Apple Peels: The Missing Ingredient of Hard Cider

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.

  • Peels in a Fermonster
  • Peels in a Hop Basket

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?

  • Peels and Cider Pre-Post Fermentation
  • Post-Ferment Arkansas Black Peels
  • GoldRush Peels: Post Ferment

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 Arkansas Black Apples
Peeling Arkansas Black Apples

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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15 thoughts on “Apple Peels: The Missing Ingredient of Hard Cider

  1. Thanks for the articles, I have started from the beginning and read up to this article.

    I do not press apples but make my cider from commercial apple juice. I do eat apples, however, so I am wondering if it might make sense to peel the apples I am eating, freeze the peel, then include it in the fermentation. I assume that that would add tannins to the final produce, as well as impart some color? Would that work, or would adding the peels only be of significance when using pressed apples?

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    1. That would be ideal! I originally used juice and added peels to improve the polyphenol content. It started with using peels from when we made apple pies or apple butter. Now I purposely peel certain apples to use in various fermentations. Thanks for reading and the question.

      Liked by 1 person

    2. The peels of most grocery store varieties are not particularly high in tannins. Just going by memory but I think I read (might have been on this site) that Granny Smith might be an exception….

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      1. All peels will have significantly more polyphenols. I have a series of posts in the Mālus Trivium section that highlight the amount and types for various apples (Red Delicious, Arkansas Black, Harrison, Granny Smith, and others). Granny Smith can make a very nice cider. I especially like mine dry, aged in oak and sparkling. 😋

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      2. I wish I liked the taste of Granny Smith apples, but will make do with comes available. Fortunately, I’ve got a 1.4 gallon fermenter that should allow me to stuff a lot of peels in there.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Interesting article; I found your site while trying to research maceration. One thing you didn’t clarify is why you go to the trouble to peel apples instead of just fermenting everything that comes out of your grinder (flesh, peels, seeds, etc), then pressing after primary fermentation. The mash that comes out of my grinder is fluid and applesauce-like, so it would ferment fine. Peeling seems very tedious for the home brewer. Thoughts?

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    1. Welcome and I’m glad you found me. My research and experiments have shown that clearer juice creates more fruity aromas while cloudier juice creates more undesirable aromas (phenolic, acidic, sweat, farmhouse). This is generally caused by the increases level of bacterias (acetic and lactic) and surfaces that are present with high solids. In other words, more solids allow more souring so I have tried to avoid adding solids back into the fermentation. Also, the added phenolic compounds are in the peel and not the flesh so you really want to separate the peel from the flesh to maximize the transfer. I usually freeze my peels and microwave them to breakdown and remove any flesh. Microwaving also releases more of the polyphenols as well as kills the microflora. Macerating is attempting to do a similar process but it also adds a lot more oxygen then peeling the apples and adding the peels into the fermentation. That added oxygen creates browning and removes some of the phenolic compounds you are trying to add through maceration. I have found that adding peels directly is the most effective way to include the high levels of phenolic compounds found in apples. Hope that helps and thanks for the question!

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  3. Thanks for your posts, I had suspected that the peels were a missing ingredient in flavor and found your article while researching…always assume someone else has thought of this before me.
    Have you published the results of your use of peels from different apple varieties? Would be very keen to learn more details.

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    1. The Thompson-Witrick paper I cited in this article has been the best scientific source that I have found for assessing the peels of various apple types. I don’t have the equipment to assess phenolics so my research is anecdotal, though I have written about it. Just search the website for peels and you will find a number of additional articles. I pretty much use peels in all my ciders now. I will bulk process an apple, like Arkansas Black, and freeze the peels. Then I will thaw, microwave to extract more phenolics, and include in a cider. If I have a new interesting apple, I will use the peels and just microwave them to enhance extraction.

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    1. I used Red Bartlett peels last year in apple and pear blended cider. The color transfer was very similar and I had good ester production. I think the aromas were milder but that could also be related to the yeast and juice I used. I definitely need to experiment more with pears but I had the same positive contributions.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I read somewhere, though I can’t remember where, that apple peels have more in the way of hard / bitter tannins and pears more soft / astringent tannins. My understanding is that soft tannins are more desirable, and that excessive hard tannins are considered a fault.

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      2. Most of the research I have read shows that the peel and core have higher concentrations of polyphenols then the flesh or juice. The peel tends to have more anthocyanins, which give the fruit its color. These tend to be astringent (softer) versus bitter. The phenolic acids are usually found in higher concentrations around the core. These tend to be more bitter (harder). Most of what I have researched is on apples and grapes versus pears. My assumption is that pears will be similarly an apple or grape. The peels will generally provide softer tannins and more esters versus the seed or core which provides more bitter or harder tannins.

        Liked by 1 person

  4. We purchase our cider from an orchard that also presses the apples with peel attached for us. Would this be equivalent to using peels while making our hard cider?

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    1. It’s not the same. Normally, the apples are milled and pressed with the peels. Sometimes, the milled pulp is allowed to macerate for a period of time. This maceration can transfer some polyphenols from the peel to the juice but not to the degree of adding peels to the fermenter with the juice. The addition of peels in the fermenter with the juice will result in higher levels of tannins and color compounds being transferred to the juice. You want to peel the apple and then include those peels into the fermenter.

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