If you are American or grew up in the US, you learned that cider doesn’t mean an alcoholic beverage. Cider meant this cold cloudy drink you would get with doughnuts when visiting an orchard or farm stand. It seem mystical or at least in your memory it is. There must be a special recipe for making “cider” because the unfiltered apple juice you buy at the store doesn’t taste the same. So, what is this elusive recipe for “American Cider”? How can you recreate that experience for you and your family? Let’s explore “American Cider”.
First, let’s be clear. There aren’t any special ingredients that makes American Cider different from unfiltered apple juice. The cider found at orchards and farm stands is simply unfiltered apple juice. However, this style of American Cider has shrunk and the cause of that shrinkage is part of the special ingredients found in American Cider. What I’m talking about is the push to require pasteurization of raw/fresh apple juice (a.k.a American Cider). Many states have implemented a pasteurization requirement for orchards and farm stands. This has caused many of those locations to stop selling American Cider. The reason for this requirement is because of several illnesses caused by fresh juice infected with human pathogens like E. coli, listeria, and salmonella.
This is an example where definitions cause confusion. Cider as defined by some Americans is really apple juice. Apple juice is susceptible to human pathogens. While the acidic nature of apple juice will restrict human pathogens, it doesn’t eliminate them (1). Cider as defined in the global and traditional sense as an alcoholic beverage, is not susceptible to human pathogens (2). Research done on beer and applicable to cider and other alcoholic beverages shows that alcohol effectively kills these pathogens and the acidic nature of cider only further helps that process. This is why hard cider is a great option for imperfect and even overripe fruit and how it is perfectly safe to harvest apples for hard cider off the ground. The fermentation process can create a safe product. Be aware, American Cider (apple juice) is at risk and these risks need to be mitigated. The mitigation process can impact the juice.
American Cider or unfiltered apple juice that is pressed at orchards or farms could pick up human pathogens during harvesting. If farm animals are allowed to graze in the orchards or if unsanitary practices are used in processing the juice, the juice could become contaminated. This is where the pasteurization requirement plays into the process. Unfiltered apple juice found in most US grocery stores has been heat pasteurized to eliminate pathogens. Most of this juice is processed in bulk and the source is not always well known leaving these juice processors at risk. Since sulfites and sorbates are about preventing fermentation and do not effectively eliminate human pathogens, pasteurization is the method used to eliminate this risk.
However, heat pasteurization causes flavor changes and I believe this is one of the reasons why unfiltered apple juice found in US grocery stores doesn’t taste like the American Cider found at orchards and farm stands. Also, since many of those orchards and farm stands had to implement equipment to reduce pathogens in juice, you might have expected them to implement heat pasteurization thus negatively impacting the flavor of their cider/juice. One reason why it hasn’t is because many implemented UV pasteurization versus heat pasteurization. UV pasteurization will kill and reduce the level of human pathogens to acceptable levels. This has allowed them to keep there processes relatively stable, meet safety regulations, and minimize the impact to flavor. However, the investment in this type of equipment is what drove many to stop making American Cider. While pasteurization can be a big factor on why unfiltered grocery store apple juice doesn’t taste like the American Cider you remember, it’s probably not the biggest reason.
The main reason why you might think there is a “recipe” for American Cider, is because of the apples. Mass produced juice found in grocery stores generally uses mass produced apples. The juice found at orchards and farms in American is picked and processed from their trees. They understand the mix of apples that will make a good juice. This is just like making hard cider. Just like the blend of sweet, sharp, and bitter apples impacts the taste of hard cider, it impacts the flavor of fresh juice. The key point that you have to remember is that the sugar will remain. Having more tart apples and if you can get them, more bitter apples, will help offset the sugars found in all the apples. For hard cider, the challenge can be dealing with all the acids once the sugar is converted into alcohol. Just like making good hard cider, your challenge is understanding your apples and mixing them appropriately.
You might also be worried that about the risk of human pathogens to your fresh juice. Maybe you are thinking you should pasteurize your juice. You could. But do you pasteurize all of your food? I hope you are eating raw fruits and vegetables. If you would eat an apple, pressing it into juice isn’t going to suddenly add human pathogens to it, especially since you also control the juicing process. If your goal is fresh juice, you might not want to use that old press you found in the shed that dates back to 1890. For hard cider, this might add wild yeast that make a great pint but you might not want to use it for making juice for junior or grandma. Or, if you do, you might want to ensure a solid sanitation regimen is used on it first. The point is that you control the process. Just like whether you feel good cutting up vegetables and fruit for a salad, if your knife and cutting board is clean, you don’t need to worry about pasteurization. Your only challenge will be that the juice will naturally want to become hard cider and that hard cider will naturally want to become vinegar. You could add sulfites or sorbates but refrigeration and freezers work better and would avoid these preservatives as well as any potential taste impact. The orchard isn’t adding it to the juice you remember.
Therefore, understanding your fruit and having a good cleaning regime are the critical elements to ensuring you make a safe American Cider (fresh juice) and understanding your apples will make sure you create a tasty treat that is reminiscent of those fall days picking apples and eating doughnuts. Here is my suggestion on how to recreate some American Cider or excellent unfiltered apple juice for the rest of the world.
Volume: 16-20 Pounds per Gallon (1.9-2.4kg per liter)
- Sweet/Aromatic Apples – 30%
- Tart Apples – 60%
- Bitter Apples – 10%
- Clean your apples. Don’t use hand soap as these can leave residue. Ideally, you can use One Step, which is a food grade cleanser or simply rinse your fruit with clean fresh water.
- Grind/Press or juice your apples. I use a wide mouth masticating juicer. Note that if you use a centrifugal juicer, you will oxidize your juice turning it brown as some of the tannins are pulled out. This can also happen if you grind and press. As a side note, if you were fermenting this juice, it would normally result in a clearer hard cider post fermentation.
- Strain the juice. Straining isn’t the same as filtering and I always recommend straining the juice to remove larger solids and some pulp. Personally, I also recommend adding pectic enzyme. You may be nostalgic for the cloudy juice and if you are, leave the pectic enzyme out. However, I feel pectic enzyme brings out more of the apple aromas and I personally like a clearer juice. It will still have a slight haze but it will definitely be clearer.
- Let the juice settle. Whether you use pectic enzyme or not, letting the juice settle and pouring or siphoning off the clearer top layer of juice will provide a visually more appealing drink. Otherwise, you will end up with that nice chunky sediment in the bottom of the container that everyone is afraid of drinking.
- Package the juice. We use a sealable pitcher, but you could use any pitcher or jug. If you use plastic jugs, you can freeze them and just thaw them for future drinking later in the year. This would allow you enjoy your fresh American Cider throughout the winter and spring months.
The world is full of apples and getting the right mixture will depend on where you live and the apples around you. You can measure the sugar with a refractometer while picking and taste them to assess acids and tannins. Based on my apple database, which can be found in my book or follow me and request a copy, here are some apples by category. These are not perfect as some blend across categories but hopefully, they will give you a guide to help you start your blending adventure.
- Crimson Gold
- Pixie Crunch
- Pumpkin Sweet
- Red Delicious
- Hardy Cumberland
- Granny Smith
- Newtown Pippin
- Arkansas Black
- Lord Lambourne
(1) Miller, L. G., and C. W. Kaspar. 1994. Escherichia coli O157:H7
acid tolerance and survival in apple cider. J. Food Prot. 57:460–464.
(2) Menz, G., Alfred, P., and Vriesekoop, F. 2011. Growth and Survival of Foodborne Pathogens in Beer. J. Food Prot. 74:1670-1675.
Did you enjoy this recipe and tip on making American Cider? Maybe you want to try some hard cider? Check out my book to learn more ideas and information on making and enjoyng hard cider. It will help you develop a process that matches your desire and equipment. It will also show you how to pair cider with food to maximize your experience. You can find it as an ebook and a 7×10 paperback on Amazon or a 7×10 paperback on Barnes & Noble. Click on these Links to check them out.
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