Cider: The hard way!
By: Shantanu Kelkar,
Graduate Student, Biosystems Engineering and
Assistant Professor, PhD., Biosystems Engineering & Food Science and Human
Hard cider refers to an alcoholic apple beverage. It is manufactured by fermenting apple
juice, a process similar to wine making.
Although hard cider is popular in Europe, it was reintroduced to the American market
only in 1990. The product was consumed widely in the 18th and 19th centuries in the
U.S., particularly along the East Coast. Hard cider came to the U.S. with the first English
settlers, who brought apple seeds with them to plant in their new home. Most of the apple
crop was used for the production of hard cider. In fact, in 1767, the per capita
consumption of hard cider in Massachusetts is estimated to have been about 40 gallons
per person annually!
Hard cider was a family drink in colonial America. Many people, even children, drank
hard cider with meals. President John Adams was known to drink a pint of hard cider
each morning to settle his stomach. Fermented cider sometimes offered a safe alternative
to water because the alcohol prevented bacterial contamination. Cider mills were
common throughout New York and New England. Families even kept barrels of cider in
Cider remained a popular beverage until the Civil War when beer began to take its place
in the American market. The influx of German immigrants to the U.S. boosted the
popularity of beer. Beer was cheaper and easier to produce than hard cider and therefore,
it was more attractive to produce commercially. Early in the 20th century, Prohibition
dealt the final blow to hard cider’s popularity in the U.S. until its recent resurgence.
The American Apple Industry
Michigan Jonathan apples
Michigan had 40,000 acres of apple orchards in 2003,
and apple production was valued at $100 million.
Growers harvest between 20 million and 25 million
bushels of apples annually. Today, the demand in the
U.S. for apple juice and cider exceeds, by far, that for
fresh apples. However, in recent years, China has
become a major world apple juice producer and a
significant supplier to the U.S. market. China has
affected the demand for Michigan apples, leading to excess apple production in
Michigan. Therefore, Michigan apple growers are looking at ways to utilize their excess
apples through manufacture of value-added products, such as hard cider.
Since 1990, the U.S. market has grown rapidly every year with over 4.6 million cases of
hard cider sold nationally today, and is expected to exceed 75 million cases in the next
ten years. Michigan is one of the nation's leading producers of apples. Most of the
infrastructure needed to create a hard cider industry already exists. Trends in the wine
and microbrewery industries suggest that locally produced high-quality products are
being accepted and sought after by consumers. With this in mind, numerous cider mills
and microbreweries across the state are entering the hard cider business. The local hard
cider market has been a small but growing one. Hard cider thus provides an important
potential value-added product for Michigan apple producers.
Why Hard Cider Research?
Many people who do not regularly drink
alcohol enjoy hard cider, due to its fruity
flavor and low alcohol content. Within
this population, studies have shown that
females prefer the pleasant flavor of hard
cider to beer. Research also suggests that
drinking cider may be good for health, as
cider is rich in antioxidants known as
polyphenols. Antioxidants may help stop
cell damage, prevent cancer and
degenerative diseases like dementia.
Traditionally, European hard cider is
made from bittersweet or bittersharp
‘cider’ apples. Polyphenols present in
cider apples are responsible for mouthfeel characteristics such as the astringency, and
bitter flavor generally associated with fermented beverages. Michigan does not grow
cider apples. Michigan apples are sweet and classified as ‘dessert’ apples.
MSU Hard Cider Research
Dessert apples have lower levels of polyphenols than
cider apples. Hence, to make quality hard cider from
Michigan apples, it is necessary to study and understand
the hard cider fermentation process as well as consumer
needs. As this project is multidisciplinary in nature, we
collaborate with faculty and students from various
departments. Key people involved in this project include
Dr. Patrick Oriel, Professor Emeritus in Microbiology;
MSU Cider Fermentation: Lab Dr. Janice Harte, Assistant Professor in Food Science;
Scale and Commercial Large Dr. Bridget Behe, Professor in Horticulture; Patrick
Scale O'Connor, Doctoral candidate at the MSU Business
School; Mavis Tan and Darclee Sidona Popa, graduate
students in Food Science. We are also grateful to Mike
Beck of Uncle John's Cider Mill for his technical
support and assistance in acquiring cider samples. The
Michigan Apple Committee, USDA Rural Development
and Uncle John's Cider Mill have generously supported
this research project.
As Biosystems Engineers, we are evaluating various
processing techniques for hard cider production. We are
also studying the change in alcohol content, sugar, nitrogen, pH, yeast cell concentration
and polyphenols as fermentation progresses. By using mathematical modeling
techniques, we can use our data to scale-up from lab scale to commercial production. For
example, such models would help cider makers to predict the effect of sugar and nitrogen
addition on the progress of fermentation and quality of final product. Our research will
contribute to a better understanding of hard cider manufacturing as well as help cider
makers improve the quality and quantity of cider production. Data from experiments in
our labs can be used by American cider makers for scale-up and manufacture of hard
cider on a large scale.
Outreach and Consumer
A significant part of our work involves community
outreach activities and understanding consumer needs.
Work from this research has been presented in 2003 and
2004 at the Great Lakes Fruit, Vegetables and Farm
Market Expo as well as the 2004 IFT Annual Meeting &
Food Expo. Through cider symposiums and taste-testing
sessions at many locations in Michigan from Grand
Rapids to Frankenmuth and Ann Arbor, we have
educated the public about the various aspects of cider
making from Michigan apples. Such meetings also serve
as a means for local apple growers, brewers and vintners
to clarify technical issues and have their questions
answered by MSU researchers.
To help identify consumer preferences, taste-testing studies with over 200 panelists in 6
different locations in Michigan were conducted last year to compare MSU cider with
other commercially available varieties. Participants were asked to taste, smell and
visually evaluate several alcoholic drink samples, including hard cider, wine and beer.
Consumers were told only that they were evaluating alcoholic beverages in the study.
Even though the cider project is still in its early stages, MSU hard cider made from
Michigan dessert apples compared very favorably with commercially available hard
ciders in terms of clarity, sweetness, flavor and overall acceptability.
Another taste-testing study is currently underway to evaluate acceptability and to educate
the Michigan consumer about cherry cider. Cherry cider is a blend of MSU hard cider
and fermented cherry juice. This study too, is being conducted in conjunction with
various beer and wine tasting clubs in Michigan.
The demands of the American apple industry and consumers and growing popularity of
cider have created a need for a study of the engineering and science behind cider making.
Our lab group, together with other researchers, works to fulfill this need of Michigan
consumers, processors and apple growers. From being the popular drink in the 18th
century to the becoming one of the fastest growing segments of the alcoholic beverage
industry today, hard cider has come a long way.
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