How Much Apple in my Cider?

This sounds like a daft question. Cider is made from apples, surely?  Well yes it is, in part. But over the last 40 years or so the UK cider industry, like the UK brewing industry, has increasingly relied on the addition of  other fermentable sugar syrups to substitute for apples (or, in brewing, for malt).  Originally these might have been cane or beet sugar, but nowadays they are typically glucose syrups prepared from the hydrolysis of maize or wheat starch, or  fructose syrups from the hydrolysis of inulin (a fructose polysaccharide found in the roots of chicory and Jerusalem artichoke).  These are normal commercial food ingredients and they're widely used across the food industry wherever cheap bulk sugars are required.  Both in brewing and cidermaking they give lighter styles of product which are perceived to be more in tune with commercial needs.

These syrups are perfectly wholesome and they do not have to be declared on the beer or cider label, since alcoholic drinks above 1.2% ABV are currently exempt from food ingredient labelling.  They allow the cidermaker to add enough sugar to his juice to take it up to an SG of around 1.100. After fermentation this gives a strong base cider of around 12 - 14% ABV, which is then diluted with water to drinking strength for retail sale.  This process is known in the industry as "chaptalisation" (which is a complete misnomer, but that's another topic), and as a result of this the final cider may contain only 30% apple juice equivalent and sometimes significantly less.  This is all quite legal and permitted by Customs and Excise Notice 162 (though for Excise Duty purposes the definition of 'cider'  was changed in July  2010 to take account of juice content see HMRC link and explanatory note and revised Notice 162). Nearly all ciders you'll buy in the supermarket are made this way. They are in effect not ciders any more but "glucose wines".

foxwhelp on tree

Some years ago, the UK Food  Standards Agency (FSA) became interested in this as a part of work to develop methods for the quantification of the fruit content of juice-based drinks.  I  worked on the cider part of the contract and my report was published in 2004 (FSA News 42 page 14). This work is in the public domain and so you can buy the report direct from the FSA for 10, but they have also given me permission to post it here on the website. You can read the whole document as a PDF by clicking this link (Juice Content in Ciders and Perries).

What does it all mean? Most of the report is concerned with very detailed analytical aspects of measuring juice content, interesting for boffins but perhaps not for the world at large. For the present discussion, pages 1 - 8 and pages 35 - 41 are the most relevant. These show that the typical apple juice content of a UK cider at the time of the survey was just 30%.   The rest is water-diluted fermented sugar syrup. The lowest juice content we  found in our work was just 7% apple juice.  It was also interesting to find that about a quarter of the (draught) ciders at a major Cider Festival were diluted too. Is this what we'd expect?

I personally believe that full ingredients labelling of all alcoholic drinks, to include beer, cider, wine and spirits is long overdue.  I don't mind if people want to dilute their products within the law,  but  I do believe that the public have a right to know what they're drinking.  I am reassured that many people including the British Retail Consortium and LACORS (the over-arching body for UK Trading Standards Officers) agree with me. LACORS have written "there are likely to be some consumers who are being misled because they do not realise the degree of technological change which has taken place in relation to the manufacture of alcoholic drinks which has accelerated over the past 20 years" and "products produced by more technological means,  i.e. cider produced from a sugar solution fermented with yeasts and with added apple from concentrate/extract together with colours and artificial sweeteners to adjust the appearance and taste, should have a single conventionally formatted ingredients list."  (see FSA Labelling Consultation exercise p 85 onwards).

Back to my Contents page

Last updated 17th August 2010