Many of us have favorite foods and/or drinks where the shining star is apples—some popular ones being apple pie and apple juice.
You may also know that fruits are fermented to make alcoholic drinks, with prime examples being grapes for wine and apples for hard cider (and a lesser known example being bananas). Sure you can ferment apples to make hard cider, but what about apple juice? Can apple juice turn into alcohol?
The fact is it can, and I’m going to take a more detailed look at the process that takes the humble apple from a crunchy fruit into a juice and then an alcoholic drink—cider. Let’s start by looking at the critical process that takes it there: fermentation.
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Can Apple Juice Ferment?
Let me clarify why I’m talking about fermenting apple juice and not apples. We use the juice of the apple to make alcohol. This means that the seeds, the skin, and the stem are discarded.
This leaves us with what some might term the flesh of the apple, which is first ground to produce the apple juice in the same way you might grind pears or peaches for their juices.
Once we have our apple juice, at this stage, it’s not as clear as you might see in a bottle of store-bought apple juice. It’s likely to be cloudy and may also contain some small solid particles.
For fermentation to occur, certain bacteria, and in particular yeast, need to be present. Apples naturally contain some varieties of yeast. With some apple types, it might be possible to use these alone to start the fermentation process. However, in most cases, it’s necessary to add yeasts for fermenting.
Next is determining which yeast you want to add and how much, if any, sugar. This will be based on several factors, such as how quickly you want the apple juice to ferment and the flavor and alcohol strength you want.
The yeast will consume the naturally occurring sugars such as fructose, sucrose, and glucose within the apple, convert them into alcohol and generate carbon dioxide.
How Long Does it Take for Apple Juice to Turn into Alcohol?
I’ll answer this in two ways, taking account of both the overall process you need to follow to go from raw apples to cider and for the actual fermentation period.
The first part should not take long at all. You’re merely peeling and coring your apples and then mashing them into a pulp. You can add water to this pulp and strain it if you want to remove any particles. You’ll now have apple juice ready to be poured into the container you’ll use to ferment it.
There are several options for fermenting containers—some are highly recommended and others that will work but aren’t ideal. The latter would be an ordinary glass bottle with a plug (usually cotton). More desirable would be a large fermentation jar that you can purchase relatively cheaply, which has proper tubes that release the carbon dioxide that builds up.
In terms of time spent until this point, this would be somewhere in the region of 30 minutes to 1 hour, so not really that long; however, a greater degree of patience is required for the fermentation stage.
Once started, you’ll begin to notice some bubbling at the top of the liquid. This frothing can continue for up to 3 days. You know when the fermentation process has been successful when the frothing stops.
How Much Alcohol is Produced From Fermented Apple Juice?
Looking at the alcohol content of cider produced by the fermentation of apple juice based on alcohol by volume (ABV), it’s fair to say that it will not be considered strong compared to other alcohol drinks fermented this way.
The main factor in determining the cider’s strength is the amount of sugar added at the start of fermentation.
It is possible to create a cider with an ABV of up to 15%, but it would probably taste awful given the amount of sugar that would have had to be used.
You should expect an ABV of between 4% and 6% in normal circumstances, which is akin to beers and commercial ciders, although some more potent and still palatable ciders can be as high as 10%.
It’s easy to see why apples are such a popular fruit, given all the different ways they can be turned into foods and drinks. Imagine a pork meal with applesauce, sourdough made from apples, apple pie for dessert, and all washed down by a cold and refreshing apple cider.
The beauty of cider is that now you know that you can make your own, and better than that, you can adjust the taste and the strength. From picking your apples, whether from a tree or a supermarket shelf, to drink your cider from the bottle should take no more than 3 days. Making your own is more fun than buying it from a store.