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Squeezed: The Secrets of the Orange Juice Industry

There are some food truths we hold to be self-evident, and one of them is that orange juice is inherently good. It's packed with vitamin C; it's what your mom tells you to drink when you feel a cold coming on; it looks like sunshine in a glass. Plus, it's delicious.Those things are true, but Alissa...

There are some food truths we hold to be self-evident, and one of them is that orange juice is inherently good. It's packed with vitamin C; it's what your mom tells you to drink when you feel a cold coming on; it looks like sunshine in a glass. Plus, it's delicious.

Courtesy Flickr user TerriSeesThings

Those things are true, but Alissa Hamilton's book "Squeezed: What You Don't Know About Orange Juice"—released today in paperback—reveals some other truths.

Things weren't always this way. The ubiquitous presence of pasteurized orange juice in chilled cartons, all tasting basically the same, dates back only to the 1960s. That's when the FDA began regulating and standardizing orange juice, and decided what consumers did and didn't need to know about it.

As a result, despite what advertisers claim, most orange juice is neither fresh nor natural (not in the way most of us would define those terms). Think about it; how could it be truly fresh year-round, when oranges are a seasonal product? Sure, it may be "not from concentrate," but raw juice is often heated, stripped of its volatile compounds and flavor-rich oils, and stored for as long as a year before it reaches the consumer. Something called "the flavor pack" is used to return most of the "natural" aroma and taste to the product, Hamilton explains:
The flavor is sourced from all parts of oranges everywhere...Typically, the orange oils and essences that juice concentrators collect during evaporation are sold to flavor manufacturers, who then reconfigure these by-products...into 'flavor packs' for reintroduction into orange juice.
Often, those by-products come from other countries and may contain unknown pesticide residues, but the producers don't have to disclose that.

And as one citrus flavor researcher told Hamilton, replicating nature's complexity is extremely difficult: "Right now the formula for fresh flavors is just about as elusive as the formula for Coke."

In other words, that's why it tastes so much better when you actually take a bunch of fresh oranges and squeeze them yourself.

Hamilton is careful to explain that she's not against orange juice, she's against deceptive marketing and believes consumers have a right to know what they're buying:
The history of processed orange juice and its marketing highlights the fact that as a society we tend not to care too much about deceptive advertising unless the product being pushed is measurably harmful...As the gap in both geographic and mental miles between consumer and store bought food has widened, the role of product promotion as a source of product information has grown.
The bigger problem isn't juice, but rather "food ignorance." Deceptive, misleading or overly simplistic messages from both government and industry in recent decades have contributed to "the average consumer's obliviousness to where and how that individual's food is produced," Hamilton concludes, which could have serious consequences for their own health, the environment and the economy.

Do you want more information about what's in your carton of orange juice, or is this not a big deal to you?
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About Amanda Bensen

Amanda Bensen is a former assistant editor at Smithsonian and is now a senior editor at the Nature Conservancy.

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