It’s never been more popular to buy sustainably produced food and drink direct from the producer

People are enjoying local and ‘real’ food more now than ever and with that demand comes interest in what is contained in the food, or rather what isn’t. As well as where it is made and the methods used to create the final product.

This is certainly the case for traditional real cider.

So lets define what’s contained in real cider:

  • Hand or hydraulically pressed apple juice
  • Water to make up volume – but no more than 15% of the cider, otherwise the cider is no longer defined as ‘real’
  • Aspartine (nutrasweet) may be added to a cider to sweeten it if the apples are ‘dry’
  • Larger cider producers like Weston’s use sulphites to preserve the ciders longer on the shelves of shops
  • Cider that has been fermented in oak barrels that previously contained rum or whisky will have traces of the spirit which you’ll be able to taste – this adds to the flavour, eg: Kingston Black cider

Oak Cider Barrel

What’s not in real cider:

  • Real cider has not been pasteurised* or concentrated
  • E numbers
  • Colours
  • Syrups
  • Excessive water
  • Antioxidant

* Some cider’s may be heat treated to halt further microbial degradation of the cider.

Benefits of drinking real cider:


  1. Candle Wine Project

    I disagree that real cider cannot be carbonated, and I don't know why you say it does not contain carbon dioxide. You are telling me that you can take a craft cider, but it is no longer “real” the moment you serve it on draft carbonated? Also, if a cider maker does not degas their cider and purge it of all naturally occurring carbon dioxide, a product of yeast converting sugar to yeast, then it isn't “real”? Yet, you can add Aspartine (nutrasweet) to cider, which is not natural to fermentation, and it is still “real”? And while I'm on a rant, what is wrong with stabilizing a finished cider via pasteurization? I understand why one would not pasteurize the juice before fermentation, but afterwords does make it shelf stable. I think your idea of extra water and syrups is correct thinking of not real cider, but you are discrediting so many good craft ciders with your other definitions.

  2. 146 Cider


    You are tying yourself down a bit there – Sodium Metabisulphite is actually used by a lot of craft producers (and to some degree occurs naturally in fruit anyway). Most craft cider makers I know use it as a part of a 'directed natural' fermentation. Plus – its actually got an E number too…(I believe its E223 – or something like that).

    Also, as already pointed out – what about bottle conditioned ciders? There are not force carbonated, but should have a good fizz about them too.

    Like the idea of pinning down what is a cider, but its a pretty tough one!

    All the best

  3. Firstly thanks so much for your comments guys, this is exactly the type of discussion I want to encourage on the Real Cider community.

    It will allow newcomers to cider, as well as people wanting to make cider this season to get an idea of what makes real cider special.

    I had not considered carbonation in bottles and also pasteurisation. I guess I wrote a very strict definition.. so thanks for highlighting the differences in cider composition around the various orchards and cider producers around the world.


  4. Andrew Lea

    Jim, just a few technical comments / corrections on your proposed definition…

    Doesn't the juice have to be fermented? How else would you get it out of the apples if it wasn't hand or hydraulic pressure? There is no such thing as aspartine. If you mean aspartame (aka Nutrasweet) that is never used in cider because it breaks down and loses its sweetness – the two common artificial sweeteners used are saccharin or sucralose – and why would you want to put them in 'real' cider anyway (both have E numbers by the way) since they are totally synthetic unlike sugar. Sugar and pasteurisation (which you must do or the sugar will re-ferment) are far more 'natural' processes than use of synthetic sweeteners. Sweetening cider has nothing to do with whether the apples are 'dry' because all apple sugars will ferment to dryness anyway. Nearly all good cidermakers big and small use sulphite – not just Westons – and it is used as much as an antimicrobial during fermentation to prevent off-flavours as it is to prevent oxidation afterwards. I don't see why waste spirit in barrels should have anything to do with 'reality' in ciders, and Kingston Black cider has no association with rum – it is the name of an apple.

  5. Hi Andrew, many thanks for taking the time to comment on this post. Very interesting insight into the fermentation process and additional indgredients – re: E numbers in saccharin of course!..

    All the best for a fantastic cider season!

  6. sandi

    Can anyone tell me the ingredients in cider like string bow and mercury and if gluten free?

  7. Jim Callender

    Hi Sandi – they will probably be gluten free – but you may want to read the nasties that commercial drinks producers put into their ‘cider’ – bears no resemblance to the craft stuff –

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