At the beginning of each fall an influx of apple cider hits the market at the peak of apple season. Everyone makes a different version, but unlike its close cousin apple juice, apple cider showcases the apples used, is thicker, opaque, and often served warm, with an infusion of fall spices.
What Is Apple Cider?
Often apple cider pops up in fall and lasts until the holidays. It's a tasty drink comprised of freshly-pressed apples and is often served infused with spices such as cinnamon, anise, allspice, nutmeg and cloves. Just about any apple makes decent cider, though the nuances of that fruit will permeate the beverage. For that reason, a sweet Pink Lady might taste better than the tart Granny Smith; or for a mild, not too-sugary cider, use a Gala over a Honeycrisp. Some recipes call for added sugar, but if the apples used are sweet enough the beverage won't need it. Most apple cider you buy at orchards and in the grocery store doesn't have sugar.
In fact, sugar was never used for the first ciders, which were made centuries ago in areas all over the world where apples grow. Unlike the popular apples today, these early fruits tasted bitter and weren't used as much for eating. Instead, farmers took the apples and pressed them to make cider, which often would get turned into an alcoholic drink sweetened by the fermentation; i.e., hard cider.
Many farmers would take their fruit to the local mill to press the apples, and eventually, they created their own types of wooden presses to process the fruit. While no one takes claim for inventing the cider press, in 1916 the California inventor Madeline Turner created a fruit press that would both cut the fruit and press it. Her invention paved the way to better forms of crafting cider and other similarly-made beverages.
How to Cook With Apple Cider
Apple cider is delicious either hot or cold, plain or spruced up with spices. If you have more than you think you'll drink, you can also cook with it, too. Try using it in doughnut batter to create the fall-favorite food, apple cider doughnuts. Confectioners and bakers have also used the ingredient in caramels, cakes, and candies. Marinate pork chops in unsweetened fresh apple cider to add a sweetness to the meat, or cook a whole pork shoulder in spiced apple cider for a unique main course.
Apple cider has a place in cocktail recipes, too. Heat it up and mix with whiskey for warming drink, or add a bit of cold apple cider to sparkling wine for a fall take on the classic mimosa. You can also make a batch in the slow cooker with cinnamon, orange, and star anise if you need to keep it warm for a long period of time—and it will make your house smell warm and inviting, too. A bottle of dark rum next to it only adds to the fun. Kids can enjoy a cocktail made of apple cider, sparkling water, and lemon. It's also easy to turn into a hard cider if fermented for a few weeks.
What Does It Taste Like?
The cider is a reflection of the apple or apple varieties used to make it. Some ciders will be made from a single apple variety, such as Honeycrisp, but many will use a blend.
Apple Cider Recipes
Make apple cider by the cup full or use it as an ingredient in other foods. It goes great with liquor, in sweets and as a marinate for meat.
Where to Buy Apple Cider
Apple cider is a seasonal beverage that starts showing up in grocery stores, farmers' markets, and orchards in the early fall. You see it in grocery stores mostly between Thanksgiving and the New Year, but local orchards will often keep making it throughout the winter, as long as they have apples available to press into cider.
If the apple cider you purchase is unpasteurized it needs to be refrigerated. Most ciders you purchase from local orchards will be unpasteurized. The cider will typically be good for about a week once it's opened, as long as it's refrigerated. Many grocery stores will carry pasteurized versions, which will last longer and don't need to be kept cold until opened.
Nutrition and Benefits
Plain apple cider with no added sugar has no fat, about 80 calories per cup and offers a good dose of dietary fiber. There's also vitamins A and C, a little iron and some potassium. Since apple cider is basically just like eating an apple, there's the same good-for-you nutrients in a glass of the stuff.
Apple Juice vs. Apple Cider
Sip a cup of hearty apple cider and then try a bit of apple juice and the differences will become immediately apparent.
Apple cider is pressed from apples, strained, sometimes spiced and then served either hot, room temperature, or cold. Apple juice comes from pulverized apples and then gets filtered into the clear, golden-brown color we associate with this beverage. The latter drink is only served chilled, proves more refreshing, and tends to have a lighter flavor. Sometimes sugar is added to apple juice, but in general, apple cider tends to be a lighter beverage.
Apple cider can be anywhere from pale yellowish-brown to a brownish-red, but it can be counted on for a more robust, concentrated, fresh apple taste. Apple cider is not clear, where as apple juice is.
Apple juice is always pasteurized so it can be shelf-stable and not require refrigeration until opened, whereas some ciders are and some aren't.