Originally published in September 2015; updated December 2021.

In this post, Holley from our Kitchen Council shares a fun, at-home experiment that she conducted in order to find the best ways to keep apples from browning in a lunchbox. Apples oxidize, or brown, after some time when they are cut because of the fruit’s flesh being exposed to ambient air which contains both oxygen and water. Certain varieties (like Pink Lady apples) are resistant to browning simply because of higher acid levels that slow oxidation.

Though many kids enjoy a kid-sized apple whole in their lunch, some prefer the apple sliced. See which methods Holley found to work best for keeping apples crisp, white, and fresh for days to make for an easy addition to a lunch box!

As a dietitian, mom, and daily lunchbox packer (I have two children in school), I’m often asked my strategy for keeping apple slices from browning in lunch boxes. As a parent of children that only want crisp, white apples, I realized that unless I planned to send a whole apple (Stemilt’s Lil Snappers are my go-to because they are kid-sized) or the pre-sliced apples from the grocery store, crisp and white apples would have to become an after school snack.

After some investigation and apple slice testing, I’ve found a few new favorite ways to prep, store, and serve apple slices in lunch boxes that will keep them palatable and visually pleasing for up to three days. The key ingredient to keep browning at bay is citric acid, which is found in citrus produce, fruit cleaners, and both dehydrated and crystallized forms.

Below are a variety of non-browning methods I found in reputable blogs and that I’ve heard as old wives tales. I decided to conduct an at-home science experiment-of-sorts with several different methods to see which ones kept the apples crisp, white, and flavorful the best. The tests were conducted using 3 slices of Gala apple per test (one for each day) with each testing group stored in individual air-tight snack-sized baggies in the fridge (unless otherwise noted).

Different Methods to Keep Apples from Browning:

  1. Control Temperature: Slice and store in a plastic baggie in the refrigerator. (No anti-browning action taken.) The result is an overly-ripe apple flavor.
  2. Dip in Salt Water: Mix 1/8 teaspoon salt in 1 cup cold water. Add 3 apples slices and soak for 5 minutes. Rinse. Store in a plastic baggie in the refrigerator. The result will be a slight browning that increases, but no salt flavor.
  3. Soak in Honey Mixture: Mix ½ tablespoon honey in 1 cup water. Add 3 apple slices and soak for 5 minutes. Store in a plastic baggie in the refrigerator. The result is a strong honey flavor and browning that increases over the days.
  4. Soak in Pineapple juice: Soaked Mix 1 tablespoon pineapple juice in 1 cup water. Add 3 apple slices and soak for 5 minutes. Store in a plastic baggie in the refrigerator. The result is a sweet and pleasant taste and very little browning.
  5. Soak with Ball Fruit-Fresh®: Mix 1 teaspoon Fruit-Fresh in 1 cup water. Add 3 apple slices and soak for 5 minutes. Store in a plastic baggie in the refrigerator. The result is no change in flavor and very little browning.
  6. Spray with Fit Organic Fruit and Vegetable Wash: Spray the whole apple with Fit Organic Fruit and Vegetable Wash and wipe clean. Slice apple and spray directly onto both cut sides of 3 apple slices. Store in a plastic baggie in the refrigerator. The result is no change in flavor and slight browning over 3 days.
  7. Sprinkle with Ball Fruit-Fresh®: Sprinkle Fruit-Fresh on cut sides of 3 apple slices. Store in a plastic baggie in the refrigerator. The result is no change in flavor and very little browning.
  8. Sprinkle with True Lemon: Sprinkle True Lemon on cut sides of 3 apple slices. Store in a plastic baggie in the refrigerator. (Note that this was accidentally omitted from the Day 1 image. Slight change between days 1 and 2.) The result is an overpowering lemon flavor, but very little browning.
  9. Cover with water: Fill a small plastic storage container with cold water. Add 3 apple slices and cover. Store in refrigerator. The result is a water-downed flavor and a brown/orange color.
  10. Coat in Orange Juice: Brush cut sides of 3 apple slices with orange juice. Store in a plastic baggie in the refrigerator. The result is a strong orange flavor and increased browning.
  11. Wrap with Rubber Band: Slice the whole apple into segments then put pieces back together so all sides are touching. Secure with a rubber band to keep tight. The result is a strong ripe apple flavor and increased browning.

Results of Browning Test

The Results:

Top tasters (crisp, fresh apple flavor):

  • Pineapple Juice
  • Fruit Fresh (sprinkled and soaked)
  • Fit Organic Fruit and Vegetable Wash

Best Visual appeal

  • Pineapple Juice
  • Fruit Fresh (sprinkled and soaked)
  • True Lemon

Other ideas that I’ve seen on various websites that I didn’t try:

  1. Make a “fruit cup” and pack apples with orange slices.
  2. Mix 1 tablespoon white vinegar in 1 cup water. Soak apples for 5 minutes, rinse and store in a plastic baggie.
  3. Spray slices with Eat Cleaner Fruit and Veggie Wash Spray and store in a plastic baggie.
  4. Let the slices brown and sprinkle with cinnamon to disguise.

Do you have a favorite method to keep apples from browning? I allowed my favorite taste testers (my kids) to try the apples each day so many of the flavor comments include their thoughts. I’m anxious to continue to play around with some of the other suggested methods but I’m thankful to finally have a few ways to prep lunch boxes ahead and still have crispy and fresh apple slices 3 days later.