Freshly Squeezed: The Truth About Orange Juice in Boxes | Civil Eats

Freshly Squeezed: The Truth About Orange Juice in Boxes

It’s orange juice season. More precisely, it’s the season of the Florida Valencia, considered the “Cadillac of oranges” within the orange juice industry for its deep orange color, high juice content and rich orange flavor.

We’re so used to getting orange juice 365 days of the year that it may come as news that even Tropicana Pure Premium has a season. But it does. From March until June the Valencia is in its prime in Florida, and even Californians will admit that Florida grows a superior Valencia. The state produces a few other varieties for juicing. The Hamlin, which peaks in late fall, is the most heavily planted. But anyone who has anything to do with the manufacture of commercial orange juice knows that nothing compares to Florida Valencia juice.

The leading orange juice companies such as Tropicana (owned by PepsiCo), Minute Maid and Simply Orange (owned by Coca-Cola), and Florida’s Natural tell us many stories about orange juice: it’s natural, it’s pure and simple, it’s squeezed from oranges grown on pristine looking trees in Florida. But they leave out the details about how most commercial orange juice is produced and processed. Considering roughly two thirds of US households buy orange juice, Americans have a right to the whole story. As Tropicana launches its $35 million marketing campaign “Squeeze, it’s a natural,” it’s time for a reality check. Tropicana orange juice is not “relatively straightforward,” as reported in a New York Times article about PepsiCo’s recent decision to calculate the carbon footprint of its Tropicana brand of juice.

In the 1980s Tropicana coined the phrase “not from concentrate” to distinguish its pasteurized orange juice from the cheaper reconstituted “from concentrate” juice that began appearing alongside it in the refrigerator section of supermarkets. The idea was to convince consumers that pasteurized orange juice is a fresher, overall better product and therefore worth the higher price. It worked. Over the next five years sales of Tropicana’s pasteurized juice doubled and profits almost tripled.

In fact, “not from concentrate,” a.k.a pasteurized orange juice, is not more expensive than “from concentrate” because it is closer to fresh squeezed. Rather, it is because storing full strength pasteurized orange juice is more costly and elaborate than storing the space saving concentrate from which “from concentrate” is made. The technology of choice at the moment is aseptic storage, which involves stripping the juice of oxygen, a process known as “deaeration,” so it doesn’t oxidize in the million gallon tanks in which it can be kept for upwards of a year.

When the juice is stripped of oxygen it is also stripped of flavor providing chemicals. Juice companies therefore hire flavor and fragrance companies, the same ones that formulate perfumes for Dior and Calvin Klein, to engineer flavor packs to add back to the juice to make it taste fresh. Flavor packs aren’t listed as an ingredient on the label because technically they are derived from orange essence and oil. Yet those in the industry will tell you that the flavor packs, whether made for reconstituted or pasteurized orange juice, resemble nothing found in nature. The packs added to juice earmarked for the North American market tend to contain high amounts of ethyl butyrate, a chemical in the fragrance of fresh squeezed orange juice that, juice companies have discovered, Americans favor. Mexicans and Brazilians have a different palate. Flavor packs fabricated for juice geared to these markets therefore highlight different chemicals, the decanals say, or terpene compounds such as valencine.

The formulas vary to give a brand’s trademark taste. If you’re discerning you may have noticed Minute Maid has a candy like orange flavor. That’s largely due to the flavor pack Coca-Cola has chosen for it. Some companies have even been known to request a flavor pack that mimics the taste of a popular competitor, creating a “hall of mirrors” of flavor packs. Despite the multiple interpretations of a freshly squeezed orange on the market, most flavor packs have a shared source of inspiration: a Florida Valencia orange in spring.

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If you like orange juice and want to buy American, now is the time. Only during this time of year can you pick up a carton that contains Florida Valencia juice that has not spent months in storage. The rest of the year, whether you buy Minute Maid’s “from concentrate,” or Tropicana’s “not from concentrate,” you’re drinking a mixture of Florida juice, some or all of which has been stored from previous seasons, and juice shipped from Brazil, which conveniently grows oranges when Florida doesn’t. Even the Florida based company Florida’s Natural, which is owned by a cooperative of Florida growers, imports Brazilian concentrate for its “from concentrate” juice line.

Or maybe you want to try something new for breakfast: a whole Florida Valencia orange. It’s higher in vitamin C than a glass of processed juice and the flavor is incomparable. The thick-skinned, easy to peel and separate Navel has been marketed as the eating orange of choice. But Navels have a lackluster flavor compared to the Valencia.

Sampling a Florida Valencia is a timely and good experiment, if only to refresh your senses and awaken them to the taste that your favorite brand of orange juice strives to imitate. Sure a whole Valencia orange may be messy, but all things considered, so is a glass of OJ produced by any of the major labels.

Photo: gardenblackwash

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Alissa Hamilton is author of the forthcoming book "Squeezed: What You Don't Know About Orange Juice," which is being published by Yale University Press and will be released May 26, 2009. She has a J.D. and Ph.D in forestry and environmental studies. She is currently a Food and Society Policy Fellow with the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy (IATP). She lives in Toronto. Read more >

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  1. While orange juice sounds healthy, its really just a concentrated dose flavored sugar as far as your pancreas is concerned. If you must have orange, skip the juice and eat the whole fruit.
  2. I never thought boxed OJ tasted like the real thing, now I know why. Thanks for an eye-opener!
  3. I say take the valencia orange and either eat it or juice it yourself! Not only is this healthier, but also slows you down a little. You can even have bonding time with your kids or family around preparing food or juice together. Modern conveniences, in my opinion, haven't made the overall quality of life better.
    Take the time to smell the roses, and juice your oranges! :)
  4. Very interesting! I always realized of course that OJ was likely fairly heavily processed, but had never read about the details. Your note on Navel oranges rings true to me as well: Yes, they're easy to eat, but yes also, they certainly lack elements of flavor.

    I'll have to try a Valencia orange someday!

  5. David Clark
    How do we know that the Deaeration process is used to make Tropicana?
    There do not appear to be any references to the source of information used conclude this, able link to the source of this?
    • Roger
      Grab a fresh Valencia while you can...

      I grew up in Winter Haven, Florida (the production heart of the Florida OJ business). There was nothing but groves for miles back in the early 70s but unfortunately many growers couldn't make ends meet and sold their groves to developers. Back then, there was nothing but orange trees lining US Hwy 27 for 100 miles (Sebring to Leesburg). You'll be luck to find a quarter of that today.

      Nothing beats a fresh Valencia but sadly, growers and the Valencia are fighting a losing battle to developers, economics, pests, and even the weather. At least my memories (and taste buds) remain fresh...
  6. Carol Reuter
    Why does it say on the small bottles that it comes from Brazil? On Google it says it comes from Florida oranges.
  7. Tina L. Hirt
    I hadn't had orange juice in years. bought some Florida's Natural the other day and was amazed. It tastes like chemicals to me but my friend says it tastes like they scraped the rinds off and dumped it in as pulp. We tossed it. blecch. Glad i read this article on civileats which explained it.
  8. Haven't touch orange juice since reading this in 2005. Only freshly squeezed from real oranges, not from cartons.
  9. Trevor mcnaughton
    Thanks for that info opens your eyes
  10. Carol herbst
    We squeeze our own oranges daily as we drink the O.j.
    Back to basics back to nature
  11. Vern Koppa
    Then, how can Tropicana say “not from concentrate” on its label? Also it claims to have 120% of your vitamin C in one 8 oz glass! Are they lying????
  12. Carolyn Hunter
    Very informative article. Thanks, I think I will buy some Valencia oranges the next time I go to the supermarket!
  13. Pamela Wake
    Having just enjoyed drinking a couple of bottles of Simply Orange, which also claims to be "non-GMO", I am furious! You literally cannot trust any package or label information anymore! Many of the so-called "organic" products sold here are from China and not organic. How the hell is this legal? We have a right to know what we are putting into our bodies!!!
  14. Could you please tell me what exactly does "from concentrate" mean. I always thought it meant the whole orange was used in the process of making orange juice, ie: the skin, the white part and the seeds. And since I am allergic to the skin of oranges, I have always, until recently, chosen "not from concentrate". Of course, now I squeeze my own after hearing a fast blip about how commercial orange juice is made.
    I am so glad to have found your website through the Huffington Post and now know mostly the whole story. I say, mostly, because the article did not explain what "from concentrate" actually means and whether those chemicals, ethyl butyrate and the others are actually bad for us. So, I will be researching further, which isn't a bad thing to have to do, I am sure. Thank you so much for your article, I will be looking forward to more informative articles from you. Sincerely, Susan Huntoon
  15. Vesa Uitto
    I bought Tropicana from Costco and wondered the watery taste of it. Then I read your article and was stunned. How blatantly the companies are lying about the ingredients of the juice. Tropicana is 1) NOT freshly squeezed 2) it is not without additives 3) water has been added to the mixture! Thank you for your article. From now on I make much OJ my self or buy quality organic products.
  16. Outoftime
    It makes me sick ! We live in Florida and it said to see we are even lied to by Florida Natural, is the best tasring and . I will never buy it again. We a constant lied to buy big companies. They lost a loyal buyer of 20 years.
  17. Anthony Marshall
    For awhile it has bothered me not to know why store OJ is not the same color as juice from an orange. Suspicious, I stopped drinking it for this reason until I could get an answer. I knew the answer would't be good.
  18. Hi: My 11 yr old granddaughter drinks Tropicana orange juice and I'm wondering if this is safe in view of recent blogs re oranges in Florida being sprayed with Roundup/Glyphosphate? (cancer causing chemical). Please could you say if, in your opinion, this is a safe drink? As I see it, the world is just so corrupt and everything seems to centre around profits; I'm not neurotic but obviously need to be informed and protective. Many thanks: Joan
  19. California partisan
    California Navels picked on a cold foggy Central Valley day will beat any Florida orange, hands down.
  20. Caspar
    You should try to get your hands on some New Zealand (Gisbourne area) Oranges. I have never tasted a orange that is better.
  21. Michel
    Once again, things are never what they seem.
  22. Marlene Goddard
    I’ve been trying to avoid plastic containers as they are not good for the worlds ecology, but find that our favourite OJ, Tropicana, has reverted to plastic only containers. What’s up with that kind of thinking?
  23. Lorraine Bydalek
    Sales pitches are conceived to brain wash us into thinking "their product" is superior and healthier. Nothing is futher from the truth. The orange juice I was drinking who's ingredients read; Water, Blended with Valencia oranges safely grown and processed concentrated OJ from Florida, Mexico,Brazil, Costa Rica and Belize. From concentrated and not from concentrated. Yes it actually says that. Nothing is in season 365 but we want that and companies have made it possible through chemicals. That's the price we are paying. Very few things taste like they use to 50 + yrs. ago. Progress does have it's negative side.

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