Apple cider (sometimes soft or sweet cider) is the name used in the United States and parts of Canada for an unfiltered, unsweetened, non-alcoholic drink made from apples. It is opalescent, or opaque, due to the fine apple particles in suspension, and may be tangier than conventional filtered apple juice, depending on the apples used.
This untreated cider is a seasonally produced drink of limited shelf-life enjoyed in the autumn, although it is sometimes frozen for use throughout the year. Traditionally served on the Halloween, Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays, it is sometimes heated and spiced, or mulled.
While the term cider is used for the fermented alcoholic drink in most of the world, the term hard cider is used in the United States and much of Canada. In the United States, the distinction between plain apple juice and cider is not legally well established. Generally those who produce soft cider consider the raw juice of apples to be cider, and any preservation process (e.g. pasteurizing) changes the name to apple juice.
Some individual states do specify the difference. For example, according to the Massachusetts Department of Agricultural Resources “Apple juice and apple cider are both fruit beverages made from apples, but there is a difference between the two. Fresh cider is raw apple juice that has not undergone a filtration process to remove coarse particles of pulp or sediment. Apple juice is juice that has been filtered to remove solids and pasteurized so that it will stay fresh longer. Vacuum sealing and additional filtering extend the shelf life of the juice.” In Canada, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency also regulates “unpasteurized apple cider”.