What Is Apple Cider?

Buying, Cooking, and Recipes

Apple cider in a mug with cinnamon

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At the beginning of each fall, an influx of apple cider hits the market at the peak of apple season. Unlike in sweetened and watered down apple juices, it is possible to sense the apples used in making apple cider. Thicker and more opaque, this non-alcoholic beverage, so famous during the cold months of the year when served warm, is beloved for its sweet taste. Often served warm with an infusion of fall spices, apple cider can be found in pasteurized or unpasteurized versions.

Fast Facts

  • Origin: Roman times.
  • Main Components: Pressed apples.
  • Flavor: Fruity and sweet to tart depending on the type of apples used.
  • Varieties: Hot mulled cider, wassail, sparkling apple cider.

What Is Apple Cider?

Apple cider is a tasty drink comprised of freshly pressed apples, often served infused with spices such as cinnamon, anise, allspice, nutmeg, and cloves.

Just about any apple makes decent cider, though the nuances of each apple variety will permeate the beverage. A sweet Pink Lady apple cider might taste better than one made from tart Granny Smiths; for a mild, not-too-sugary cider, Galas are chosen over Honeycrisps. Some recipes use added sugar, but most apple ciders bought at orchards or grocery stores are the unsweetened kind—in fact, sugar was never used centuries ago when the first ciders were made, and although apple varieties back then were less sweet, farmers pressed them down to make cider and let the liquid sit to make an alcoholic drink sweetened by fermentation, similar to hard cider.

Before 1916, when Madeline Turner created a fruit press that would both cut the fruit and press it, farmers either would take their fruit to the local mill to process or made their own wooden presses to process the fruit. Turner's device 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, but it is also a great ingredient to cook with. Confectioners and bakers have used it in desserts, caramels, syrups, cakes, candies, and apple cider doughnuts. For savory dishes, a marinade of apple cider, spices, and herbs is delicious on pork chops, chicken, lamb, or ribs. It is great on sweet potatoes or similar root vegetables, added to vinaigrettes and salad dressings, or as the base for an all-fruit smoothie.

Apple cider also has a place in cocktail recipes when spiced up with whiskey, brandy, cognac, or rum. Cold apple cider added to sparkling wine makes a fall take on the classic mimosa. A slowly cooked warm apple cider with cinnamon, orange slices, and star anise is great for all the family—dark rum added to it makes a fabulous adult version. Kids can enjoy a mocktail made of apple cider by mixing it with sparkling water and lemon.

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apple cider doughnuts
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What Does It Taste Like?

The cider flavor 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, so the flavor, usually sweet and fruity, depends on the apples used, from very sweet to tart and tangy.

Apple Cider Recipes

Drink apple cider by the cup or use it as an ingredient in other recipes. Great when mixed with liquor, apple cider imparts a delicious quality into sweets, marinades, or sauces.

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. It's normally seen between Thanksgiving and the New Year and local orchards will often keep making it throughout the winter, as long as they have apples available to press into cider.


Usually unpasteurized, most apple ciders need to be refrigerated. If 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.

Apple Juice vs. Apple Cider

Apple cider is pressed from apples, strained, sometimes spiced, and then served either hot, room temperature, or cold. Apple cider can be anywhere from pale yellowish-brown to brownish-red, but it can be counted on for a more robust, concentrated, fresh apple taste. Apple juice comes from pulverized apples that are then filtered into the clear, golden-brown color we know. 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 juice tends to be a lighter beverage. Apple juice is always pasteurized so it can be shelf-stable and not require refrigeration until opened.