What’s the Difference Between Apple Juice and Apple Cider?

Difference Between Apple Juice and Apple Cider
Photo by Jacek Dylag

If you’ve ever found yourself at the grocery store wondering the difference between apple juice and apple cider, you’re definitely not alone. It’s a question that plagues generations of thirsty Americans.

But what could be the difference between apple juice and apple cider? Is it possible to notice the difference in taste and color and what’s in the production process of each of them that gives them different qualities? It turns out the answers wouldn’t be as widely accepted as you might think.

These answers vary from region to region, but it comes down to the process that turns the fruit into juice.

Difference Between Apple Juice and Apple Cider

Apple cider is heavily marketed in relation to fall, and people love it. But is the difference just in marketing? In fact, Martinelli admits on its website that there is no difference between its apple juice and its apple cider other than the label.

Difference Between Apple Juice and Apple Cider
Photo by Jocelyn Morales

They explained that “some consumers simply prefer the traditional name of apple juice.” And that’s okay because, in most places, there are no legal standards that distinguish between the two. But whether or not you like it, there is a legal definition.

Here are three approaches to the difference:

1. Process. Apple experts from the Apple Association of America say there is a generally accepted difference between apple juice and apple cider.

The US Apple Association defines non-alcoholic cider on its website as a beverage “prepared by mashing a mixture of apple varieties into a pomace, then squeezing the juice from the pomace. “The tiny apple solids that float on the juice change their color when exposed to aeration, giving the cider that wonderful caramel color and opaque appearance.” 

It’s different from the clear, yellow apple juice we loved as kids, which was “filtered and heat-treated to keep it from going sour during storage.

Basically, apple juice goes through a filtering process to remove apple solids, then pasteurized for longer shelf life. On the other hand, Apple cider is often unpasteurized and contains pulp and sediment that has not been filtered out.

And its result in:

  • Apple Juice: Transparent yellow color that does not contain apple solids. It tends to taste sweeter.
  • Apple cider: Cloudy, brown in color with tiny solid apples in them. It is usually tangier because there is no added sugar.

Apple juice under these conditions is much clearer and pasteurized. In unpasteurized cider, on the other hand, natural yeasts can cause fermentation, making the drink slightly fizzy and alcoholic over time.

2. When the apples are picked. In some places, apple cider simply refers to the juice of apples picked at the start of the season.

3. Consumer preferences. Finally, some companies like Martinelli’s use these terms for marketing purposes only. On their website, they admit that their clear and stable apple juice and cider are the same things; “the only difference between the apple juice and apple cider is the label… some consumers simply prefer the traditional name of apple juice.”

What Apple Cider Is Not

While the labeling of apple cider and apple juice can be confusing, here’s what they’re not. Outside of the United States, cider generally refers to a fermented alcoholic beverage. It’s what Americans call hard cider.

It would be best if you also watched out for products labeled spiced cider. This means that spices, usually spices like cinnamon and nutmeg, have been added to flavor the juice.

How To Preserve Apple Juice And Apple Cider

Since apple juice is pasteurized, it doesn’t need to be refrigerated until you open it. It keeps well for several months before opening.

As for unpasteurized apple cider, it is highly perishable and must be refrigerated at all times. The Apple Association of America recommends enjoying it within seven to 10 days of purchase or before the date shown on the label.

Unpasteurized apple cider can even begin to ferment and eventually turn into hard cider (or what the rest of the world simply calls “cider”). Hard cider is a great gluten-free substitute for beer and other malt beverages.

The Best Ways You Can Use Apple Juice and Apple Cider

When it comes to drinks, choosing between apple juice and apple cider really comes down to personal preference. But for cooking, you’ll find apple cider more common in recipes because of its authentic apple flavor. Try mulled cider this fall, or use apple cider to make tons of fall recipes.

What To buy?

Deciding to buy apple cider or apple juice really comes down to what you are looking for. 

For drinks, do you like the sweeter, cleaner taste of filtered apple juice, or do you prefer the stronger, earthier taste of apple cider? My favorite is the fresh, unpasteurized apple cider that’s straight from the apple farm.

Whenever apple cider is required in a recipe, but all you see at the grocery store is labeled apple juice, don’t despair. First, examine to see whether anything is labeled as unfiltered apple juice, which is essentially the same thing.

Don’t have any luck yet? Just look — look for an opaque juice, meaning it hasn’t been filtered, and you’re good to go. So, there it is. Bottoms up, y’all!

What used to be the difference in your mind? Which do you prefer between the two?

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