Can You Eat Crabapples?

If you've ever looked at the colorful fruits on a crabapple tree, a question probably came to mind: can you eat crabapples? Kevin Espiritu answers this common question, with suggestions on varieties and uses.

Can you eat crabapples


If you’ve ever looked at the colorful fruits on a crabapple tree, a common question probably came to mind: can you eat crabapples? They’re related to apples and look like just adorable tiny apples. But they are often labeled ornamental fruits, leading gardeners to wonder whether they are safe to eat.

This question is quickly followed by related ones. What do they taste like? And what is a crabapple anyway? You’ll find all the answers you’re looking for here.

The Short Answer

Crabapples are edible, but they are generally grown for their ornamental value. The fruits are small and tart, best suited for preserves rather than eating fresh. Larger fruits, like those on the ‘Whitney’ crabapple, have a milder flavor preferred in the kitchen.

The Long Answer

The domestic apple came from Kazakhstan and has been around for about 6,000 years. Most of the apples we know of today, like Gala, Fuji, and Granny Smith, are hybridized from two originals: Red Delicious and Golden Delicious.

Crabapples share a genus with the fruits we know and love (Malus), but they aren’t that different biologically. In fact, the term ‘crabapple’ doesn’t refer to a specific species. It’s merely a reference to size (wild apples are usually small).

In other words, crabapples are just miniature apples, defined by their diameter. Crabapples are less than two inches and apples are greater than two inches in diameter.

Types of Crabapples

Close up of a branch covered with large dark green leaves and clusters of round, red fruit.
There are hundreds of varieties of crabapple to choose from.

Differences between crabapple trees are vast, particularly when it comes to fruits. Each has characteristics suitable for different applications, both in the garden and the kitchen.


Close up of a tree with bright green leaves and small, round, red fruit clustered throughout the tree branches.
The Dolgo has a sweet flavor that is often used to make ciders, sauces and jams.

Grows to approximately 35 feet and can be used in jellies, sauces, and ciders. Its resistance to diseases like scab and fireblight makes it quite low-maintenance. You can eat these fresh as they are larger and sweeter than other crabapples. White flowers in spring and yellow leaves in fall make it a great ornamental tree too.


Close up of a cluster of yellow and red, round fruit hanging from a tree branch with light green leaves around it.
The Whitney is great if you’re looking for something a bit smaller and hoping to attract some pollinators to your garden.

A good choice when you need a shorter tree, as it reaches 16 feet in maturity. The pink and white flowers attract birds and self-pollinate as well. Another type that produces larger and sweeter fruit than usual crabapples, ‘Whitney’ is great for preserving, canning, and pickling.


Dark woody branch with clusters of small,  bright red, round fruit surrounded by rough, oval shaped, green leaves.
This semi-dwarf variety is used to make jelly, apple butter or eat whole.

Semi-dwarf, measuring about eight feet, though it can reach about 15 feet on standard rootstock. What it lacks in autumn colors it makes up for in fruit, ideal for spicing, jelly, apple butter, or eating straight off the tree.


Close up of a cluster of round, reddish fruit hanging from it's branch with the sun shinning on it.
The Chestnut variety is another great variety to use for jams and cooking.

Tolerates cold well and produces sweet, nutty-flavored fruit. It’s helpful to other trees as a pollinator. It does well in jams, sauces, and other cooking.


Tree with long, pointed oval shaped, dark green leaves and tiny clusters of dark red berry like fruit hanging from their long red stems.
The Hopa variety can thrive well in colder regions and will reach a height of 25 feet tall.

Fragrant pink-rose flowers with white stars in the center. While it is more susceptible to disease than other crabapple trees, it is still one of the toughest, particularly in cold regions. It is also one of the bigger crabapples, reaching up to 25 feet.

What do Crabapples Taste Like?

Wire basket filled with red and yellow, round fruit, sitting outside on a wood table.
There are many varieties to choose from and some lend themselves better for eating, cooking or just for show.

There are many types of crabapple and hundreds of hybrids, producing a variety of flavors. Several of the larger kinds will produce fruit that is tasty enough right off the tree, and smaller ones are typically used in cooking and baking.

While some of the more edible types are mentioned above, many are too sour and bitter (even after cooking). If you are considering eating crabapples, choose your variety carefully before planting.

Are Crabapples Toxic?

Close up of three small, round, red fruit with a cluster of tiny seeds laying next to them on a gray table.
Just like apples, crabapple seeds should not be consumed.

The flesh of the crabapple itself isn’t toxic. However, like its cousin the apple, the seeds do contain cyanogenic glycosides, also known as cyanide.

When you eat crabapples, avoid the seed, the stem, and the leaves, like eating any other apple. Even if you swallow a few seeds, don’t panic. They will likely pass through your system without even breaking down. 

The sourness of some crabapples may affect those with sensitive stomachs. But the symptoms of cyanide poisoning are more serious, such as shortness of breath, seizures, and loss of consciousness.

Are Crabapples Safe for Pets?

Close up of a black horse eating a cluster of apples hanging down from a tree branch.
It’s better to keep crabapple trees away from areas where cattle and horses may be grazing.

Crabapple consumption can cause some stomach issues for pets. But the danger lies in the fact that some animals will eat the apple in its entirety: leaves, stems, and seeds included. And they might not stop at one or two. If your pet is one of those vacuum cleaners, keep a careful eye when outdoors.

There is a higher danger for cattle and horses who eat these types of foods on a regular basis. Keep your fields fenced and your trees out of their reach to be safe.

How to Use Crabapples

Close up of a hand holding small round, red and yellow fruits with parts of their leafy stems still attached.
There are several different ways you can use crabapples.

Though some of these apple miniatures appear better suited to a dollhouse kitchen (and probably taste just as wooden), there are several edible crabapple uses.

Crabapple Jellies

Close up of a clear glass jar filled with small, red round fruit that has been cooked and filled into the jar.
Crabapples are used a lot to make jams and jellies.

Jelly is made with apples and sugar so even the not-so-sweet crabapples will do well in this form. If you can up many of them, you’ll also have gifts for every relative on your Christmas list.

Pickling Crabapples

Close up of a black bowl filled with pickled, yellow, round fruit with their stems still attached.
While pickling apples isn’t common, it can make a delicious treat to try for those who love canning.

I’ll admit apples aren’t the first thing that comes to mind when I think of pickling things. But don’t knock it until you try it, especially when it means you might miss out on something this delicious.

Crabapple Butter

Wood cutting board with a jar of apple butter and whole apples, cinnamon sticks and toast laying on the table nest to it.
Apple butter makes for a perfect gift around the holidays.

Another novelty gift is apple butter. Crabapples will give it a pretty pink color and a different sweet-tart flavor.

Crabapple Jams

Close up of a clear, glass, jar filled with a light pink colored jam.
Crabapples are perfect for making jam. It’s also a great way to use up your crabapples after a large harvest.

Make use of a mountain of crabapples in crabapple jam. When stored correctly, you can enjoy the fruits long after the season has ended.

Final Thoughts

Crabapples are edible, but don’t have quite the same taste as the apples you know. There’s no way to tell just by looking at a crabapple how sour or sweet it will be, so choose your varieties wisely before planting if you plan on eating them.

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