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Cider or Juice?

You say tom-a-toe, I say to-mah-to. I say cider, you say juice. What, exactly, is in a name and what is the difference when it comes to apple beverages?

Legally, the federal government doesn’t differentiate between ciders and juices. So when you look around grocery stores and farm markets, you may find that beverage producers can be squishy about how they use cider terms.

Here’s how we have chosen to define the cider terms, for the purposes of this website:

Fresh-pressed apple cider: AKA “sweet cider” or “cider”

  • Cider makers crush whole apples of a custom blend of varieties, press this crushed fruit, and capture the liquid that flows out.
  • This beverage is typically unfiltered, or is minimally filtered to remove only the biggest chunks of apple flesh and skin.
  • It is caramel colored because those tiny bits of apple flesh and skin have reacted with air and turned brown (just as an apple turns brown after being cut or bitten).
  • New York State law requires that apple cider be treated for food safety – typically by pasteurization or ultraviolet light treatment. Federal law requires that all fruit and vegetable juices, including apple cider, be treated.
  • Some cider producers may add preservatives, such as sodium benzoate or potassium sorbate.
  • Fresh-pressed ciders are typically sold in grocers’ produce and/or deli departments, and at farm markets.

Varietal fresh-pressed apple ciders

  • These ciders are made from a single variety of apple – such as Honeycrisp or Gala – rather than a blend of apple varieties. 

Fresh-pressed apple cider blends

  • These beverages are a blend of apple cider and a small quantity of other fruit juice(s), such as cranberry or raspberry.

Cold pressed cider or juice

  • Crushed apples are pressed to extract their juice, rather than put through a juicer with spinning metal blades. Proponents of cold pressing claim that the juicers oxidize nutrients, resulting in a less-nutritious beverage than cold pressing.

Shelf-stable apple juice or cider

  • This beverage is typically clear and pale yellow in color. After pressing, all of the apple solids are removed, usually by enzymatic or centrifugal clarification.
  • To ensure the resulting beverage is shelf stable, this product goes through more extensive treatment to kill all bacteria that might be present, and the juice is hot when containers are filled. Shelf-stable juices can be stored for long periods of time without refrigeration but these juice containers should be refrigerated once opened.
  • Shelf-stable apple juice/cider is typically stocked in grocery stores’ beverage aisle, not in the produce or deli departments.
  • Most of the shelf-stable apple juice sold in the United States is made from imported apple juice concentrate – not from U.S. or New York State apples. This beverage is typically labeled “from concentrate.”

Hard cider: AKA “fermented cider” – for Europeans, simply “cider”

  • Fresh-pressed cider is fermented, resulting in an alcoholic beverage.
  • Alcoholic content of a hard cider depends on the amount of sugar in the ingredients. (During fermentation, yeast consumes sugars. As a result, hard cider does not have the sweetness of fresh-pressed ciders.)
  • Appearance can range from cloudy to clear, depending on the degree of filtering of the cider prior to fermentation – and from pale yellow to brown in color depending on the fermentation process.
  • Hard ciders can be made from a blend of apple varieties, or from single varieties.
  • Hard ciders range from the highly gulpable drinkability of beer to wine- or champagne-like beverages.

Sparkling cider and juice

  • Unfermented ciders and juices are carbonated by dissolving carbon dioxide (CO2) into the beverage.
  • Fermented ciders are carbonated naturally by the fermentation process.

Apple juice concentrate

  • Concentrated apple juice converts a perishable product (apples) into a shelf-stable product, which is easily stored and shipped.
  • Most of the water is removed, resulting in a syrup-like consistency.
  • Much of the shelf-stable apple juice/cider sold in the United States is made by adding water to imported concentrate.
  • U.S. law requires the source of the concentrate to be listed on the package. The most common source is China, which is the world’s largest concentrate producer.