Visiting an apple orchard on a beautiful fall day is a lasting memory for many people, including myself. Besides a peck or two of apples, I always remember bringing home a half-gallon or more of apple cider. And it’s about this time of year when I get the question: What’s the difference between apple juice and apple cider?

Apple cider is typically defined as a beverage made by grinding and pressing apples. It’s unfiltered and may or may not be pasteurized. Apple juice, on the other hand, has been filtered to remove particles, pasteurized, and bottled to extend the shelf life. While commercial cider will be pasteurized, cider sold at local orchards may not be. If it’s not, it’s recommended to pasteurize it yourself by heating it over the stovetop to at least 160 degrees Fahrenheit, which will reduce the risk of harmful bacteria.

Both apple cider and juice are concentrated in sugar, and therefore should be consumed in moderation. Eight ounces of both beverage yields approximately 120 calories and 28 grams carbohydrate. Be sure to read the ingredient list and avoid those that contain added sugars. Of course, cider isn’t just for drinking. It can be used as an ingredient in pancakes, sauce for vegetables, glaze for pork or poultry, or dressing for salads. Apple cider is generally only heard of in the Midwest and Northeast. Now aren’t you glad you live right here in Illinois?

Slow Cooker Apple Cider Pulled Chicken Sandwiches

2 sweet apples, peeled, cored and chopped

1 medium onion, thinly sliced

2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken breasts

1 teaspoon garlic powder

¼ teaspoon black pepper

¾ cup apple cider, divided

6 whole wheat hamburger buns

1½ cups prepared low-fat coleslaw

Place apples and onions in the bottom of a slow cooker. Sprinkle both sides of chicken breast with garlic powder and pepper. Place chicken over apple and onions. Pour in ½ cup apple cider. Cover and cook on high for 4 hours or low for 6 hours, until chicken is 165 degrees Fahrenheit as measured with a food thermometer. Remove chicken to bowl and shred with two forks. Place shredded chicken back into slow cooker; stir in remaining ¼ cup apple cider. Serve on a whole wheat bun with ¼ cup prepared coleslaw on top.

Yield: 6 servings

Nutrition facts (per serving): 410 calories, 8 grams fat, 420 milligrams sodium, 42 grams carbohydrates, 5 grams fiber, 35 grams protein

Smith, a registered dietitian, is a nutrition and wellness educator for the University of Illinois Extension, McLean County. Contact her at 309-663-8306.

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