Juice Characteristics of Ontario-Grown Culinary (Dessert) Apples for Hard Cider

Key Findings

  • The juice characteristics of 18 common culinary dessert apple cultivars grown in Ontario were characterized.
  • There are significant differences in cider juice characteristics among culinary apple cultivars. Levels also vary by year and orchard.
  • It is important to measure these juice characteristics every growing season prior to fermentation.
  • Cultivars that are higher in acidity and tannins include Cortland, Crimson Crisp, Honeycrisp, Jonagold, McIntosh and Northern Spy.
  • When making cider from Ambrosia, Crispin, Empire, Fuji, Gala, Golden Delicious or Idared, cidermakers would benefit from blending juice from these cultivars to create a more fully balanced product.
  • This study will help inform cidermakers which culinary apple cultivars might be preferable for fermentation as well as how they might be blended to optimize cider quality.

Introduction

In order to produce a high-quality hard apple cider, it is important to understand the balance of sugar, acidity, and tannins, the main components of the pre-fermentation juice. Sugar determines the alcoholic concentration of a cider and the residual sugar after fermentation determines sweetness. Sugar can also be added to back-sweeten dry ciders. Acidity provides refreshing flavour and balances alcohol and sweetness. Tannins provide both astringency and bitterness to enhance flavor and mouthfeel. For centuries, hard cider produced in Europe has been made from bittersweet and bittersharp apples specifically suited for cider production. In contrast, most apples grown in North America are typically selected for their culinary or fresh-eating qualities and typically contain much lower tannin and acidity levels than their European counterparts.  North American cidermakers often use juice from a blend of culinary and/or cider apples; however, culinary apples are produced at greater volumes and therefore are more readily available.

In a two-year study we measured the juice characteristics of several culinary apples grown in Norfolk and Georgian Bay regions with the overall goal to aid cidermakers in their selection of and blending of juice from culinary apple cultivars to optimize product quality.

Methods

This study, conducted over two years, used dessert (culinary) apple cultivars from mature apple trees grown from several orchards in Norfolk and Grey-Bruce counties.  The cultivars Ambrosia, Cortland, Crimson Crisp, Crispin, Empire, Fuji (Aztec), Gala (Brookfield, Buckeye, Royal), Golden Delicious, Honeycrisip, Idared, Jonagold, McIntosh, Northern Spy, Red Delicious, and Spartan. The juice attributes from these apples were characterized using oenological methods. Juice was measured for extraction efficiency, soluble solids concentration (SSC), pH, titratable acidity (TA), juice extraction efficiency, yeast assimilable nitrogen (YAN), and polyphenols (which includes tannins).

Results and Conclusions

There are marked cultivar differences in juice SSC, pH, TA, YAN, juice extraction efficiency and polyphenols, all of which can vary by both orchard and year (Tables 1 and 2).

Table 1. Levels of juice soluble solids, pH, titratable acidity, yeast assimilable nitrogen, polyphenols, sugar to acid ratio of culinary apples as a whole, over a two-year study.

Cultivar
SSC (% Brix)
Juice pH
TA (g malic acid / L)
YAN
Juice extraction efficiency (mL / kg fruit)
Polyphenols (µg GAE / 100 mL)
Sugar : Acid Ratio
Ambrosia
M
H
M
M
M
L
M
Cortland
M – H
L – H
M – H
M
M – H
M
L – M
Crimson Crisp
H
L – VH
M – H
M – H
M – H
M – H
L – H
Crispin
M
L
H
L
M
L
L
Empire
L
L
H
M
M
L
L
Fuji, Aztec
M
M – VH
M
M
H
M
M
Gala, Brookfield
H
H
H
H
H
M
M
Gala, Buckeye
H
H
M
M
M
M
M
Gala, Royal
M
H
L – M
M
M – H
L – M
M
Golden Delicious
H
M – VH
H
L – M
M – VH
L – M
M – H
Honeycrisp
M
L – M
L – M
M
H
M
L – M
Idared
L – M
L – M
M – H
L
M – H
M
L – M
Jonagold
M – H
L – VH
L – H
L – M
M – H
M
M
McIntosh
L – M
L – H
M – H
L – M
M – H
H
L – M
Northern Spy
M
L – M
H – VH
L – M
L – M
M
L
Red Delicious
M
H
L
L
M
M
H
Spartan
L
L
M
L
M
M
L

Table 2. Ranges given in relation to Table 1

Range
SSC (% Brix)
Juice pH
TA (g malic acid / L)
YAN
Juice extraction efficiency (mL / kg fruit)
Polyphenols (µg GAE / 100 mL)
Sugar : Acid Ratio
Low (L)
<11
<3.3
<3
<60
<600
0 to < 100
0 to <2
Moderate (M)
≥11 to <13
≥3.3 to <3.6
≥3 to <6
≥60 to <140
≥600 to <700
≥100 to 200
≥2 to <4
High (H)
≥13
≥3.6 to <4
≥6 to <9
≥140
≥700 to <800
≥200
≥4
Very High (VH)
 
≥4
≥9
 
≥800
 
 

This variation indicates the importance of assaying the juice every growing season prior to fermentation when possible. In addition, while not investigated in this study, fruit maturity and time and method of storage are likely to affect juice characteristics – especially SSC, pH, and TA. The results of this study can be used to inform cidermakers on the selection of culinary apples when pressing juice for hard cider. Cidermakers should focus on juice characteristics from culinary apples that are more difficult to alter pre-fermentation; using juice with higher acidity and tannin levels, lower pH, and moderate to high YAN will lead to a more flavourful, high-quality fermented product. Cultivars that meet these criteria include Cortland, Crimson Crisp, Honeycrisp, Idared, Jonagold, McIntosh and Northern Spy. We expect that cidermakers fermenting juice from Ambrosia, Crispin, Empire, Fuji, Gala, or Golden Delicious, would benefit from blending with juice made from higher tannin and acidic apples to produce a more fully balanced product.

Complete details of this study will appear in an upcoming 2021 issue of the Canadian Journal of Plant Science.

Acknowledgements

We acknowledge the University of Guelph for partial funding of this project. We would also like to thank Tom O’Neil and the Norfolk Fruit Growers’ Association and Jim Dolmer and Bay Grower’s Co-operative for contributing fruit to this study.

Dr. John Cline
Dr. John Cline

Pomologist and Tree Fruit Physiologist, University of Guelph

Dr. Derek Plotkowski
Dr. Derek Plotkowski

Former Graduate Student, University of Guelph

Amanda Beneff
Amanda Beneff

Research Technician – Pomology Research Program, University of Guelph