Which is fresher, which is better for you, and where does hard apple cider fit in?             
Martha Sewart pressing apples into a barrel for apple cider
Credit: Paola + Murray

When the weather turns crisp after a summer that never seems long enough, crates of fresh apples begin to appear at markets, alongside bottles of freshly-pressed apple cider. At outdoor markets signs beckon shoppers whose cold hands need comfort: "Hot cider!" The dark, steaming liquid is aromatic and sweet. But what about the clear, golden bottles of apple juice that reside on store shelves, year-round, impervious to the season? What's the difference between apple cider and apple juice?

Quite simply, in the United States apple cider refers to pressed apple juice that has not been filtered to remove the apple pulp. Strain that cider several times and the result would be apple juice. That's why apple cider is muddy and apple juice is clear. And because apple cider literally contains more fruit, its fans feel that it has the personality of the specific apples that were crushed to make it.

The only wrinkle in understanding what cider means is geographic: In some Commonwealth countries (like the United Kingdom, Australia, South Africa, and parts of Canada) the use of the word cider implies an alcoholic beverage; so if you asked for apple cider in an English pub you would be served an alcoholic drink. In the U.S. that same drink would be called hard apple cider.

Apple cider is dark because of the apple solids it contains: as they oxidize, they darken. While some fresh ciders are still sold raw and unpasteurized, you'll find that most are pasteurized for legal food safety reasons (an E.coli outbreak in the 1990s led to laws requiring pasteurization in some states, like New York, which is the largest cider producer in the U.S.). The hue of the juice at the moment it is heated is captured, so pasteurized cider will remain consistent in color, whereas a raw cider might darken more over time.

If you would like to make your own raw cider at home, the process is simple. You can use an apple press as Martha does or you can opt for a food processor, a colander, and some cheesecloth. Whichever route you take, it's important to remember that you will need a lot of apples. To make the most of the seasonal treat, choose local apples with a distinctive flavor. Raw cider lasts up to a week in the refrigerator.


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