Apple cider is a delicious, refreshing beverage that provides all the delicious, natural goodness of apples without the added sugar and preservatives found in most store-bought apple juice.
Not to be confused with the alcoholic apple-based beverage also known as cider in, for example, the United Kingdom, apple cider in America and Canada is a non-alcoholic, unfiltered, and sometimes even unpasteurized variant of apple juice.
But how exactly is apple cider made?
Step 1: Harvesting the Apples
The first step in the making of apple cider is, of course, the picking of the apples.
Many different apple varieties are suitable for making apple cider, but some commonly used varieties are Galas, Golden Delicious, and Gravenstein apples. Often, a mixture of sweet and tart apple varieties will be combined to make apple cider to create the ideal balance of flavors.
For best results, the apples should be picked when ripe and processed within a few days of harvesting for maximum freshness.
The usual time for apple harvesting is Autumn, normally around October, although optimum harvesting times vary between apple varieties, with some varieties being ready for harvest as early as late August, and others benefiting from ripening until November.
Step 2: Preparing the Apples
Preparing apples for the process of making apple cider involves cutting and washing them to remove any impurities.
Once any undesirable parts have been cut away, the apples are then washed at the washing station. In commercial cider manufacturing, this station will usually be a conveyor belt-like machine into which the apples are fed.
They are then sprayed with water whilst mechanical, rotating brushes remove any excess dirt.
Step 3: Crushing the Apples
Once the apples have been thoroughly cleaned, they are then crushed to create a pulp (otherwise known in the cider industry as ‘pomace’).
The crushing or grinding process involves creating friction between the apples and a commercial-grade apple grater. A mechanical ‘arm’ is usually used for this purpose.
The apples are inserted into the grinding machine through a funnel-like structure. Then, the mechanical arm presses the apples against the grater, which crushes them into pomace.
Step 4: Pressing the Pomace
The pomace extracted from the crushed apples then needs to be pressed further to extract the juice.
This process can be undertaken using a hydraulic press for commercial purposes. The press will most often consist of multiple conveyor belts that are fed between mechanical rollers.
These rollers press the pomace to extract the juice, which drips through the porous surface of the conveyer belt material into containers below.
Alternatively, for a less industrial method of production, the apple pomace can be pressed through a cloth.
Both of these methods result in the juice being extracted from the pulp whilst allowing some of the pulp and sediment to escape filtration, making its way into the juice.
Step 5: (Optional) Pasteurization
Not all apple cider is pasteurized before consumption, but some manufacturers will do so to extend the shelf life of their product.
The pasteurization process involves heating the extracted juice to extremely high temperatures using heat-conducting steel plates. The intense heat destroys harmful bacteria along with the bacteria that would naturally stimulate the fermentation process.
Step 6: Enjoy!
Once the pulp has been pressed and the juice extracted, the finished product will resemble a darker, cloudier, and pulpier version of apple juice. However, the differences between apple cider and apple juice don’t end at their respective appearances and pulp contents.
The apple cider produced through the process outlined above has a lot of health and taste benefits that make it superior to the apple juice you can find in just about any grocery store.
Because apple cider is significantly less processed than apple juice, it contains more of the naturally-occurring polyphenol compounds found in apples. These compounds are thought to reduce the risk of diseases such as cancer by targeting abnormal cells.
Moreover, whilst apple juice and apple cider contain roughly the same amounts of apple-derived natural sugars, apple cider does not contain the high quantities of added sugar often found in store-bought apple juice, which is frequently also diluted with water.
The only real downside to apple cider in comparison to apple juice is that apple cider, unlike apple juice, is not a long-lasting product. Because it may not have undergone pasteurization, apple cider has a relatively short shelf life and should be kept refrigerated.
The general recommendation is to consume unpasteurized apple cider within two weeks at most, as it may start to ferment by itself over time, gradually turning into hard cider.
Moreover, unpasteurized apple cider is not recommended for consumption by those with compromised immune systems, including children, pregnant women, and the elderly. This is because unpasteurized cider has a higher risk of containing potentially harmful bacteria, which is generally not a problem for those with healthy immune systems but could be dangerous for people whose immune systems do not function properly.
This delicious beverage can be served hot or cold, spiced or unspiced, sweetened or unsweetened. Apple cider is an incredibly versatile drink that can be enjoyed on any occasion.
So, there you have it! Apple cider is differentiated from apple juice and hard cider primarily by the lack of filtration and fermentation involved in the making process.
Like its alcoholic and pulp-free alternatives, apple cider is made by picking, washing, cutting, crushing, and pressing apples. However, unlike the apple juice, there is no extra filtration process at the end to get rid of the pulp, and unlike hard cider, there is no fermentation process.
There may or may not be a pasteurization process at the end of the apple cider production, depending on the individual manufacturer.
Now that you know exactly how apple cider is made, you’ll be more informed the next time you’re offered a choice between apple juice and apple cider.
As Autumn rolls around, it’s the perfect time to treat yourself to some apple cider and enjoy the healthy and delicious properties that this popular drink has to offer!