Deeply fragrant with citrus and sweet spices, this Cranberry Cider acts like a non-alcoholic version of mulled wine. When you simmer it on the stove, it perfumes your home with the deep perfume of ginger, cardamom, cinnamon, and cloves.
Unlike many cranberry cider recipes, this version needs no additional sweetener. And that's because the rich array of spices infuses it with deep flavor while soft apple cider provides just the right touch of sweetness. So you have a marvelously sweet-tart drink to serve warm to your guests.
What is cranberry cider?
Cranberry cider is a sweet-tart blend of both apple cider and cranberry juice. Fragrant spices give cranberry cider flavor. You'll find a similar technique used for other winter drinks such as wassail, mulled wine, and mulled cider. You serve it hot, ladled into mugs.
Traditionally, cidermakers made cider by fermenting fresh-pressed apple juice until it turned slightly alcoholic. While you can still find alcoholic ciders, called hard ciders, you can also find soft ciders - or non-alcoholic ciders made without fermentation.
Unlike apple juices, which are filtered and pasteurized, soft cider is unfiltered and so has a deep, complex apple flavor. Accordingly, it marries beautifully with the tart punch of unsweetened cranberry juice. Ginger, cardamom, star anise, and other spices give your cider a pleasant, aromatic quality.
Mulling Spices for Cider
When you mull cranberry cider, you fortify the drink with fragrant and aromatic spices. As you let your pot of cider simmer slowly on the stove, these spices will release their volatile oils - infusing your cider with a deep, resonant flavor.
In addition, mulling spices also support digestion which makes mulled cider a perfect companion for heavy winter meals. And many mulling spices are warming, carminative herbs. Herbalists traditionally use them to ignite the digestive fire and to ease digestive discomfort like gassiness or bloating after meals.
You'll find the more spices you use, the less you need to rely on additional sweeteners.
- Orange has a bright sweetness, but its peel tastes strikingly bitter. Bitter flavors help kickstart the digestive process by triggering the release of saliva, bile, and gastric juices.
- Ginger is aromatic and slightly sweet and is often used to support digestion and ease upset stomachs.
- Coriander's citrusy flavor partners well tart flavors and the herb supports the liver.
- Star Anise is sweet, like licorice, and brings good luck.
- Cloves are traditionally used to ease digestive complaints and are deeply fragrant.
- Bay gives the cranberry cider a herbaceous note, balancing the sweeter spices.
- Cardamom is related to ginger and its cheerful perfume is unmistakable. Herbalists use it to soothe indigestion and support blood sugar balance.
- Cinnamon has a sweet, spicy note that blends beautifully with both cranberry and apple. It also supports blood sugar regulation.
Where to find organic herbs and spices
You can find many fresh herbs at your local grocery store; however, medicinal herbs can be harder to find locally. We recommend Starwest Botanicals because they stock a wide assortment of organic and ethically wildcrafted culinary and medicinal herbs.
Tips for Making Cranberry Cider
If you can simmer a pot of water, you can make cranberry cider. It's easy. You start first by bringing soft apple cider and unsweetened cranberry juice to a boil, and then immediately reducing the heat to a slow simmer. Toss in the sliced orange, spices, and herbs and let them all simmer together. That's it.
- Use unsweetened cranberry juice. The deep flavor imparted by the herbs and spices in this recipe, means you don't need to rely on sugar or other sweeteners. Apple cider is sufficient for sweetness.
- Be flexible with your herbs and spices. Mulling is an intuitive process, and you don't need to use precise measurements. Instead, use what you have on hand in amounts that seem right to you.
- Let it simmer at least 45 minutes before straining. Hardy spices need time to release their flavor.
- Strain before serving. You can either strain the entire batch of cider and return it to the pot for serving, or strain it through a fine-mesh sieve as you pour it into each cup.
- Pour the cranberry juice and apple cider into a Dutch oven or stock pot, and then bring it to a boil over medium-high heat. Immediately turn down the heat to low, and then drop the remaining ingredients into the juice. Simmer 45 minutes, and strain before serving.
Cranberry Cider is easy to make. Once you've got the hang of it, you can make adjustments on the fly.
Add Booze. Substitute hard apple cider for fresh soft cider, and stir in a pint of brandy.
Sweeten it with honey or maple syrup, if you like. I like the vibrant tart flavor of unsweetened cranberry juice unmasked by too much sugar. But, you can always add a little if you like. Start with ¼ cup sweetener and work up from there.
Substitute orange juice for apple cider, if you want a stronger punch of citrus.
Try more, fewer or different spices. Allspice is nice, and it tastes great with a spoonful of fennel seeds, too.
Make it in a slow cooker. Just add all the ingredients to the insert of your slow cooker, and then keep it on low until hot, and then turn the temperature to warm. Strain before serving.
Make it ahead. Prepare it as you normally would, and strain out the spices. Cool the cider to room temperature and transfer to the fridge for up to 1 week (or freeze for up to 3 months).
Other Herb-Forward Recipes
Traditionally, mulled ciders were both food and medicine - acting as herbal remedies for the cold months. Many other traditional foods blend the benefits of herbs with wholesome, nourishing cooking.
Fire Cider is an oxymel used to fortify the immune system for winter, and it contains ginger, onion, garlic, and horseradish in a base of cider vinegar and honey.
Medicinal Mushroom Broth blends adaptogenic and immune-supporting herbs in a deeply nourishing broth.
Raspberry Hibiscus Shrub is fantastic for summertime and packed with vitamin C.