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What is Mulled Cider?

Tricia Christensen
Updated May 16, 2024
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Mulled cider is a hot or warm drink, typically made from apple juice or cider, and is most popular during autumn and winter. It is sometimes called wassail, or wassail punch. However, typically wassail would be made with ale or beer. Modern, child-friendly versions are more likely to be made with either apple or cranberry juice, or a combination of juices.

Mulled cider gets its name from the definition of mull, which means to flavor a beverage by heating it and adding spices. Frequently, this drink also includes either slices or the zest of citrus fruits like oranges. It's usually served hot, though one can buy spiced cider. In fact, if one has little time, warming spiced cider is an excellent shortcut for making mulled cider.

Confusion exists about whether a difference in taste occurs when one uses products labeled apple juice, or apple cider. Apple cider tends to be associated with a darker, unfiltered apple juice that may not be pasteurized. Apple juice is usually clear and has been filtered several times to be golden in appearance.

Cider, in this definition tends to have a tangier flavor, and is more likely to ferment quickly. In fact hard cider, which is fermented, is now a popular drink. Alcoholic cider is more typically used in Europe for mulled cider recipes.

Within this narrow definition, not universally recognized, mulled cider is generally better when using apple cider, even if not fermented. It should be a bit tangy, and a little stronger in taste than a filtered apple juice. In fact, many recipes for this beverage call for using a small amount of apple cider vinegar to deepen the flavor if one is using filtered apple juice.

However, to combat overly sour cider, some recipes include a bit of sugar as well. Common spices include allspice, nutmeg, cloves, and cinnamon. Some people use a premade pumpkin pie spice. Frequently, the spices are kept in a cheesecloth bag during the heating process, so they simply flavor, but don’t mix with the cider.

This drink can be served in mugs. Many like to garnish the drink with a stick of cinnamon or a thin orange slice. It can also be served in punch cups if it is not overly hot.

One should observe some care in choosing the appropriate heating vessel. Aluminum and cast iron pots should be avoided. The acidity in the cider tends to leach metals from such pots and may give the cider a bitter, metallic taste. Stainless steel, ceramic pots, or crock-pots are preferred.

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Tricia Christensen
By Tricia Christensen
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a DelightedCooking contributor, Tricia Christensen is based in Northern California and brings a wealth of knowledge and passion to her writing. Her wide-ranging interests include reading, writing, medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion, all of which she incorporates into her informative articles. Tricia is currently working on her first novel.
Discussion Comments
By CellMania — On Nov 05, 2010

@momothree: A nonreactive saucepan is a pan that is made from ceramic, glass, or stainless steel. The reason that they are called nonreactive is because those materials do not react with acidic ingredients the way that copper or aluminum pans do.

By momothree — On Nov 05, 2010

@cellmania: Thanks for sharing your recipe. What exactly is a nonreactive saucepan?

By CellMania — On Nov 05, 2010

@momothree: This is our family recipe that we have been using for as long as I can remember. I guess you would call this one mulled spiced cider. This particular recipe is for one quart which is about 3 servings. You can easily multiply the recipe to get your desired amount.

You need 1 qt. apple cider, 1 cinnamon stick, 7 whole cloves, ½ cup dried cranberries, 2/3 cup honey, 1 orange, and ½ tsp. vanilla extract.

Pour your cider into a nonreactive saucepan and turn on low heat. Cut the zest from your orange with a paring knife. Try to get any of the white pith with the zest because it will be bitter. Pound the zest to release the oil and place it in the cider.

Place all of the remaining ingredients in the cider and steep over low heat. Stir occasionally. When your cider is hot and starts to steam, it is ready. You can adjust the seasonings to your liking.

By momothree — On Nov 05, 2010

I would like to attempt to make mulled cider this year during the holiday season. Has anyone ever made any and it is pretty easy to make? Does anyone have a recipe to share?

By anon56313 — On Dec 14, 2009

Wassail even has a song or two dedicated to it, with catchy tunes, for the season.

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a DelightedCooking contributor, Tricia...
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