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Tips for Preventing Apples from Turning Brown

Apples are a fruit available all year round but taste the best when freshly picked from a local orchard in the fall. Whether making apple butter, sauce, pie, salad, drying, freezing, canning, or cutting them up to snack on later, one universal struggle is slicing them fast enough before they start turning brown.

Aside from choosing which variety of apple to use, working against the clock in the kitchen to peel and prepare apples before they start browning can feel like an overwhelming task. Enzymatic browning is caused by the fruit being exposed to air. Browning is harmless, but the fruit loses its crisp texture and doesn't look appealing. Depending on whether you are preserving apples for later use or baking them, may determine what type of pre-treatment you use. Freezing and canning may require a less concentrated pre-treatment solution compared to drying cut apples. The darkening of apples can be stopped in a few different ways:

  • Ascorbic Acid Tablets or Mixture. Ascorbic acid, commonly known as vitamin C, can be found in the grocery store or pharmacy. Using ascorbic acid does not add flavor to the apples. Mix 1 teaspoon powder or six crushed tablets with two cups of water and dip apples in the solution for 3 to 5 minutes. The ascorbic acid powder can also be added directly to the fruit and mixed. The white specks in the tablets are harmless. Follow manufacturer's instruction for using ascorbic acid mixtures, such as Fruit-Fresh, commonly made of a mix of ascorbic and citric acid with a sugar base.
  • Fruit Juice Dip. Grape, orange, lemon, lime, and pineapple juice can all slow down browning with their higher concentrations of vitamin C. Keep in mind, adding juice may change the flavor or color of the apple product as well. A suggestion to reduce the flavor change is to mix 1-quart water with three tablespoons of lemon juice and soak apples for 3 to 5 minutes.
  • Honey Dip. Another method for preventing browning is creating a honey solution made of half a cup sugar, half a cup honey, and one and a half cup boiling water. Soak fruit for 3 to 5 minutes and drain. This method does add extra calories.

Citric acid alone is not a good substitute for ascorbic acid to prevent browning. Another option is using sodium bisulfate, but should not be used for individuals with asthma. Sodium bisulfite or sulfite dip is the most effective treatment for long term storage of dried apples. Sodium bisulfate can be ordered through a local pharmacy.

Have additional questions about keeping apples fresh? Join University of Illinois Extension Nutrition and Wellness Educators on July 15, as they focus on canning, freezing, drying, and cooking a variety of apples. Call the extension office to sign up or register yourself at

Spiced Apple Rings - Makes 8 to 9 pints

12 lbs. firm, tart apples

12 cups sugar

6 cups  water

1 1/4 cups 5% vinegar, white

3 Tablespoons whole cloves

¾ cup red hot cinnamon candies or 8 cinnamon sticks

1 teaspoon red food coloring

1. Wash hands with soap and water.

2. Wash apples. To prevent discoloration, peel, and slice one apple at a time. Immediately cut crosswise into 1/2-inch slices, remove core area with a melon baller and immerse in ascorbic acid solution.

3. To make flavored syrup, combine sugar water, vinegar, cloves, cinnamon candies, or cinnamon sticks and food coloring in a 6-qt saucepan.  Stir, heat to boil, and simmer 3 minutes. Drain apples, add to the hot syrup, and cook 5 minutes.

4. Fill jars (preferably wide-mouth) with apple rings and hot flavored syrup, leaving 1/2-inch headspace. 

Wipe rims of jars with a dampened clean paper towel; adjust two-piece metal canning lids—process pints for 10 minutes in a boiling water bath. Let cool, undisturbed, 12-24 hours, and check for seals. Source: USDA's Complete Guide to Home Canning  


Questions about food safety, nutrition, food preservation, or looking for recipes? Contact the local University of Illinois Extension office.

Source: Lisa Peterson, Extension Educator, Nutrition and Wellness