers and scientists breed new kinds of apples to be better at different things.  In the process they get a variety of flavors.  Just like people look somewhat like each of their parents, so do apples.  Unlike people however, once we have a variety of apple with things we like, we can use grafting to make lots of copies of that particular variety.
  • Why might a farmer want to grow more than one kind of apple?

    • Different apples become ripe at different times. By having several varieties, they can stretch out the growing season.  If they had all one kind of apple, they would need to pick everything at once, which would take more people.
    • Some varieties are more resistant to certain insects or diseases.
  • Why do we have lots of apples some years and few apples in other years?

    • Weather is the biggest reason; the amount of rainfall, sun, and temperature in the area directly impact fruit production.
    • As it gets warm in the spring, apple trees start to blossom.  If a cold frost comes and kills those apple blossoms, fruit production will decrease.
    • Bees and other pollinators need to visit each flower in order for it to fruit.  If the weather is too cold, rainy or windy when the flowers are blossoming, the bees won’t get out and pollinate.

I also like to teach the children the difference between apple cider and apple juice.  I have a bottle of both.  I start the discussion by asking the children to notice differences in the physical properties of each, or how they look.

Apple cider is a fresh product.  Apples are shredded and the juice is squeezed out.  Cider can be pasteurized, where it is heated for a short moment and quickly cooled back down to destroy bacteria.  Cider needs to be used in a relatively short period of time and kept refrigerated or it will start to ferment. 

Apple juice is a processed product.  Apple juice starts much the same way as apple cider. The juice is “cooked” and filtered to remove any of the sediment (tiny bits of apple).  This makes a product that does not need to be refrigerated and can be kept on the shelf until it is opened.  It also significantly changes the flavor.

Hopefully these tips will provide ideas on how to conduct your own apple tasting with a group of children near you!

Related Events

Related Articles

Related Resources