Autumn is prime apple season, so you may be headed out to your local pick-your-own apple orchard soon. In addition to the orchard, there's always a cool little farm stand with jams, apple donuts, and apple cider. Or is it apple juice? Come to think of it, is there actually any difference when it comes to apple cider vs apple juice?
Apple juice conjures up images of daycare and juice boxes, while apple cider is something that adults mull with spices and spike with whiskey or brandy. In fact, there are a couple of differences, but to understand them, we have to start with a little bit of American history.
Apples in North America
According to Steven Grasse's book "Colonial Spirits," colonists brought apples with them to North America in 1623. They found the crab apple (the only apple native to North America) already here, but it wasn't what they were used to so they planted apple seeds, first at Plymouth and Boston and then throughout the colonies. While apples were used for eating, by both humans and livestock, a large part of the colonists' apple crop was used to make cider and cider vinegar.
What colonists referred to as cider is what we call hard cider today; that is, apple cider that has been fermented into an alcoholic beverage. Everyone drank cider, even kids (though they tended to get a watered-down version sweetened with ginger and molasses called ciderkin). In fact, Grasse says that by the time the American Revolution ended, one in ten farms in New England made their own cider. Cider stayed popular, even with the growth of American-produced beer and whiskey.
But when America enacted Prohibition in 1920, hard cider pretty much disappeared. Companies that mass-produced hard cider, like California-based Martinelli's, had to refocus on non-alcoholic beverages.
Enter apple juice. Non-alcoholic apple juice quickly became popular across the United States, and today you can find both apple juice and apple cider in grocery stores everywhere.
What is the difference in apple cider vs. apple juice?
Both are made by pressing fresh apples. Apples are washed and cut up into a mash that looks something like applesauce, then the liquid is squeezed out. The resulting liquid is apple cider. Because fresh cider is usually minimally processed and unpasteurized, it generally has a shorter shelf life and must be refrigerated.
Apple juice is filtered and pasteurized in order to make it shelf-stable. The filtration process removes any of the coarse particles of pulp in the cider and pasteurization kills any bacteria, extending the shelf life of the apple drink.
Basically, apple cider is unfiltered apple juice. But that's a distinction only made by some states (for example, Massachusetts) and some producers. Others, like Martinelli's, note that their apple juice and apple cider are the same thing and the only difference is in the name on the jug.
If you're not sure about the label, there is usually a difference in the color of apple cider vs apple juice. Cider is typically cloudy and brown, while apple juice is clear and a lighter color.
Do they taste different?
Because apple cider is unfiltered, it typically has a stronger taste. If you see something called spiced cider, it's apple juice or apple cider that has been mixed with spices like cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves. Of course, you can also make your own hot apple cider with mulling spices for a fall treat.
One liquid apple product that definitely tastes different is apple cider vinegar. If you don't refrigerate apple cider, it will ferment into apple cider vinegar and while technically you can drink it (and some people tout the health benefits of doing so), it's highly acidic, so apple cider vinegar is not something you want to drink a full glass of.