In trying to find the best recipe for making apple butter, I discovered there are two opposing camps on whether the apples should be peeled or not peeled. Apples for apple butter are cooked for several hours on low, and then they’re zapped with an immersion blender or placed in a food processor. The logic of the leave-the-peels-on camp is that the peels won’t be noticeable after the immersion blender has had its way with them; not only does this eliminate having to peel the apples, but some people might assume the peels add extra flavor
If you have a Johnny Apple Peeler like I do, peeling apples is no big deal.* So the question for me was whether leaving the peels on adds to the taste. What I didn’t plan for is how the peels change the texture, and as far as I discovered, not in a good way. (*Anyone who bakes or cooks with apples is insane to not have this amazing less-than-$20 device that peels, slices and cores apples in one easy step.)
For the test, I used the same amount of Pink Lady and Fuji apples from the same batches of apples at the store and cooked them in the same model of slow cookers at the same time. So the only variable was apples with peels vs. apples without peels.
My first discovery was that after several hours of cooking, the peels on the apples that were next to the bottom edge of the slow cooker were becoming tough. So the unpeeled batch needed to be stirred more often than the unpeeled batch. This could be an issue if you are putting your apple butter into a slow cooker and leaving it too cook on low all day when you are at work.
Then came the blending after several hours in the slow cookers. The peeled batch of cooked apples was no match for our Braun Immersion Blender which has been a workhorse in our kitchen for years.* But the batch of apples with the peels was another story. I needed to blend it twice as long, and no matter how much I blended it, I couldn’t get rid of the occasional small piece of tough apple skin. I did not use a food processor, which might have done a better job, but I’m not so sure. (*The KitchenAid Immersion Blender and the Mueller Immersion Blender get great reviews and are $20 less than the Braun, and the Oxa comes with a bunch of extra stuff and is $39.)
As for a taste comparison, I didn’t find any difference in taste between the two batches. So I couldn’t see where the apple peels added any extra flavor. For me, texture was the difference: while there wasn’t a huge difference in texture between the two batches, there was enough of a difference that I definitely preferred the batch with the peeled apples.
I don’t know how many of you can remember the Alar insanity from 1989, where environmental groups claimed that apples sprayed with Alar posed a danger to humanity and any of its members who ate them. These fears were eventually found to be baseless. But if you don’t have your own apple tree and can’t afford organic apples, using peeled apples might help allay any fears about having toxic apple butter should hysteria about Alar or other pesticides rear its ugly head.
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