What's the Difference?

What’s the Difference Between Cranberry Juice and Cranberry Juice Cocktail?

updated May 24, 2019
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(Image credit: The Kitchn)

Cranberry juice is seemingly simple, but if you’ve ever stepped foot in the juice aisle of your grocery store and been utterly perplexed, you’re not alone. There are a ton of options when it comes to the drink. If you’re picking up a bottle to use in cocktails or just sip as-is, do you go for cranberry juice cocktail or simply cranberry juice? Here’s how the two common varieties differ from each other.

The Difference Between Cranberry Juice and Cranberry Juice Cocktail

Cranberry juice is usually labeled “100% Juice,” which means it isn’t actually 100% cranberries but 100% a blend of fruit. Since cranberries are so tart, sweeter fruit juices, like apple and grape, are added to mellow things and make the juice much less mouth-puckering.

On the other hand, cranberry juice cocktail is indeed all cranberries (rather than a mix of fruits), but those fruit juices that would have added sweetness to the drink are replaced with sugar. Sometimes, however, high-fructose corn syrup is used.

Interestingly, the amount of calories and sugar in each glass of cranberry juice and cranberry juice cocktail are roughly the same. The difference is really just where the sugar comes from — either from natural fruit juices or from refined sugars like white sugar or high-fructose corn syrup. Since cranberries are a great source of vitamin C you’ll get plenty in both kinds of juice, but you’ll have the added benefit of other vitamins and minerals like potassium in the naturally sweetened cranberry juice, thanks to the added fruit. Both can be used interchangeably in recipes.

If you don’t want any added sugar in your cranberry juice, pure, unsweetened, 100% cranberry juice does exist. Just know it’s seriously tart and pretty hard to drink straight. It’s best used in recipes that call for it, mixed with tonic water or club soda, or added to smoothies.