Antioxidant-rich cider under the microscope

By Stephen Daniells

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Antioxidant Apple Alcoholic beverage

British researchers are starting a small trial to investigate if
the antioxidant benefits of apples are passed on to cider drinkers,
and could possibly lead to "functional" ciders.

Such research will undoubtedly grab the interest of many consumers, and may offer an interesting marketing opportunity for the UK cider market that, according to the National Association of Cider Makers, has been in stagnation since the start of the new millennium.

"The more information we can get about phenolics in cider and what happens to them in the body, the more chance we have of positively influencing the phenolic content of English cider, for example, helping manufacturers chose varieties of cider apple which have naturally higher levels of phenolics,"​ said lead researcher Serena Marks from the University of Glasgow.

"This could mean that drinking a glass of cider is not only enjoyable, but a great way for people to naturally increase the amount of phenolics in their diet."

The researchers note that English cider apples have high levels of phenolics and are now set to undertake a clinical trial to investigate whether these health benefits could be passed onto cider drinkers.

A vast body of epidemiological studies have linked an increase dietary intake of antioxidants from fruits and vegetables to reduced risks of a range of disease, including cancer, cardiovascular disease and diabetes.

"Previous research suggests there may be an association between phenolics and protection against some serious diseases, so we are trying to find out how we get phenolics from our diet,"​ said Marks. "We know that apples are high in phenolics and our research shows that cider apples have a higher phenolic content than dessert apples."

To date, Marks and her colleagues have analysed and quantify the phenolic levels of 19 varieties of English cider apple, 35 varieties of cider and one variety of dessert apple.

The next stage, say the researchers, of to better understand how human absorb and metabolise these antioxidant compounds.

Twelve volunteers will be assigned to each drink a pint (500ml) of cider, while avoiding all other dietary sources of antioxidants, and the researchers will examine how the antioxidants are absorbed and metabolised by humans by taking blood and urine samples.

Marks said that she hoped that findings from her work might allow the production methods of cider to be adapted so that the phenolic levels remain high, even after fermentation.

The research is part of a project funded by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) and the National Association of Cider Makers.

Professor Nigel Brown, director of science and technology at BBSRC, welcomed the research: "This exciting research shows how scientists and industry can work together to improve manufacturing techniques, not just for economic gain, but as in this instance, to bring about potential health benefits for the public too."

While the health benefits of moderate red wine consumption have been discussed for a long time, potential health benefits from other alcoholic beverages are less established. This however does appear to be changing with German scientists having developed a beer that contains 10 times the amount of an anti-cancer compound, xanthohumol, as traditional brews. The drink, called 'Xan', is being marketed as a healthy beer, but research is ongoing to determine if the liquid is effective against cancer.

The beer is only available in Germany, is said to be 80 per cent more expensive than the competition, and is being microbrewed in a collaboration between the Weihenstephan brewery, said to be the oldest brewery in the world, and the Technical University of Munich.

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