Apple juice vs. cider: what’s the diff?

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Apple juice and cider are both made from pressed apples, but cider is often unpasteurized and may contain alcohol. In the US and Canada, both are treated to destroy pathogens and prevent fermentation. Cider is popular during the holiday season and can be used to make mulled drinks or sparkling cider. Outside of North America, cider is often fermented to create hard cider, which is popular in Europe.

Apple juice and apple cider are both 100% pressed or squeezed from apples and in many respects are the same when first pressed. In some jurisdictions, particularly outside North America, apple cider is unpasteurized and is generally sold with an alcohol content. Apple juice, on the other hand, undergoes more processing and is almost always pasteurized, so it won’t ferment or develop any alcohol content.

There is a substantial year-round market in the United States and Canada for both apple juice and apple cider, but the cider product enjoys special popularity during the year-end holiday season which begins with Thanksgiving, the traditional harvest festival days. Stores will increase their stocks of apple cider during this time to meet growing demand, and there are special recipes for cider-based drinks such as mulled cider. Another popular variation of apple cider is a carbonated soft drink called sparkling cider, which is often used as a substitute for champagne. There is also a small but bustling year-round market for apple cider vinegar.

In the United States and Canada, manufacturers are required to treat apple juice and apple cider to prolong its shelf life and destroy any pathogenic organisms such as E. coli. To achieve these goals, most manufacturers use pasteurization, a method of heating liquids that destroys these pathogens; it also destroys the bacteria that convert natural sugars into alcohol. That’s why the juice and cider sold in American and Canadian supermarkets don’t ferment. The only exception is when producers sell directly to consumers, such as an apple orchard that presses and sells pitchers of cider on its premises or from stalls; when such cider is fermented, it is called hard cider.

The first step of production in the US and Canada is the same for both apple juice and apple cider. Ripe apples are ground and the juice is squeezed out, through a strainer and into a tub. This juice is brown and opaque with tiny apple particles suspended in the liquid; if it will be sold as apple cider, it may not be subject to further filtering. If it is sold as apple juice, it will undergo further filtering and processing to remove all apple particles, pectin and starches. This clarified juice is clear and lighter in color. The largest producers blend the juices and ciders of different species of apples to obtain a uniform flavour.

Outside of the United States and Canada, apple juice is made in the same way and is typically sold as apple juice or sweet cider. Apple cider, on the other hand, is made to ferment and develop an alcohol content, just like wine. Some manufacturers allow the apples to begin to rot, so the fermentation process begins before the apples are pressed. There is a substantial market in Europe for hard cider, with many different varieties available.

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