What you need to know about hard ciders and the gut

Fall is here and so are popular fall activities like apple picking. Most orchards have plenty of apples to pick with the family, as well as treats like apple pie, apple cider, and apple cider donuts. Recently, some orchards have even begun making hard ciders to entice adult crowds.

Hard ciders are becoming a more popular choice in American markets, garnering about $1 billion in revenue in 2021. But are they OK to consume for people with IBS? Here are some things to consider about one of fall’s favorite beverage.

What is hard cider?

Hard cider, called cider for short in Europe, is the fermented juice of pressed apples. The ancient beverage has been made for millennia—as early as 55 BC, when Roman troops first wrote of Celtic people in the British Isles fermenting the drink from native crabapples. In the early 17th century, the Pilgrims even gave it to children in Massachusetts, because it was considered safer to drink than water! Prohibition and other temperance movements put a damper on the hard cider industry, but as your apple-picking friends may suggest, its consumption is thriving once more.

A surprising fact about ciders? The apples you may know – like gala, honeycrisp, or Fuji apples – are not commonly used when making hard ciders. Instead, “spitter” varieties are utilized, named as such because of their bitter, nearly repulsive flavor. These apples are cultivated for the best aroma and secondary flavors when fermented. Cider making is a lot like winemaking: climate, age, and soil are all important factors to consider. Some ciders are even made following the méthode champenoise, which is the same process used when making champagne!

Hard ciders and the gut

Most commonly produced ciders are made from apples, pears, and berries, which often contain higher levels of fructose, one of the main FODMAPs. Australia’s Monash University, the leading institution in FODMAP research, has not yet tested ciders for their content. As such, information on it is incomplete.

That being said, there is further research on a cousin of hard cider – beer. Following a similar process as cider, beer makers use high-FODMAP grains like wheat and barley to produce the beverage. Fermentation converts excess sugars like fructans into alcohol, turning beer into a low-FODMAP beverage. The presence of gluten in some beers, however, can irritate the gut and make them not friendly to some with digestive issues. All ciders are gluten-free, however, so this is not something to be concerned about.

As such, many of the FODMAPs present in apples will indeed be converted into alcohol. However, because they are yet to be tested, some ciders may have leftover FODMAPs even after fermentation. Additionally, some of the more popular brands of ciders have sweeteners added – both natural and artificial – after fermentation for better flavor.

As always, moderation is key when it comes to alcohol, both for our tummies and our general health. Some consumers have opted for ciders instead of beer, with results varying based on the cider purchased. Until research proves otherwise, be cautious with hard ciders, but don’t be afraid to try one as long as no further sweeteners are added. And don’t forget to enjoy the fall season at your local orchard!