I have been harvesting and including apple peels in my hard cider for several years. As I have noted in other articles (see the tips page), peels are an excellent way to enhance the organoleptic properties of your hard cider. Want a darker hue to your cider, include peels from red apples in your fermenter. Want more astringency or tannins, any peel you add to your fermenter will increase the polyphenols in your cider. They also can add esters and aroma characteristics as well as impact the clarity of your cider. I recently read a couple interesting research articles about using microwaves for juice extraction and sterilization. This got me wondering about the impact it might have on peels so, I began experimenting.
One of my questions has been around the best peels to use. I only have anecdotal evidence as I don’t have the scientific equipment, high-performance liquid chromatography (HPLC), needed to compare peel characteristics. I must say, my favorite continue to be red and the brighter the better. There is some research that backs up my preference. When K. Thompson-Witrick and associates assessed 20 cultivars, the red apples tended to have the highest level of total polyphenols in the peels(1). My second favorite are thicker skinned golden or yellow varieties. I even tried peels from a russet variety. I don’t think it contributed as well as others. However, there are a lot of varieties to try and they all will contribute positively to the total level of polyphenols in your cider. Ultimately, once you decide on your apple of choice, there are three steps I recommend: peeling, freezing, and microwaving. I will cover each aspect and considerations you should take and why.
They are considered antique but, if you don’t own a classic hand turned apple peeler, corer, slicer, how do you make pies or apple sauce? All, kidding aside, they are a simple but great tool for home cider makers to harvest peels let alone the benefits to baked goods. If you don’t have one, you can use a vegetable/potato peeler. If you lack one of those, a paring knife in well practiced hands can be effective. The main focus is to try to minimize the amount of apple flesh you have attached to be peel. That only increases the amount of suspended solids you will have in your fermentation process. Regardless of how you do it, I recommend including the peels from about 10-20% of the apples you plan to press. A great way to do this is by saving the peels from the apple pies and sauces you make. If someone is removing the peel from an apple for baking or cooking, save it. That brings us to my second recommended step: freezing,
Freezing keeps the peels fresh so its a convenient way to save all those apples you peel for cooking and baking. It also performs a great service. It burst the cell walls of the apple flesh still attached to the peel. This causes that flesh to release its juice and detach from the peel. Clearer juice will tend to create fruitier hard cider. What I do is find an apple where I like the peel, Arkansas Black apples are a great example. Instead of peeling 10-20% of the apples, I will peel all if them but freeze the peels so I can use then in the future. This way, I always have peels on hand and already frozen. I have skipped this step in some batches where I wanted to use the peels from the apples I was going to ferment. However, you can also add these peels as part of a secondary fermentation or aging process. If you don’t have any peels frozen, you can go right to the last step: microwaving.
Freezing breaks down the cell wall of the flesh that is attached to the peel. Microwaving it extracts any juice and helps ensures you are including mostly just the peel. However, it does more than just extract the juice and solids. Microwaving the peels helps release more of the polyphenol compounds found in them(2). Research also showed the it made the colors more intense. How long should you microwave your peels. My recent experiments for a 3 gallon batch (~6 pounds of fruit or 225 grams of peels) was for three 1 minute cycles. You want them steaming and smelling of apples. I set them off to the side, covered them with sanitized foil and let them cool before placing them in my fermenter. I have trialed hop baskets and cheese cloth but I find that packing them together reduces the transfer level and rate. I have therefore been letting them float free. After racking off the fermented cider, I can remove them from my wide mouth fermenter in case I want to wash and harvest my yeast. Here is an example of some Arkansas Black peels after fermentation was complete. Yes, those are the same peels variety shown in the freeze and microwave pictures.
(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) A. Cendres & associates, An innovative process for extraction of fruit juice using microwave heating, LWT – Food Science and Technology 44, 2011
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