Do you know what the difference between apple juice and apple cider is? If you look at the picture above, they actually look quite similar, even though one's labeled cider and one juice. Confused? We are too, and here's why.
The Difference Between Apple Cider & Apple Juice
The labeling of apple cider and apple juice is a tricky one and in most places, there is no legal standard. Here are three approaches to the labeling:
1. Process: There are a few states that do spell out a distinct difference between apple cider and juice. For example, the Massachusetts Department of Agricultural Resources specifies that "Fresh cider is raw apple juice that has not undergone a filtration process to remove coarse particles of pulp or sediment .... Apple juice is juice that has been filtered to remove solids and pasteurized so that it will stay fresh longer."
Cider from these states is probably what most of us picture: an opaque, highly perishable apple drink available at farm stands and markets in the fall. It's juice, but unfiltered and sometimes unpasteurized. In unpasteurized apple cider, naturally occurring yeasts can cause fermentation, making the drink slightly fizzy and alcoholic over time.
Apple juice in these states, on the other hand, is much more clear and pasteurized.
2. When the apples are picked. In other places, apple cider simply refers to juice made from apples picked early in the season.
3. Consumer preference. Finally, there are companies like Martinelli's that use the terms solely as marketing. On their website, they admit that their clear, shelf-stable "apple juice and cider are the same; the only difference is the label .... some consumers simply prefer the traditional name for apple juice."
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What Apple Cider Isn't
While the labeling of apple cider and apple juice may be confusing, here's what they aren't. Outside the United States, cider usually refers to a fermented, alcoholic beverage. It's what Americans call hard cider.
You should also be careful about things labeled spiced apple cider. This means that spices, usually mulling ones like cinnamon and nutmeg, have been added to flavor the juice.
What to Buy?
The decision on whether to buy apple cider or apple juice really depends on what you're looking for. For drinking, do you like the sweeter, cleaner taste of clear filtered apple juice, or do you prefer the more robust, earthier taste of cider? My favorite is fresh, unpasteurized apple cider straight from an apple farm.
If a recipe calls for apple cider but all you see at the store are things labeled apple juice, don't despair. First check to see if anything is labeled unfiltered apple juice, which is basically the same thing. Still no luck? Just go by sight — look for an opaque juice, which means it hasn't been filtered, and you're good to go.
What's the difference in your mind? Do you prefer one or the other?
Updated from a post originally published in October 2012.