Monday, 24 June 2013

The great Australian concentrate debate

Do you remember those old ‘Your Mumma’s So’ jokes? You know the one’s like: Your Mumma’s so fat she has to iron her pants in the drive way, or Your Mumma’s so dumb, she got stabbed at a shoot out. Well the one I fancy quite a lot of recent is: Your Mumma’s so dumb, she couldn’t stop staring at the juice bottle because it said ‘concentrate’. For some weird reason, this particular joke continually sticks in my mind. I can’t help picture some goon staring at a cider bottle going “huh, I don’t get it – why do I need to concentrate?” for hours on end.
Drums of Apple Concentrate arriving from China
The word concentrate is getting thrown around pretty profusely as of late, and I’ll be first to admit I’m a culprit. Well what is it? For the masses who don’t know what it is, chances are you have consumed it in large proportions already. Major brands like Strongbow, 5 Seeds and Bulmers are made entirely of the thick, luscious and highly processed liquid. In very simple terms, apple concentrate is produced by removing large portions of water from freshly processed juice. What you are left with is a thick, luscious and very sweet substance, bordering on cordial. This form of apple juice is perfect for storage and can be rehydrated when and if required. A cider can be wholly made from concentrate, or can be back sweetened with it to a desired residual sugar for fuller mouth feel. Seems like a fairly innocuous process if you think about it, with no real damage done. What’s the harm in using concentrate which overall is cheaper, more convenient and able to produce larger volumes? Hell, I’ve added generous amounts of concentrate to wine over my time with no questions asked. So what’s the issue?
The first major issue with concentrate is its place of origin. Would you be upset if you purchased a cider then to realise it was adulterated with concentrate probably produced in a dodgy, flee infested factory in downtown China? I am sure you would be. But unfortunately many people don’t care – let alone even know concentrate is present. It kills me to say but I was driving along one day with a Swiss Italian who insisted we listen to commercial radio. Unfortunately a Backstreet Boys song came on, and believe me I bitched and moaned to switch the channel. But a particular song lyric caught my attention. Yes, I am about to compare drinking habits of Australian’s with the Backstreet Boys. But It went like this:
I don't care who you are
Where you're from
What you did
As long as you love me
I immediately had an ‘hmmmmm’ moment. It sounded very similar to the Australian consumer’s relationship with cider. There is method to my madness, trust me.
I don’t care who you are – People don’t care what producer’s cider they drink.
Where you’re from – Where the cider originated.
What you did – Who cares if it’s watered down, concentrated and made unmorally.
As long as you love me – If it tastes good, and doesn’t make you sick.
Although it’s evident a switch is occurring and consumers are beginning to wake up to the nasty hidden secrets of cider, I still believe this holds true. I recently read a tweet by a Tasmanian Cider Maker which stated 893,378,000 litres of Chinese apple concentrate makes its way to Australian shores each year! Here’s where things get a little hazy. If your proud 100 per cent apple cider, made by fresh Australian apples, picked on a slight dewy morning in the presence of grazing kangaroo’s, uses this Chinese concentrate to back sweeten, does your integrity go out the window? Tasting blind, a more inexperienced cider drinker would be clutching at straws to find the concentrate doppelganger. I’ll admit, I've tasted concentrate ciders which would put real shame on certain real apple ciders. My point is concentrate does not necessarily mean poor quality, but more importantly, poor integrity. Same goes for a 100 per cent real apple cider. Just because it’s the real deal, doesn’t mean the quality is any better.
Should we see this on Australian cider labels?
The cider laws in Australia are almost to the point of being laughable. You can do what you want, when you want and with what ever you want. This does not instil confidence for the future of cider in Australia in my eyes. Behind closed doors, Chinese concentrate is being added more regularly than I would want to hope and believe. So my question is where do we draw the line? How much is too much until the dreaded ‘Made from Local and Imported Ingredients’ needs to be splashed on a label? Obviously this declaration on a label could severely impact sales of a cider, but it's no one else’s problem besides the producer in my eyes. Deal with it and make a more authentic product. This is relevant to 100 per cent concentrate ciders too, with a declaration of ‘Made with Concentrate’ needing to be displayed. I would campaign all day and night to see this placed on 5 Seeds for example. Did you really think a little man crushes apples all day long in his gigantic Tooheys factory?! But I am a huge believer of a very strict LIP (Label Integrity Program) system for cider, to help reel in the free reign cider makers have. What this would do is make the producer liable for the nitty gritty of the cider making process. For example, what apples used, litres, additions, concentrate, and country of origin. This would really stamp out any unfair and misleading information. If you call yourself X Cider Company (making reference to a particular region or town) – then make sure your apples come from there because if not, you are then misleading consumers and breaching G.I. (Geographical Indicator) codes. All this information can be used for auditing by an industry body like Cider Australia to keep policies and procedures in check, as well as sneaky concentrate additions. To all the cider producers already doing something along these lines – keep it up, I do understand and appreciate the hard work which goes into maintaining this level of record keeping!  
So to hazy point number two. What happens if the concentrate is from Australia? Does that need to cop the same criticism and flack as its Chinese counterpart? Well to be completely honest – I have no idea. Is it morally correct, considering the fruit is genuinely 100 per cent Australian? The one and only idea I can think of is a ‘Made with Australian Concentrate’ declaration on the label. I still believe adding concentrate to a cider, with even the minutest addition, is still misleading if the cider claims to be made with fresh apples (or pears). Ok, as I said before I've added tonnes of the stuff to wine, but through shear experience I find cider increasingly more sensitive to this topic. But the real silver lining here is we have such a thriving craft cider scene in Australia, that even the concept of adding concentrate, be it Chinese or Australian, is beyond comprehension. 
Logo's for Asturias and Normandy with a concept for Australia
My final wish for cider in Australia is to be regulated by a badge of integrity. I have been asking the question on social media as of late, regarding the feasibility of producing an integrity logo which can be displayed on true and proven, real fruit ciders label. This would emulate the logo’s you see within cider regions like Normandy and Asturias. My idea seems to be quite favourable amongst consumers and industry, and something which potentially should be pursued. I think this would sort a few producers out quick smart in terms of quality and truthfulness, which needs to be achieved. My goal would be to have this logo seen as a badge of pride and honour in a producer’s eye, propelling them into a state of Australian cider excellence. Is that wishful thinking? I think not Max! It can be reality!
Cider Australia has a big job ahead of it – and I’m sure they already know this. They need to take the Industry by the scruff of the neck and assert its authority. Easier said than done, but it can be achieved. So let’s build this industry up with these essential initiatives and put Australian on the map for its beautiful, well made and honourable ciders.


  1. James,
    I completely agree, integrity of labeling is what we are all after and then there probably wouldn't be the need for all these debates - however I think we are a long way off that happening!
    As a starting point it would be great to remove the 'cider' labels from products which aren't and move forward from there.

  2. Ps: great article!