Ben Eastick Written by Ben Eastick

Sugar for cider making explained: how to enhance cider production

The UK cider market was worth a significant £1.8 billion in 2020 – a year of restricted on-premises sales due to lockdowns, too. While many people associate sugar with baking and confection, it plays both an essential and added value role in the production of these ciders.  

Read on to learn about the significance of sugar for cider making as well as the pure sugars and syrups that enhance the production and flavour of various cider styles.   

Sugar’s role in cider making

Just like with other types of brewing, sugar is essential to cider making. Simply because without sugar you cannot produce alcohol. You can find more information about this, the fermentation process, in a previous Ragus blog post.

Picture of apple orchards with mist on

Seasonal weather impacts apple growing and, crucially, sugar content in the apples.

Specific to cider, though, sugar’s role first starts in the apple orchards because, of course, sugar naturally occurs in apples. In early spring, apple growers want frosts in their orchards so that they can kill off the moulds that might otherwise develop on their apples. Indeed, if there are moulds on the apples the sugar content is usually quite low; and the same applies vice versa, providing there is also a warm and sunny summer for the sugar content to increase.

When it comes to the actual cider making, sugar is used primarily for fermentation purposes but also as a secondary priming adjunct. This is where the apples’ natural sugar content becomes important. If the sugar content in the apples is low, more pure sugars will need to be added for:

1. Fermenting: pure sugars need to be added during the fermenting process to aid the yeast in fermenting the apple juice.
2. Priming: pure sugars need to be added as a priming adjunct once the cider has been produced to make it carbonate in the bottle and to help it sweeten.

Picture of thousands of ripe apples ready for pressing

Ripe apples are delivered by trailer, tipped and then pressed. 

But which is the best sugar for cider making? Well, it depends on the application. Below we explore several applications and explain the suitability and benefits of various pure sugar products.

Partial invert the ideal fermenting and priming sugar for cider

Partial invert sugar syrup is the ideal pure sugar product for fermenting and, especially, priming. This is because it is sucrose that has been broken down into glucose and fructose via an inversion process. As a result, its sugar constituents are readily fermentable, and this means the yeast can ferment more effectively.

It is also, therefore, the best sugar for priming because this unique structural makeup gives the cider the greatest lift before it is packaged, stored, sold, transported and then served. In effect, it helps the cider taste better when the consumer eventually drinks it.

Liquid sugar optimal for commercial cider production

Liquid sugar is one of the most widely used sugars in cider production because its 67% sucrose content and low viscosity enable it to deliver consistent and reproducible results. As such, it is particularly suited to blending with apple juices with low sugar content or for use as a priming adjunct in carbonated ciders. These qualities make it the optimal bulk ingredient in commercial cider manufacture.

In large part, this is due to liquid sugar being a water-based sucrose solution, reducing the need for manual handling during manufacture – its application reduces heat, energy and labour costs in comparison to using white sugar that would need time to dissolve during production.

However, in the mixed fruit cider flavours that now account for over a third of the UK market such as wild berries and strawberry and lime, partial invert sugar syrup performs better again. That is because fructose is a natural flavour attractant, and with partial invert, the sucrose has been broken down into glucose and fructose.

Some manufacturers may also use glucose syrup in commercial production. However, they may now need to reformulate because glucose syrup is currently in short supply in the UK market, as detailed in this recent blog.

Best sugars for cider making pictured here: partial invert, liquid sugar and glucose syrup

No one right answer in cider product development

Ingredients always offer producers the means of differentiating their brand from others – and high-quality pure sugars are no different. Using varying flavours or origins, such as organic liquid sugar for example, enables producers to market their ciders in a way that is set apart from their competitors.

And, of course, each manufacturer’s production process or intended end product is different. This means there is no one right answer when selecting sugar ingredients in cider product development. A bespoke formulation may be required to suit a certain product specification, for example.

As a result, cider makers are advised to contact Ragus directly so that we can share our expertise and consult on the most suitable pure sugar formulation for their unique product specification and production process.

Ragus customer services team image

Ragus manufactures liquid sugar, partial invert sugar syrup and glucose syrup for commercial cider makers. To discuss the requirements of your cider, contact a member of our customer services team on +44 (0)1753 215424 or enquiries@ragus.co.uk. For more sugar news and Ragus updates, follow Ragus on LinkedIn.