Susan Sampson’s 2009 article in the Toronto Star, highlights the surprising facts about the everyday breakfast favorite beverage, orange juice. From then till now, it has more and more people re-thinking where all that vitamin C goodness is coming from, and whether the believed immunity builder drink is really just what we thought it to be. In an interview with Alissa Hamilton, Ph.d (in environmental studies from Yale University) and the author of Squeezed: What You Don’t Know about Orange Juice, she examines the “rift that exists between the reality of processed orange juice and retail rhetoric.” Although orange juice has come to symbolize purity in a glass, and a staple item on every restaurant menu, it very well may be heat processed, watered down, sugared up, doctored by flavor engineers and stored for over year!
One of the most surprising discoveries about orange juice to consumers would be the fact that the leading producers of “not from concentrate” (a.k.a. pasteurized) orange juice keep their juice in million-gallon aseptic storage tanks to ensure a year-round supply. Juice stored this way has to be stripped of oxygen, a process known as de-aeration, so it does not oxidize in the tanks. When the juice is stripped of oxygen, it is also stripped of flavor-providing chemicals. In fact, if anyone were to try the juice coming out of these tanks, it would taste exactly like sugar water.
Juice companies therefore hire flavor and fragrance companies, (the same ones that make popular perfumes and colognes), to fabricate flavor packs to add back to their product to make it taste like orange juice.
*Flavor packs are derived from the orange essence and oils that are lost from orange juice during processing. Flavor houses break down these essence and oils into their constituent chemicals and then reassemble the chemicals into formulations that resemble nothing found in nature. Most of the juice sold in North America contains flavor packs that have especially high concentrations of ethyl butyrate, a chemical found in orange essence that the industry has discovered Americans like and associate with the flavor of a freshly squeezed orange.
That’s not all. There is the intentional misleading and confusing labeling of orange juice to its consumers. A good example is the statement that appeared at the top of Tropicana’s new and now discontinued carton: “squeezed from fresh oranges.” While meaningless – one would hope the oranges were fresh when squeezed – the statement could easily be misread as “fresh squeezed” by all but the most discerning shoppers.
Not much has changed since the early 1960s, when the U.S. Food and Drug Administration began to regulate orange juice in part to stop orange juice manufacturers from marketing their processed products as fresh. Remember, any product that has a 60-plus day shelf life and is available year-round has to be heavily processed. If you want a product that is fresh-squeezed or close to it, the “best before” date is a good gauge. Fresh-squeezed juice does not last for more than a couple of days.
Every fruit and vegetable has a “season”, including orange juice. The best time to drink real fresh orange juice, picked ripe off the tree, is March through the end of June. Florida produces the most oranges in the United States, and Brazil is a close second.
Citrus juices contain flavonoids, powerful antioxidants and vitamin C which strengthen the immune system. Orange juice containing pulp seems to be more nutritious than no-pulp varieties due to the flavonoids contained in the pulp that also add fiber. Orange juice is purported to simultaneously cause and aggravate nausea in the popular press, peer-reviewed journal articles, and physicians’ opinions.
Resources: Toronto’s The Star and Squeezed: What You Don’t Know about Orange Juice