Orange juice has been a staple of American breakfasts since the Jazz Age; it’s as American as apple pie. But Alissa Hamilton, a Food and Society Policy Fellow with the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, punched a big hole in our orange juice cartons with an exposé of the industry. In her book Squeezed: What You Don’t Know about Orange Juice, Hamilton reveals that what is sold as “fresh” orange juice in the refrigerated section of the grocery store is not so fresh at all.
For years now, not-so-fresh juice has been obfuscated by advertisements featuring images of juice being poured in slow motion montaged over panoramas of shade-speckled orange groves. Lesson: if you’re buying juice in a carton, be sure to read the labels carefully. Here are some translations:
- Juice: The nectar from the tissues of a fruit or vegetable.
- Juice Drink or Cocktail: Beverage can contain as little as 5 percent juice.
- From Concentrate: Juice that is boiled down to remove water for shipping or storage and then reconstituted.
- Not from Concentrate: Juice has been pasteurized (heated) so it can be stored for up to 60 days.
- Squeezed from Fresh Oranges: Buyer beware of when they were squeezed and what happened to the juice afterward.
The main problem with juice sold in containers is that after the pasteurization or concentration process, the flavor and nutrients are lost and need to be added back in to make the juice palatable. Orange-juice makers do this by creating so-called “flavor packs.” According to Hamilton, North American flavor packs are engineered with high concentrations of ethyl butyrate to provide a fresh orange juice smell. This is done in accordance with federal regulations, as these flavors are considered “natural” and so require no special labeling. But Hamilton’s book is a sobering look at a drink we’ve become comfortable with and hardly think of as a “highly processed” food.
Juice as a thirst quencher is a new addition to the human diet; mostly we’ve consumed fruit and water to get the liquids we need. According to the Linus Pauling Institute, the daily recommended allowance of vitamin C for an adult male is 90 mg; it’s 75 mg for a female. This is easily achieved by eating one medium orange (70 mg), one cup of strawberries (85 mg), or a few little mandarin oranges (60 mg)—plus the fiber is already included.
If you love juice, try making your own from fresh fruit. There are many kinds of juicers available, from old-school reamers, to handheld presses, to freestanding presses, to electric reamers, to sleek, commercial-quality automatic extractors. Valencia oranges are the best juicing oranges, but any kind will work. The fruit should be at room temperature; roll it on the counter first to soften it a bit (a good job for a kid). The juice of two oranges makes about one 4-oz. glass of the genuine article. And the container is 100 percent compostable!
Heidi Lewis writes about farms, bees, and fruit from her home in Sonoma County, CA. She’'s been with The FruitGuys since they were FruitKids.