Many cider recipes call for the addition of yeast nutrient when adding yeast. Do you really need to add yeast nutrient to make cider? The short answer is no but, as you might expect, there are always details and nuances involved when answering most questions about cider. The need for yeast nutrient is usually a question about the need for nitrogen. Nitrogen is needed to transport sugar through the yeast cell membrane. The more sugar you have in your juice, the more nitrogen you need. Most apples have over 100 mg/l of assimilable nitrogen(4). While this doesn’t reach the generally accepted minimum of 150 mg/l recommended for wine made from grapes, it should be more than enough for apple juice. That is because grapes have more than twice the amount of sugar compared to most apples, which means more nitrogen would be needed. With an average of over 100 mg/l, apple juice should not need additional nutrients (i.e. more nitrogen) to ensure a complete ferment. There could be exceptions but, most apples will naturally contain enough nitrogen. On the other hand, if the recipe you are using is actually making wine because it has you adding sugar or honey to the juice, you probably do need to add some yeast nutrients. Sugar and honey don’t contain sources of assimilable nitrogen. As the sugar level increases, the more likely you will be to not having nitrogen available. Remember, for cider, no yeast nutrient is needed. For wine, you probably need some yeast nutrient. It’s also important to understand the impact yeast nutrient can have on your cider.
Organic Nitrogen: Fermaid-O
Not all nitrogen is the same. Yeast can process what is called Yeast Assimilable Nitrogen (YAN) and there are two sources for this type of nitrogen. One source is organic and one is inorganic. The difference is whether there is carbon molecule in the nitrogen compound. If it contains carbon, it’s organic. If it doesn’t, it’s inorganic. Organic nitrogen usually comes from dead yeast, which are often called ghost yeast, inactive yeast, or Yeast Derivative Product (YDP). Inorganic is what is commonly called “yeast nutrient” and usually comes from diammonium phosphate (DAP). Using inorganic nitrogen will often cause problems in cider because it can encourage the creation of sulfur odors. On the other hand, using organic sources can actually encourage fruity and positive odors. Adding YDP or an organic source of nitrogen, while not needed, can be beneficial to the aroma profile of your cider. On the other hand, adding DAP could reduce the quality of your cider by creating sulfur notes.
If you are making cider and only have an inorganic yeast nutrient available, I would recommend not adding any. If you are making a cider and want try to unlock more aromas, adding an organic yeast nutrient like Fermaid-O could aid you in your quest. You can find a link to it in The Shop and Recommended Products page. I’d also recommend adding some apple peels to the fermenter. These contain compounds that yeast can breakdown as nutrients as well as enhance aromas and color.
(1) A. Alberti and associates, Apple Wine Processing with Different Nitrogen Contents, Braz. Arch. Biol. Technol. v.54 n.3: pp. 551-558, May/June 2011
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