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Everything You Need to Know About Apple Cider

A staple of the beginning of autumn and the winter holidays, apple cider is a popular non-alcoholic beverage that can be served either hot or cold. Sometimes hot cider is mulled, which means spices have been added, notably nutmeg and cinnamon. As apple cider is made from fresh apples near the beginning of the season, it has many health benefits, no matter how you choose to drink it. Read on to learn more about apple cider and apple juice, the differences between the two, how apple cider differs from hard cider, and everything else you need to know about apple cider.

What Is Apple Juice?

One of the first beverages parents often offer their young children other than milk and water is apple juice. This is in part to its sweetness and smooth flavor, but apple juice is also packed with vitamins and minerals, such as potassium. Apple juice is made from the pulp of the apple, but the pulp is removed during processing, leaving a translucent, clear liquid. Apple juice can be pasteurized or unpasteurized and have sweeteners or be unsweetened. There is a school of thought that filtration and pasteurization harm the aroma and flavor of apple juice, however, many people prefer pasteurized apple juice because it reduces the risk of foodborne illnesses, such as E. coli and Salmonella. Pasteurization and preservatives also extend the shelf life of apple juice. Raw apple juice, however, is naturally preserved with refrigeration and because of its natural acidity. The most common types of apple juice sold in the United States are pasteurized.

Apple juice is a great apple drink, however, it has many other uses. It is used in salad dressings, as a flavor for meats and poultry, and as an ingredient in sauces. It can add a robust, sweet flavor to cooking without the extra added carbohydrates of adding table sugar. It pairs very well with pork and ham dishes and can be added as juice along with fresh apples and apple pulp if desired.

Both apple juice and apple cider are hallmarks of holidays such as Halloween, but they differ from each other in processing and the end product.

What Is Apple Cider?

While apple juice is typically pasteurized and is extremely shelf-stable, apple cider is often perishable because it is unpasteurized and made from raw apples. It is a non-alcoholic drink in its original form, but because it is perishable, it can easily ferment, which can create either hard cider or apple cider vinegar, which is often consumed in liquid or tablet form to lower cholesterol and for weight loss.

Because it is so easily fermented, apple cider is available during apple season, and the apples for apple cider are harvested early on in the fall. You can find it sold in its raw, unpasteurized form at many apple orchards and farmers markets. It should not be stored at room temperature and should be refrigerated, otherwise, you run the risk of having vinegar or hard apple cider. Hard cider is a popular alcoholic drink in the United States.

Some mass-produced apple cider is pasteurized through a process that cooks the juice, or it can be treated with UV radiation to prevent fermentation.

How Is Apple Cider Made?

Commercially made apple cider is manufactured using electric-hydraulic equipment, which uses something called a “rack and cloth press” and electric hammermills. However, traditional apple cider is still made using hand or simple processes, which is likely the cider you’ll find locally sourced. You can also make your own apple cider with raw apples fresh at home.

Generally, apple cider is made using five simple steps:

  • washing: apples are thoroughly cleaned before the process begins for food safety reasons.
  • mashing and grinding: after cleaning, apples are mashed and then ground until they reach a consistency similar to that of applesauce. The apples are not peeled but instead mashed whole—the skin, core, stems, and seeds are included. However, larger pieces may need removal during the filtering process.
  • pressing: once apples are ground, they are pressed either with a hand press or hydraulic press (for bulk or commercial operations) to get the “juice.”
  • filtering: if there are large pieces of apple skin, core, etc., or if the pulp isn’t desired in the cider, the juice extracted from the pulp during pressing is filtered out. However, this step isn’t always necessary.
  • customizing: this is an extra step if there are preservatives, sweeteners, or other flavorings added to the cider. However, apple cider is sweet and aromatic without any extra additions.

What Are the Best Apples for Apple Cider?

With over 7,500 varieties of apples, some types are drastically different from others. If you’re making your own apple cider, you may wonder what types of apples are best. Remember to pick them early in the season. If you want a more traditional taste, some of the most common types of apples used for cider include:

  • Gala
  • Pink Lady
  • Jonagold
  • Fuji

However, some make homemade apple cider with a different type of apple that is more acidic. A higher level of acidity, combined with refrigeration, can increase the shelf life of unpasteurized cider. More acidic apples that are optimal for cider include:

  • Granny Smith
  • McIntosh
  • Cortland

To make the flavor more robust, be sure to add different varieties of apples to the process. A mix of traditional and acidic apples is appropriate, depending on the flavor you want and the acidity level.

The Difference Between Apple Cider & Apple Juice

Apple cider and apple juice are very similar, but there are some differences. If you’re purchasing mass-produced cider, such as at the grocery store, there isn’t any set standard of labeling between cider and juice, so it may be difficult to tell the difference. Some states, such as Massachusetts, do have labeling guidelines and make a clear distinction between juice and cider, noting that cider has not gone through a filtration process and is unpasteurized, while juice has gone through a process and is pasteurized. The best apples for apple cider are also picked much earlier in the season; depending on where you live, apple cider may refer to any apple drink that was made with early apples.

At FruitSmart, we are committed to using the most quality, natural ingredients. And we love cider—one of our most popular fall beverages is our NFC Apple Cucumber Cinnamon Cider. NFC stands for “not from concentrate,” which means we’re using the freshest apples and cucumbers possible.

What Apple Cider Isn’t

It’s good to keep in mind that apple cider is not an alcoholic drink unless you purposefully ferment it for those purposes. Commercially made hard cider is made from apples at its root, but it is quite different from apple cider and doesn’t carry the same benefits, such as antioxidants and potassium. Sparkling apple cider is still apple cider, however, carbonation has been commercially added to the cider. Be wary of labels that say "sparkling apple cider,” though. In many cases, sparkling apple cider is just plain apple juice.

Spiced apple cider is also different from regular cider. It can be commercially produced, locally sourced, or you can add spices at home to traditional apple cider. Hot mulled cider is often called “wassail,” and contains spices and flavorings that may include nutmeg, cinnamon, cloves, orange peel, and other spices.

If you have apple juice and you’d like to have more of a mulled apple cider flavor, you can heat it on the stove until it’s close to hot, and add some spice such as nutmeg and cinnamon. The heat will help to dissolve the spices so there’s no sediment, and you have a beverage similar to hot apple cider.

At FruitSmart, we know apples and we work hard to find the most quality apples and other fruits to make our delicious NFC juices, ciders, and other products, such as concentrates, essences, and solids, so you can reap the full health benefits of each product without losing the good taste and aroma. If you are in search of improving the flavor in your existing products, want to develop a new product, or are working toward a cleaner way of doing things, FruitSmart can help. To learn about the benefits of partnering with FruitSmart, contact us today to see how we can help.

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