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Cooler weather, less humidity and colorful leaves all signal the coming of fall. Another sign is the arrival of apple cider at local markets and roadside stands.
What’s the difference between apple juice and apple cider? While frequently confusing, technically they are the same thing: the juice from 100 percent apples (sometimes you can get cherry cider, pear cider or other fruit cider, but the traditional fruit used is apples).
In general, apple juice is cider that has been filtered and pasteurized. Due to this filtering, apple juice tends to be clearer than cider. Sometimes sugar is added in the process of making juice. Quite often, the difference in taste (or perhaps the uniformity in taste) comes from the blending of apples. If you only use one type of apple, you’ll have the taste of that specific variety.
Apple cider is usually unprocessed and comes directly from the press. Traditionally, ciders are only lightly filtered to remove some of the larger particles. Sometimes preservatives, such as potassium sorbate, are added to help prevent fermentation. If unprocessed and unpasteurized, apple cider that is allowed to age may become “hard.” This is caused by the fermentation of the juices and the development of alcohol.
While most people think of juices as healthy foods, certain types of juice, including cider, could pose a health risk. Because of this, during the past few years we’re seeing more and more fresh cider being pasteurized.
According to the FDA’s Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition, “When fruits and vegetables are fresh-squeezed to produce juice, any bacteria that are present on the inside or the outside of the produce can become part of the finished product. Unless the juice is further processed to destroy harmful bacteria, it could be dangerous for those most at risk for foodborne illness.”
What’s a foodborne illness?
Most people call this food poisoning or getting sick from something you ate or drank.
Who is at risk? All of us, but infants, young children, older adult and people with weakened immune systems are the most at risk for getting any foodborne illness. FDA recommends these groups drink pasteurized cider or bring it to a boil first to kill any harmful bacteria.
Most of the juice/cider sold in the United States is pasteurized (heat-treated) to kill harmful bacteria, such as E. coli and Salmonella. Juice may also be treated by non-heat processes to kill bacteria.
Some grocery stores, health food stores, cider mills and farm markets sell packaged juice/cider that was made on site that has not been pasteurized or processed to ensure its safety. These untreated products should be kept refrigerated and are required to carry the following warning label:
“WARNING: This product has not been pasteurized and therefore may contain harmful bacteria that can cause serious illness in children, the elderly, and persons with weakened immune systems.”
The FDA does not require this warning label for juice or cider that is fresh-squeezed and sold by the glass at orchards, farm markets, roadside stands or in some restaurants or juice bars.
So, if you stop at a roadside stand or farm market where samples of cider or apple juice are available, be sure to ask whether the juice has been treated.
Most cider mills do not use “drops” or apples that have fallen from the trees or have been bruised. The apples are also sorted and washed before being pressed. All of this helps prevent bacteria from getting into the cider. If you don’t know if your mill is doing this, ask questions.
Most people can’t tell by the taste if the cider they have has been pasteurized or not. This is one of those times when I wonder why people take the risk of drinking unpasteurized products. You can still enjoy that “taste of fall” without the concern or worry.
Sources: Martin J. Stutsman, Consumer Safety Officer, FDA’s Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition and Foodsafety.gov.
Cheryle Jones Syracuse is a Family and Consumer Science staff member and can be reached at N.C. Cooperative Extension, Brunswick County Center, at 253-2610.