A Scrumpy a day keeps the Doctor away?
Chris - You've been doing some interesting work on cider, tell us about that...
Serena - Last year, I was analysing cider apples and looking for different levels of antioxidants, and this year we've released some data about ciders showing that some of them also have high levels of antioxidants.
Chris - So just tell us what an antioxidant is, what they do and why we need them.
Serena - Antioxidants are thought to quench free radicals in the body, so these are the really reactive compounds that can do damage within the body, it's believed that these (antioxidants) might help against certain diseases, for example cancer and heart disease.
Chris - So the more you can pack into your body, the better?
Serena - That's the theory, yes.
Chris - So what's the bottom line with respect to making cider, and should we therefore be drinking cider instead of eating apples?
Serena - The previous work showed that cider apples contain more antioxidants than normal dessert apples, and we've gone on to look at the ciders and found that ciders made from cider apples that contain lots of antioxidants actually have higher levels than those made from other apples.
Chris - Why is that?
Serena - I think it's just that the more antioxidants you have in the first place, then more are likely to make it through the cider making process and into the final product. We found that some apple juices contain lower levels of antioxidants than some of the ciders, and that's again because apple juices are made from dessert apples, which contain lower levels of these compounds.
Chris - We had Roger Corder from Barts & the London medical school in London on the show earlier this year. He's been looking at antioxidants in red wine, and the interesting thing he said was that you can't just drink the juice, you need the alcohol. The health-giving compounds, the antioxidants and procyanadin, dissolve in the alcohol, so if you don't have the alcohol you don't get as much of the goodies as you would get from just grapes and pips.
Serena - Last year I did a feeding study looking at putting people on a low phenolic diet for 36 hours, then getting them to drink a pint of cider and then taking blood and urine. Hopefully from our data we will be able to understand if you drink a pint of cider how many of these phenolics are absorbed, and we can compare this with data where they used apple juice to see if there's a difference. Procyanadins are actually found in cider and cider apples as well; in fact cider apples contain very high levels of these, so cider might be a good source of procyanadins.
Chris - Is a pint of cider a day consistent with good health in other respects? That could be quite a lot of alcohol, especially if you drink good scrumpy.
Serena - If you're talking about a 4% cider that's about 2 units [of alcohol], maybe only half a pint of cider might be enough. We're still trying to work out how much of these phenolics are absorbed while you drink. Our test subjects were drinking 500 ml to get an idea of how much you would have to drink to get these phenolics into your body.
Chris - I have to ask Serena, just to finish, who actually sponsored the study?
Serena - Okay, the study is actually sponsored by the National Association of Cider Makers.
Chris - Do you think that might have had an impact on the results?
Serena - No, it didn't! [Laughs]
Chris - So the bottom line is that you're waiting to see if apple juice is as good as cider, but you get lots of antioxidants from cider, so if you had a choice between beer and cider, it should be cider.
Serena - Oh definitely cider. Cider contains much more antioxidants than beer.