Alcohol insoluble solids from apple were extracted in sequence by buffer at 20 degrees C and at 70 degrees C, EDTA/oxalate, and mild alkali, yielding four populations of pectins. These pectins and the insoluble residue were characterized by their sugar composition, degree of esterification (methyl ester and O-acetyl groups), molecular weight distribution, and degradability by the combination of endopolygalacturonase (PG) and pectin esterase (PE) and by rhamnogalacturonase (RGase) after chemical saponification. After PG/PE treatment, the remaining high molecular weight material representing the pectic hairy regions was isolated and characterized. Clear differences were found in the sugar composition of the fractions obtained, while only small variations were observed in the sugar linkage composition. The pectic hairy regions were further degraded by RGase and the digests separated into high molecular weight and oligomeric degradation products. These "RGase oligomers" consisted of between 4 and 9 sugar units with a backbone of alternating rhamnose and galacturonic acid residues, partly substituted with galactose linked to C-4 of the rhamnose moiety. Both the absolute amount of RGase oligosaccharides released as well as the degree of galactose-substitution of the oligomers increased when severer extraction conditions were used. Relatively more RGase oligomers were released from the low molecular weight hairy regions as compared to the high molecular weight fraction. Typical high molecular weight fragments isolated from the RGase digests of various hairy regions included residual segments of the rhamnogalacturonan backbone rich in arabinose and a polymer presumably enriched in xylogalacturonan segments.