Are apple cider, apple juice, & hard apple cider interchangeable?

Apple cider

In colonial times, in both the United States and Canada, if you asked for a glass of cider - far more popular and safer than water - you'd get a beverage with somewhere around the alcoholic content of beer (2% to 8% ABV).  But alcoholic cider, now called "hard cider," gradually lost its popularity, finally killed off - at least in the United States - by Prohibition and a hard frost in the 1930s, which killed many apple trees.

Apparently, however, hard cider is making a comeback. Newsweek Magazine, in Hard Cider, Drink of Presidents, Makes a Comeback, notes "...after many years of false starts, the drink is showing signs of a true renaissance. According to industry belwether Shanken News Daily, an online wine, spirits, and beer trade newsletter, cider is the drink of the moment."

As aficionados of hard cider, we applaud this comeback, but it does add to the confusion many people already had about apple cider. What is the difference between apple juice and apple cider in the first place? And are they interchangeable?

First, let's distinguish among the three. As noted above, "hard cider" is fermented and thereby is somewhat alcoholic. "Apple cider" traditionally has meant fresh-pressed, unfiltered, and unfermented apple juice. Since it's not pasteurized, it will get fizzy if left too long. And since it's unfiltered, it's usually cloudy.  "Apple juice," on the other hand,  refers to a clear, filtered, pasteurized apple juice, which may, or may not, be 100% apple juice (pear juice is sometimes added) and may also have sugar added. In a further difference, apple cider, especially if bought at a farmer's market, may also identify which type of apple was used for the pressing; apple juice is blended to taste uniform from bottle to bottle.

However, over time, apple juice and apple cider have come to be interchangeable. (Martinelli's, for example, which makes a sparkling apple juice, uses the two names based on marketing preferences.) So does it really make a difference which one is used in cooking? It can, in that traditional apple cider will add only apple flavor and that flavor may be unique to a specific apple type. Apple juice (or modern "apple cider") may  add other flavors or additional sugar.  So if buying in a grocery store, be sure and check the label.

Here are a couple of tips. If the recipe calls for apple cider, and only apple juice is available, reduce the apple juice by half to get full apple flavor. And if you're making hot apple cider, besides the usual spices, add a little brown sugar -- it will really bring out the flavor.



  • FJT  on  11/5/2012 at 2:39 PM

    If you're reading a British recipe though cider always refers to an alcoholic drink. I was very confused when I bought cider for the first time when I lived in Canada!!!

  • ellabee  on  11/5/2012 at 5:05 PM

    In the recommendation about using apple juice, you mean 'reduce' in the sense of 'cook down' rather than 'use less', yes?

  • Lindsay  on  11/6/2012 at 10:43 AM

    Yes, you're correct -- add twice the amount called for to a pan, and then reduce it to the amount called for.

  • bee pollen  on  9/28/2013 at 2:09 AM

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