Apple peels can be yellow, green, red, blushed, streaked, sunburnt, and russeted. However, after noting the wonderful colors and even texture, we often ignore them once we start the cider making process. Did you realize that those peels are potentially the single most powerful ingredient in your cider making process? Most cider makers ignore and even throw them out. Yes, some hard cider makers understand the value of maceration as part of the grinding process, but even this doesn’t fully unlock their potential. It only scratches the surface. When I say the most powerful ingredient, I mean they are literally full of chemical compounds that most cider makers are always seeking: polyphenols or what we often call tannins.
Polyphenols are antioxidants that can have many health benefits. However, with hard cider they can also provide aroma, flavor, astringency, bitterness, and color. Polyphenols create the complexity that many hard ciders lack because many people don’t have access to “true” cider apples. As I researched cider making, I read a lot about wine making and as I have written in other articles about color, it seemed obvious to me that we should be using the apple peel in our cider making process. It’s like making red wine. The color and tannins found in red wine come not just from the juice of the grapes but mostly from fermenting on the skin and the seeds of the grapes. In grapes, the seeds tends to have harsher polyphenols that are more bitter while the skin tends to have more aromatic and softer tannins that provide astringency. My hypothesis was that apples would be similar. Peels are also a lot simpler to obtain from apples than from grapes. Thus, I started on my path of experimenting and advocating for the inclusion of apples peels in the fermentation of hard cider. I introduced this idea in my book with my Black Magic cider recipe.
You probably are already thinking of questions. The most common questions or pushback that I get when I start talking about using peels are the following.
- Do peels really have high levels of polyphenols?
- Why aren’t the peels already being used or why not just use cider apples?
- Could you really use peels on a commercial level?
Let me address these and if you have others, I encourage you to leave a comment or question so we can discuss.
Do peels really have high levels of polyphenols?
Research by K. Thompson-Witrick and associates(1) and later by M. Persic and associates (2) highlighted the large difference in polyphenols found in the juice of various apple cultivars versus the peels. Peels have many times the amount of polyphenols as the juice and the types of phenolic compounds found are usually the most desirable. For example, M. Persic found that Boskoop apples have 1,281 mg/kg of flavanols in the peel versus 402 found in the juice (2). That is over 3 times the amount. In the 21 cultivars that K. Thompson-Witrick and associates studied, they found that most had 1.9-7.9 times the amount of total polyphenolics in the peel as the juice(1). The highest was 222 times, which was found in the Suncrisp apple. This demonstrates how even apples that are cultivated to have minimal tannins in an effort to reduce browning of the flesh can still have tannins in the peel. Using the peel is a way to turn any apple into a potential cider apple. Just be aware that as some apples are better than others for different uses (i.e. baking, eating, juice), some peels will also be better than others for including in fermentations.
Polyphenols include compounds like flavonoids, phenolic acids, and polyphenolic amides. Within these groups are many subgroups and categories. For example, flavonoids include compounds like flavanols, flavonols, catechins, cyanidin, quercetins, and proanthocyanidins. As noted in a presentation by Andrew Lea in 2015 to the Rocky Mountain Cider Association, polyphenols contribute to mouthfeel, aromas, and color. He also noted that they can contribute to a protein or chill haze.
So, ultimately, the question is whether apple peels have high levels of tannins and compounds that will help create a more balanced hard cider by improving mouthfeel and aroma. The answer is most definitely! This is because the fermentation process will breakdown these peels and extract not only the polyphenols but also the color found in the peel. If this is the case, why haven’t people already been utilizing them?
Why aren’t the peels already being used or why not just use cider apples?
Do you own an electric car? Are you still watching TV on a TV? Do you still have cable? Do you still have a VCR or DVD player? Are you still going to the grocery store to buy food? Are you still grinding your apples before you press them? The evolution of products, technologies, and processes creates natural resistances to change. I’m not saying that there is anything wrong with going to the grocery to buy your food or even the process of grinding apples and pressing them. However, tradition can often blind people to innovation.
I think that for a long time, people had more choices in apple varieties and that choice led to naturally using the apples that were better for sauce for making sauce and those that were better for hard cider for making hard cider. With the modernization of apples in many markets and the drive for efficiency in production, the number of varieties available shrank significantly. In America, that shrinking was exacerbated by prohibition and the expansion of beer as the common alcoholic beverage of choice. However, in England France, and Spain, the tradition and availability of a wide selection of cider apples makes the need for exploring whether peels or other process variations may impact hard cider less interesting.
If you have cider apples with high tannins, you might be perfectly happy making cider the same way you always have or the way it’s been done for hundreds if not thousands of years. But, have you ever wondered how much more depth you might bring to a hard cider if you included the peels off those Kingston Black or Yarlington Mill apples? If you live someplace that doesn’t have true cider apples, looking for inspiration from traditional cider regions may not point us towards the best process. As I have written previously in my post on using local fruits to create a truly local cider, the old adage of necessity is the mother of invention plays out. If you lack cider apples, you try to figure out how to add tannins to your process. What I find interesting is how peels can be a way to keep your cider both traditional and modern at the same time. It also makes me wonder how a truly single variety cider of Dabinett or Kingston Black made with peels would score at the Bath and West show.
Maybe I’ve started to sway you but, you still aren’t convinced. I mean how can you economically peel apples for use in cider. That isn’t the process! You grind, maybe macerate, and then press the pomace to extract juice. How would you commercially peel tons of apples?
Could you really use peels on a commercial level?
Peeling apples is just an additional step that you can add to any process. Personally, I use my hand apple peeler, corer, slicer with the corer/slicer attachment removed (see The Shop). This just becomes an additional step in the process. Because we make a lot of sauce, pies, and other baked goods with apples, we also just save the peels when we process apples from these endeavors. For cider, I peel the apples dropping the peels in a sanitized bowl and handing the fruit to my wife who presses them. I use a wide-mouth juicer but you could simply drop the peeled apples into your grinder. If you are thinking, well that is all good but I process hundreds or thousands of pounds so I can’t do this. Consider the following:
- I don’t peel all my apples. I peel certain varieties that I have found to work well. Think of the peels like oak or apple varieties. You don’t necessarily need all the peels. You only need some of the peels to add to the blend.
- If you really want to do thousands of pounds or kilos, how do you think they make apple sauce or peel potatoes for potato chips? Google commercial apple peeler, apple peeling machine, or even commercial potato peeler. There are machines to do anything.
- This isn’t about how to peel apples for use in hard cider making. It is really about convincing yourself whether it’s worth it. It’s like clarifying your juice or using enzymes or selecting specific apple cultivars. The real question is whether you think it’s worth the effort based on the results. Ultimately, I can tell you. I even can show you. But, it really requires you to taste the product. If you are searching for a better tasting cider or if you are interested in seeing if peels would make your current cider even better, the only path to knowing is trying. I hope you will.
Apple peels are the missing ingredient to great tasting hard cider from any apple. If you are interested in products that I use to make my cider, check out The Shop.
(1) K. Thompson-Witrick and associates, Characterization of the Polyphenol Composition of 20 Cultivars of Cider, Processing, and Dessert Apples Grown in Virginia, J. Agric. Food Chem. 2014, 62, 10181−10191
(2) M. Persic and associates, Chemical composition of apple fruit, juice and pomace and the correlation between phenolic content, enzymatic activity and browning, LWT – Food Science and Technology 82, 2017, 23-31
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