What's the Difference Between Apple Cider and Apple Juice?
Apple season is approaching. As stores, menus, and Pinterest-worthy tablescapes start filling up with fall's favorite fruit, you may find yourself pondering one of the season's perennial questions: What exactly is the difference between apple cider and apple juice?
What is Apple Cider?
The Massachusetts Department of Agriculture, a state that knows a few things about autumn weather, officially defines cider as "raw apple juice that has not undergone a filtration process to remove coarse particles of pulp or sediment." Traditionally, that means picking apples, giving them a good wash, cutting them into pieces, and grinding them into an "apple mash" that looks a lot like applesauce. The mash is then wrapped in cloth and pressed into that dark brown juice that fills farm stands in the fall. Cider is made using the entire apple, including the core, and apple trimmings. It's a seasonally produced beverage, traditionally served throughout autumn—particularly on Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year's Eve.
The resulting liquid is sometimes pasteurized before being bottled, or it is exposed to UV light to kill bacteria in order to extend its shelf life. Cider that's unpasteurized should be kept cold and finished off within a week or two. However, traditional raw untreated cider is still quite common. Whether pasteurized or not, the result is a cloudy, caramel-colored liquid with a complex sweet, tart flavor. Much tangier than apple juice.
It's a versatile treat in that it can be consumed by itself as a beverage or used as an ingredient in other things. So you can either drink it straight out of the bottle, chilled or at room temperature. Or you can bake it into cakes, sweet rolls, monkey bread, and doughnuts to make apple cider-flavored desserts. Or you can drink it mulled—slow cooked and infused with the fall flavors of cinnamon, cloves, allspice, nutmeg, star anise, and cardamom. If you are in the mood for an alcoholic beverage, mulled cider can also be spiked with the likes of bourbon, brandy, or rum. A word of caution: Outside of the United States and Canada, cider usually refers to an apple-based alcoholic beverage, or what Americans call hard cider. In short, if you're traveling in Ireland, do not order your child a cider at lunch.
What is Apple Juice?
Apple juice is one of the most popular fruit juices worldwide, with the United States, China, Poland, and Germany leading the way in production. It is not considered a seasonal drink like apple cider. If you wanted to make apple juice, you would begin with the same apple mash that cider is made from. Then it would be filtered and strained multiple times to remove all pulp, and boiled until it reaches at least 190°F. Apple juice is acidic. That means that it can be pasteurized for less time or at a lower temperature than many other juices, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Boiling the filtered and strained apple mash changes the texture, flavor, and color of the liquid, resulting in a clearer juice. Generally, apple juice ends up being lighter, more transparent, and sweeter than cider. After this, some people add sugar or other sweeteners in order to heighten the natural apple flavor in the juice.
If it's been pasteurized, bottled in glass, and vacuum sealed, it can stay fresh on a shelf for a long time. While apple cider is perishable and should be refrigerated, especially if unpasteurized, apple juice can be stored unopened in your cabinet or on pantry shelves for several months without spoiling.
Does the Difference Even Matter?
While most people consider the aforementioned facts to be the difference between cider and juice, not every company agrees. For example, apple drink maker Martinelli's uses the terms "cider" and "juice" interchangeably as a way to sell its product to cider lovers and juice drinkers alike. The company explains on their website that, in their opinion, "the only difference is the label." So, even though apple cider and apple juice differ in both taste and preparation, it seems that the differences simply don't matter to some.
If you can't keep it straight, try this handy rhyme from The Simpsons' next door neighbor Ned Flanders, "If it's clear and yella', you got juice there, fella'. If it's tangy and brown, you're in cider town."