It's no secret that milk spoils, but can the same thing happen with other beverages? With fall in full swing, I started to wonder about the beloved fall drink, apple cider. Does apple cider go bad? How does one know if their apple cider is expired? These are some pretty important questions, and to better understand the expiration timeline of this fall staple, I delved into a pretty detailed investigation. 

How Apple Cider Is Made

sweet, juice, apple
Kristine Mahan

Apple cider is made from all types of apples. While it varies from country to country, the majority of ciders in the United States are made from dessert apples (think Golden Delicious). In addition to these apples, apple cider can occasionally call for the addition of a pear. If it's made with fruits other than apples, it's not a cider. Herbs? We're breaching the mulled cider line. Sweetener and syrups? Now you're talking apple juice. Let cider be cider, please. 

The process that goes into making apple cider is standard. Mill the apples until they become a pulp, then you squeeze the juice from said pulp. At this point, if the apple cider is becoming a hard alcoholic cider, manufacturers will typically add in yeast or syrups to produce a chemical reaction before fermentation. 

If we’re talking cider sans alcohol, the pressed pulp juice is then filtered and cooled. If the cider is intended to be cloudier, or more like cider than juice, apples are doused in ascorbic acid before they become pulp to prevent sediment in the cider and to keep the beverage from becoming a darker color.

Apple Cider vs Apple Juice

Yes, apple cider and apple juice are very different. The main difference is that apple juice is more filtered and sweetened. Cider is cider because of its cloudy composition, which stems from apple debris. The filtering of apple juice and the fact that it is more processed allows for an extended shelf life. Apple cider, on the other hand, expires quickly. 

How Long Is Too Long?

cider, juice, lager, wine, ice, liquor, alcohol, beer
Alex Frank

Apple ciders appear on grocery store shelves seasonally because they go bad so fast. Sweet cider keeps its fresh-off-the-shelf taste for about two weeks if it's refrigerated. After two weeks, it begins to become carbonated as fermentation turns it into alcohol. 

Certain alcohols, like hard cider, don’t really go bad, but the taste can change after a year or two when they begin to turn into vinegar. As cider becomes exposed to oxygen, airborne yeast mixes with the cider’s sugars to produce acid. With this process, apple cider becomes alcoholic and eventually similar to vinegar. 

The same goes if your sweet apple cider is expired. Cider may not taste so good after it begins to turn darker, sediment forms, and it starts to froth. When those things start to occur, it just means the cider is undergoing fermentation. It will taste more sour like vinegar, but it's by no means harmful. Honestly, the cider just becomes unpleasant-tasting and slightly more alcoholic.

sweet, juice, cider, apple
Susanna Mostaghim

So, does apple cider go bad? Technically no, but the cider will slowly transform into a more acidic-tasting beverage. I bet you didn't think a science lesson was needed to understand the expiration timeline of your favorite fall drink. 

Now you know just about everything related to apple cider. The next time you're at the store, buy a smaller jug of cider if you're like me and struggle to finish it in time. If your cider is nearing its expiration, adapt this fall drink into creative recipes like sea salt apple cider caramels, boozy cocktails, or fall-flavored oatmeal. Go forth and drink your cider quickly.