Apple Cider vs Apple Juice

What is the difference between Apple Juice and Apple Cider? Is there a difference? Which should you use to make hard cider? If you saw these two cartons in the store, would you know which was juice and which was cider?

When it comes to exploring the difference between apple juice and apple cider, there is a big difference between perception and reality:


  • Apple Cider: When many people think of apple cider, they reminisce of the good old days of using a cider press to juice fresh apples with family and friends.  Or, maybe it’s stopping at a roadside fruit stand to pick up a gallon of cider.  Whatever the circumstances, the result is a very cloudy, unpasteurized, typically very sweet, and nothing short of the nectar of the gods.
  • Apple Juice: By contrast, most people would describe apple juice as purchased from a store, very clear, pasteurized, with a taste that is much milder than fresh pressed apples.

Many sources, including published articles (here and here for example) say that these perceptions translate into how cider and juice are labelled and marketed.  

One of the very few formal definitions of juice and cider comes from the website of the State of Massachusetts.  Their descriptions match closely with the perceptions listed above, mostly focusing on the degree of filtration.  It is unclear whether these descriptions are rules that manufacturers and retailers need to follow in their labeling.



The reality is, there are very few ‘rules’ in place regarding labeling apple juice vs apple cider.  This has led to a wide range of uses of the terms for very different looking products.  Many companies use the term cider or juice solely to influence the marketing and branding, having little or nothing to do with the actual contents.

Regarding pasteurization, in the United States, the FDA does not require that juice be pasteurized to be sold in stores.  However, almost all juice and cider in stores will be pasteurized.

Did you guess that the clear bottle is labelled cider, and the cloudy one is labelled juice?  Me neither!

So… Which Should You Buy to Make Hard Cider?

Since the labeling doesn’t mean much, you’ll need to rely on specific qualities of the product to make your selection.  

See my detailed explanation of how to pick store-bought apple juice to make hard cider for complete details of what characteristics to look for.

In general, you’ll want to pick the least filtered product you can find.  It will either be very cloudy (little bits of apple in suspension in the juice) or have lots of sediment (apple bits are not suspended).  

Additionally, products using multiple apple varieties tend to produce better overall flavors.  

These types of juices and ciders are often more expensive than the totally clear ones, so balance your available budget with how badly you want a high-quality end product.

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