What exactly is apple cider?

I've been using Apple Bandit Cider for some recipes in which I needed to reduce the cider. However the Apple Bandit Cider is like a low-alcohol fresh cider/beer kind of drink. And I recently heard that this is an incorrect literal translation of the apple cider. Apparently there is a difference in what we call apple cider in the EU vs. the US.

So when using apple cider, is it best to just use an unfiltered sort of apple juice, or what is the closest description of the actual good?

  • 2
    The part of “what is cider” will depend on where you are (or the author of the recipe you are using). See here under “other foods”. If that answers you me question, we can close it as duplicate. If you have questions about what product to use, we’ll need a bit of clarification.
    – Stephie
    Commented Sep 5, 2019 at 9:19
  • 3
    That stuff appears to be 'fake' cider aimed at the mass market. It contains actual cider but is made from concentrate - ciderexplorer.wordpress.com/2017/05/14/… - is fairly scathing about it. I think you could find a lot better.
    – Tetsujin
    Commented Sep 5, 2019 at 9:25
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    Where are you? Or where's the recipe from? I've recently started seeing the term used in the UK for something different to its American meaning.
    – Chris H
    Commented Sep 5, 2019 at 11:17
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    @Stephie I would agree with the mass market fake cider comment looking at the ingredient list. The fact that malic acid had to me added would definitely point to culinary apples, not cider varieties. Sugar means the apple juice was not even from better table apples and carbonated water says they did not even go for natural carbonation. I would pass on that one for most any usage, but that is my personal taste.
    – dlb
    Commented Sep 5, 2019 at 16:07
  • 2
    Possible duplicate of Translating cooking terms between US / UK / AU / CA / NZ
    – eirikdaude
    Commented Sep 6, 2019 at 10:26

6 Answers 6


What is apple cider?

In earlier times, it just meant "apple juice". Nobody had different words for the non-alcoholic and the alcoholic variety, because the freshly pressed (and sometimes cooked) juice fermented on its own when stored unrefrigerated.

In the days of refrigeration, there are different products made by pressing of apples, and stabilized to keep their properties when refrigerated. It just so happens that linguistically, the name "cider" has stuck for a non-fermented variant in the US and for a fermented variant outside. Besides, there are companies who have been using modern technology to approximate the fermented version without following the exact process, this is how products like the Apple bandit come into being. (There are also companies who approximate the non-alcoholic variety, but I think they market it simply as apple juice).

So the word has no single "exact" meaning. All three types are a cider.

Which one is better to use?

The answer may sound disappointing, but it is best to use the type meant by the recipe author. Ideally, the author would have known of the linguistic problem, and specified what they mean. Since the ideal case rarely happens in reality, you have to take your best guess based on what you know of the recipe source. That is, if it is an American recipe, use unfiltered apple juice, if it is European, use the alcoholic kind. Also, especially for older recipes, or ones which require much manipulation (such as your reducing step), it is preferable to use traditional-process cider. The modern style cider like Apple bandit is fine-tuned to taste good when drunk straight from the bottle, but it might behave very different from old time cider when heated.

In the end, if you have no idea where the recipe came from or who the author is, you can just start with whichever type is easiest for you to use, and see if you like the result. If yes, stay with it. If not, try with a different type.

  • 11
    Your statement that cider originally meant "apple juice" is not in agreement with the etymology provided by, for instance, the Oxford English Dictionary. Nor does it agree with the etymology of "cidre" given in the Larousse. They both derive it ultimately from a Hebrew word for intoxicating liquor, via Greek and Latin (in the Vulgate). Commented Sep 6, 2019 at 0:23
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    @RobertFurber yes but in ye olde times all apple juice was fermented whether they wanted it or not. We just figured out how to stop the process a short while ago.
    – Borgh
    Commented Sep 6, 2019 at 6:42
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    I meant it exactly in the way Borgh said - today, we don't have two different words for firm young camambert and the liquidy smelly camambert into which it turns after three weeks of sitting around, at best we use some descriptors like "young", "fresh", "unripe" vs. "aged", "matured" or similar. Analogously, I don't think people back then thought of the unfermented juice as a different foodstuff, they just regarded it as a short phase in the lifecycle of the cider.
    – rumtscho
    Commented Sep 6, 2019 at 9:08
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    @rumtscho Be that as it may, there is no known record of cider being used to refer to unfermented apple juice before the 19th century (if you know of one, please submit it to the Oxford English Dictionary). I don't agree with claiming words were used in the past without evidence about how language was used in the time period (stereotypes about "ye olde times" are not good enough). Commented Sep 6, 2019 at 9:53
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    @RobertFurber you make a very good point here! I based it on usage I have heard in other languages for apple beverages (e.g. Most in German) and other similar drinks (I come from a wine producing region, and when the wine is drunk in the first few days before it starts fermenting, it is called "young wine", not "grape juice" - it is a usage I see in modern times among people who brew by traditional methods). I don't have solid proof that the old usage of "cider" in English was the same as the current usages I have observed in similar contexts. So it could be a wrong assumption on my part.
    – rumtscho
    Commented Sep 6, 2019 at 10:53

My add to my understanding of cider vs. cider meaning:

The original origin of the word meant "strong drink". Some take that to mean fermented, and by some I mean most of the world except the US and Canada. Here in the US, cider meant more of strong as in a stronger taste as opposed to the clear filtered flavored water sold as apple juice. Even in the US, that was not really the case before prohibition, when cider was common alcoholic drink and applejack was a common hard spirit, but we hijacked the common meaning of the word and changed its usage at that time. And even here, that meaning is deteriorating as you can often now find products that are filtered apple juices sold as cider.

Even within fermented product, you will have wide variance. In the US, there are tax implications for going over certain percentages of alcohol, so the hard ciders tend to be limited. Also in the US traditionally common culinary apples were used to make hard ciders. That is not the case most other places, with some countries required that only specific cultivars are used. These apples often are ones that are so acidic or astringent that most would find them inedible raw. They are grown strictly for cider. The quality of the fermented product is anywhere from a cheap back shelf beer to a high quality sparkling wine depending of the method used and the qualities of the apples. In the US without the strict naming and ingredient laws of some countries, France coming to mind immediately, it even allows for things like ales made from fermented grains to be flavored with a little bit of apple juice or even artificial apple flavor, and then sold as a cider. As a fan of quality ciders, including attempting to get my own orchard with old French, American, English and Irish varieties going, I am not a fan of the entire image of the product being cheapened by this being permitted.

The book authors are doing you a disservice by not recognizing the range of what the word cider can signify. I can mostly only back up the general statement of others to go by where the author is and their probable audience. If from France they would likely mean a more wine like product. In the UK, a pub style fermented drink. From the US, an unfiltered fresh juice with particulate and usually a darker brown color. It is a careless, but common and unfortunate type mistake by food/drink authors, such as US authors using wet measure for dry ingredients and not differentiating between spoon sizes because they assume a US audience. In this case, it is especially important to differentiate though because you are talking about a product that might be flat, lightly carbonated, heavily carbonated, fresh juice, light fermentation, or up well over 10% alcohol. Those all cook, taste, and mix very differently and potentially violate religious and cultural rules.

I personally tried for years to use the French spelling of cidre to mean hard cider to differentiate, but it just confused people more in the US. The few that understood somewhat thought I meant they needed to go and find a good French cidre.


While the American meaning is a cloudy juice, in the UK Apple Cider is used as branding on cheap alcoholic products based on but not entirely made from fermented apple juice - the ingredients on the product I've linked say "Cider with added sugars and sweetener". These are clear and sparkling, so if you're following an American recipe calling for apple cider, the UK product under the same name won't be a good substitute.


Acording to Wikipedia:

Apple cider (also called sweet cider or soft cider or simply cider) is the name used in the United States and parts of Canada for an unfiltered, unsweetened, non-alcoholic beverage made from apples. Though typically referred to simply as "cider" in those areas, it is not to be confused with the alcoholic beverage known as cider in other places, which is called "hard cider" in the US and Canada.
It is the liquid extracted from an apple and all its components, that is then boiled to concentration. The liquid can be extracted from the apple itself, the apple core, the trimmings from apples, or apple culls.


My experience with apple cider and apple juice is from the US in the 1980's to now.

Apple cider was generally served warmed/"hot" and with extra spices in it, such as cinnamon, a little sugar, and maybe a few other things. It was basically a liquid form of apple pie, apple crisp, or apple cobbler. It was sometimes served cold and without the extra spices, but in my experience not as often. Apple juice is almost always served cold and generally didn't have anything added before drinking.

Cider is/was non-alcoholic, as mentioned as in other answers, so I drank it as a kid. Usually, this was during fall or winter (being a warm drink) and used to warm up after being outside for a long period. It was also cloudy to the point of nearly being opaque in the center of a large bowl or jug. Apple juice would be clear and used to cool off in the summer.

As others mentioned, the alcoholic version is usually prefaced with the word "hard", so a hard apple cider would have the same alcoholic content, by volume, as a standard beer.

  • 2
    This is too US-centric to really be useful. Warm cider with spices & sugar … mention that to any Somerset farmer & you'd be strung up by the ankles. British cider is never called 'hard', that's a purely US term. It is also never alcohol-free [unless the alcohol is actually removed afterwards, so you can drink & drive] Though it may predominantly be 'beer strength', 5% it's often 8.5% or more, for the 'good stuff'. Apple juice is just apple juice in the UK & never called cider.
    – Tetsujin
    Commented Sep 6, 2019 at 17:46
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    Then Somerset farmers would be at a major war with Midwest farmers, since warm, spiced apple cider is a favorite drink between harvest and Christmas, and not just with orchard farmers. My family, specifically, would go to the apple orchards in mid to northern Wisconsin each year for their apple harvest festival and get it fresh. Commented Sep 6, 2019 at 17:53
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    if it's not alcoholic but freshly-squeezed, it's not 'cider', it's 'apple juice'. if you want sweeter cider, use sweeter apples. There are ciders here I cannot bear, they are so sweet. Conversely, there are ciders that are dry as alum. No doubt someone, somewhere, will mull some for xmas, but that's not really at issue here. To refer back to the actual question [I know this has got very broad in the discussion] it depends on where the recipe came from as to what the actual ingredient should be. The Heineken stuff is not going to be the right ingredient for anyone's definition ;)
    – Tetsujin
    Commented Sep 6, 2019 at 18:02
  • @Tetsujin, I didn't know Heineken made hard apple cider. I usually see it from Angry Orchard, which has several varieties. Also, I didn't say that anything about my answer being about what to use in a recipe, just the definitions of "apple cider" vs "apple juice" that I was familiar with. The title and the first question is about the definition. Background info talked about a recipe and the second question hinted at a recipe. I thought the definition was most important and the OP could make a decision from there. Commented Sep 6, 2019 at 18:11
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    It's right there in the question "Apple Bandit Cider" is Heineken. It's cheap, nasty, fake, pretend cider for the mass-market. No-one who knows cider would ever drink it. Without knowing the origin of the recipe no-one will get any closer than "don't use Heineken" The question title is a red herring, the question within a question is "how do I choose a cider appropriate to my recipe" to which we have no real response from the OP. So, no matter how much interest this question has generated because it hit the hot-list, there is still no definitive answer because there is no definitive question.
    – Tetsujin
    Commented Sep 6, 2019 at 18:18

The date of the recipe is very important on this matter. Historically the word "cider" referred to a fermented beverage [1], whereas "sweet cider" [1] referred to the unfermented fresh product produced at the time of pressing apples. Contemporary usage of the term "apple cider" (at least in the US) refers to freshly pressed juice that has been refrigerated and not allowed to ferment [2].

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cider [2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Apple_cider

  • 7
    Outside North America, the date is irrelevant: "cider" has always meant fermented. Commented Sep 5, 2019 at 22:06
  • 1
    I'm realizing that the tricky thing about the OP's question is what is "apple cider" not "cider".
    – Tristan
    Commented Sep 6, 2019 at 13:43
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    Outside the US it means cider made from apples, as opposed to pears etc. Outside the US, 'cider' with no other qualification is 'a fermented alcoholic drink made from apples'. The fermentation & alcohol are a part of the assumption. You couldn't sell plain squeezed apple juice as 'cider' or you'd be pulled in front of the Advertising Standards Authority for mis-representation.
    – Tetsujin
    Commented Sep 6, 2019 at 17:51
  • @Tetsujin "American-style non-alcholic apple cider". ;)
    – nick012000
    Commented Sep 7, 2019 at 7:36

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