Ingredient Intelligence

What’s the Difference Between Apple Cider and Apple Juice?

updated Aug 26, 2022
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(Image credit: Christine Gallary)

Do you know what the difference between apple juice and apple cider is? Both contain apples, of course, and they actually look quite similar. It’s easy to be confused, especially considering how apple cider and juice are packaged, labeled, and sold.

Here, we explore what each drink is, and what makes apple juice different from apple cider.

What is Apple Juice?

Apple juice consists of fresh apples that have been pressed, filtered, and sweetened. In most cases, apple juice also contains preservatives for stability. It’s translucent and a light, golden color.

(Image credit: Christine Gallary)

What is Apple Cider?

Apple cider is made of pressed fresh apples. Unfiltered and raw, it doesn’t contain added sugar, undergoes minimal processing, and is usually unpasteurized. It tends to be slightly darker than apple juice, more opaque, and can sometimes have residue at the bottom.

Because it contains no preservatives, apple cider has a shorter shelf life than apple juice, too. It will start to ferment into apple cider vinegar or alcoholic cider over time.

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 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 like the one described by the Massachusetts Department of Agricultural Resources 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. Companies like Martinelli’s use the cider terms solely for marketing purposes. 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.”

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 might also see spiced apple cider on labels — this means that spices, usually mulling ones like cinnamon and nutmeg, have been added to flavor the juice.

(Image credit: Christine Gallary)

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. Or you could always make homemade apple cider in your French press!

What’s the difference in your mind? Do you prefer one or the other?

Updated from a post originally published in October 2012.