Apple cider and spiced apple cider are two popular fall drinks, but what exactly sets them apart? While they may seem similar at first glance, there are some key distinctions between regular apple cider and spiced apple cider.
What is Apple Cider?
Apple cider is a non-alcoholic beverage made by pressing apples to extract the juice. The juice is then sometimes filtered to remove pulp and sediment, but sometimes left unfiltered for a murkier, more rustic cider.
Apple cider can be enjoyed fresh or pasteurized. Fresh apple cider is unpasteurized, meaning it has not been heat-treated to kill bacteria. Many people prefer the taste of fresh cider, but there is a safety risk if it is improperly handled. On the other hand, commercially produced apple cider is typically pasteurized to extend its shelf life.
What is Spiced Apple Cider?
Spiced apple cider or “mulled cider” refers to apple cider that has been warmed and infused with spices and other flavorings. Some popular spices and flavorings added to apple cider include:
The spices complement the sweet apple flavor and give the cider a delicious aromatic quality. Spiced apple cider is traditionally served warm, which enhances the flavor and makes it perfect for cool fall days.
How Apple Cider is Made
To understand the difference between regular and spiced cider, it helps to first look at how basic apple cider is made:
- Apples are washed and rinsed.
- Apples are cut and crushed into pulp to release the juice inside.
- The apple pulp is then pressed in a cider press to extract the liquid.
- The apple juice is collected and strain to remove solids and sediment.
- The strained juice can be consumed immediately as fresh apple cider or processed further.
- To make sweet cider, apple juice concentrate may be added.
- For long-term storage, apple cider is pasteurized by heating it to kill bacteria.
- The cider is bottled hot to maintain sterility.
This basic process produces single-variety or blended apple cider that can be enjoyed chilled or at room temperature. To turn it into spiced cider, additional ingredients and preparation are required.
How Spiced Apple Cider is Made
Spiced apple cider builds on basic cider with these extra steps:
- Start with fresh or commercially made apple cider.
- Add desired spices and flavorings like cinnamon sticks, cloves, orange slices, vanilla, etc.
- Optional: Add a sweetener like sugar or honey to taste.
- Heat the cider and spices together at a simmer (do not boil).
- Let the mulled cider steep for 30-60 minutes for maximum flavor.
- Strain out the spices if desired.
- Pour the hot spiced cider into mugs and serve warm.
- Garnish individual servings with orange slices, cinnamon sticks or whole cloves.
Heating allows the spices to infuse the cider with warmth and robust flavor. The end result is the perfect hot drink for enjoying on chilly autumn days.
Both regular apple cider and spiced apple cider can be healthy options, with some nutritional differences:
|Nutrition Facts||Apple Cider (1 cup)||Spiced Apple Cider (1 cup)|
|Total Carbohydrates||29 g||37 g|
|Sugars||24 g||31 g|
|Dietary Fiber||0 g||0 g|
|Protein||0 g||0 g|
As you can see, spiced apple cider has slightly more calories and carbohydrates than regular cider. This is mainly due to added sugar or honey used in preparing mulled cider. However, both beverages are relatively low in calories and offer no protein or fiber.
Apple Cider Varieties
There are many varieties of apples that can be used to make fresh pressed cider. Popular options include:
|Apple Type||Flavor Profile|
|McIntosh||Sweet, tender flesh|
|Jonagold||Tart, crisp, aromatic|
|Jonathan||Tart, crisp, juicy|
|Rome||Mildly tart, firm flesh|
|York||Tart, firm, juicy|
The blend of apples impacts the flavor profile, sweetness, acidity and mouthfeel of the fresh cider. Certain heirloom cider apples like Winesap, Winter Banana and Harrison also make excellent single-variety ciders.
Spiced Cider Ingredients
In addition to apple cider, spiced ciders feature various ingredients to turn up the flavor. Popular spiced cider ingredients include:
|Cinnamon sticks||Warm cinnamon flavor|
|Whole cloves||Strong, spicy flavor|
|Allspice berries||Sweet and savory flavor|
|Nutmeg||Sweet, nutty aroma|
|Orange peel||Bright citrus flavor|
|Vanilla||Sweet, delicate flavor|
Feel free to customize your own signature spice blend and adjust sweetness to taste. Simmering helps infuse the cider with intense, multifaceted flavor.
Temperature is another major difference between regular and spiced ciders:
- Apple cider can be served chilled, at room temperature, or heated.
- Spiced apple cider is always served hot after simmering the spices in the liquid.
Heating is necessary to properly infuse spiced cider and extract the flavors of cinnamon, cloves and other aromatics. Chilled spiced cider would not have the same taste or appeal.
Occasions for Serving
Here are some of the popular occasions and settings where each type of cider shines:
|Apple Cider||Spiced Apple Cider|
|Tailgating parties (chilled)||Halloween parties (warm)|
|Daytime fall fairs (room temp)||Thanksgiving dinner (warm)|
|Alongside brunch||Christmas celebrations|
|Children’s lunch drink||Winter weddings|
Apple cider works any time of day and for casual fall activities. Spiced mulled cider is more specialized for cold weather and evening festivities when a warming drink is desired.
To retain fresh flavor and prevent contamination, cider should be stored properly:
- Refrigerate apple cider and drink within 2 weeks for best quality.
- Freeze apple cider for long term storage of 6-12 months.
- Refrigerate leftover spiced cider for up to 5 days.
- Freeze extra spiced cider base without spices for months.
Always discard cider that smells or tastes unpleasant. For spiced cider, strain out the used spices after simmering so they don’t over-season the cider during storage.
Making Large Batches
For parties, large gatherings or cider making contests, you may want to produce spiced cider in big batches. Here are some tips:
- Make 1-3 days ahead so flavors can meld.
- Source fresh apple cider from an orchard or press your own.
- Experiment with unique spice blends to stand out.
- Focus on warming spices like cinnamon, clove, ginger.
- Simmer in a large stockpot or divide between crockpots.
- Keep cider warm in a slow cooker on low setting.
- Serve in a hollowed-out baked pumpkin for dramatic presentation.
Making 5-10 gallons of spiced cider for a crowd? Be sure to source enough fresh cider and mulling spices in bulk. Cook in batches as needed to keep warm. Provide fun garnishes like orange slices, cinnamon sticks and apple pie spice rimmed mugs.
Possible Health Benefits
Both regular and spiced cider may offer possible health benefits when consumed in moderation:
- Antioxidants – Apples contain polyphenol antioxidants which may help fight inflammation and disease.
- Prebiotics – Pectin fiber in apples acts as a prebiotic to promote healthy gut bacteria.
- Vitamin C – Fresh apple cider provides immune-boosting vitamin C.
- Anti-cancer – Early studies suggest compounds in apples may inhibit cancer cell growth.
- Heart health – The polyphenols in apples may improve heart health by reducing oxidative stress.
However, remember that these benefits depend on consuming cider in moderate portions as part of a healthy diet.
Potential Downsides to Consider
There are also some potential downsides associated with apple cider consumption:
- High in sugar – Apple cider contains 24-26 grams of sugar per cup, mainly as fructose.
- Acidity – Straight apple juice can erode tooth enamel.
- Pesticide residue – Non-organic apples may contain traces of pesticides.
- Foodborne illness – Unpasteurized cider may harbor dangerous bacteria like E. coli if improperly handled.
Those with diabetes or sensitive teeth should take special precaution. Otherwise, cider is safe to consume as part of a balanced diet.
Both regular and spiced cider can be used creatively in cooking and baking:
|Apple Cider Recipes||Spiced Apple Cider Recipes|
|– Cider turkey brine||– Spiced cider BBQ sauce|
|– Cider vinaigrette||– Cider doughnuts|
|– Cider sangria||– Mulled cider oatmeal|
|– Apple cider granita||– Slow cooker pork with cider|
From drinks to desserts and more, both regular and spiced cider can add sweet-tart flavor and fall flair to recipes.
Buying Quality Cider
Follow these tips for buying the best apple cider:
- Check the ingredient list for 100% apple juice vs. juice blends.
- Select organic or low-spray apples when possible.
- For fresh cider, choose from a local orchard.
- Avoid cloudiness or sediment in pasteurized cider.
- Refrigerate cider after opening and use within 2 weeks.
Quality cider starts with good apples! Source from reputable producers and handle with care for best flavor and food safety.
While apple cider and spiced apple cider share the same main ingredient, they diverge when it comes to ingredients, preparation method, flavor profile, optimal serving temperature and ideal drinking occasions. Regular cider can be enjoyed chilled or heated, while spiced cider reaches its full aromatic potential when simmered hot. Spices like cinnamon, clove and nutmeg give mulled cider its signature fall and winter flair. Both types of cider can be healthy options when consumed in moderation as part of a balanced diet. With so many ways to enjoy apple cider’s sweet-tart goodness, be sure to try both versions this season!