A while back I wrote a blog about Why Fruit Juice Sucks, and today we are back with even more evidence to prove the truth of that statement. Orange juice is one of the most popular drinks in the country. Something like 40% of it is consumed in the Northeast, without a single orange grove for about 1000 miles. This alone should send off a few alarms, but the technology for shipping OJ is quite impressive, and actually doesn’t take all that long. So should we be worried?
An interesting article on boston.com with author Alissa Hamilton about her book Squeezed: What You Don’t Know About Orange Juice recently caught my attention. She explains many of the quirks and rather disturbing practices of the orange juice industry. In theory it seems like orange juice should be a simple and straightforward product right? It is merely the juice of an orange, nothing more nothing less, and more than 620 million gallons of this “natural” OJ are sold in the US per year. How natural and simple it seems, how completely deceived we are. The truth about OJ is that it is actually the result of real oranges, just not necessarily from Florida, combined with the ingenuity of chemists and their flavor packs to actually make it taste like juice after pasteurization and being held in storage tanks for upwards of a year.
Maybe not as pure and wholesome as we thought, eh?
Some of my favorite pieces from the article:
IDEAS: You write that the first question everyone asks when they hear about the book is whether orange juice is good for us. So – is orange juice good for us?
HAMILTON: I tell people if you like it, drink it, but not because you think it’s good for you. You’d be better off with a whole orange than a glass of orange juice. It has more fiber and more vitamin C. But I’m not a dietitian. The book is not about whether you should drink orange juice and whether it’s healthy. It’s about how little consumers know about how popular and – in the case of orange juice – seemingly straightforward foods are produced and the repercussions for agriculture.
After reading The Omnivore’s Dilemma I couldn’t agree more. Our agricultural system is an absolute nightmare, and if people really knew where their food came from, and we have the right to, I think a lot of things about our food production would change.
Next is my favorite section, as it shows just how sneaky and honestly how deceptive the OJ industry is, which is really just a microcosm for the entire food industry as a whole.
IDEAS: What isn’t straightforward about orange juice?
HAMILTON: It’s a heavily processed product. It’s heavily engineered as well. In the process of pasteurizing, juice is heated and stripped of oxygen, a process called deaeration, so it doesn’t oxidize. Then it’s put in huge storage tanks where it can be kept for upwards of a year. It gets stripped of flavor-providing chemicals, which are volatile. When it’s ready for packaging, companies such as Tropicana hire flavor companies such as Firmenich to engineer flavor packs to make it taste fresh. People think not-from-concentrate is a fresher product, but it also sits in storage for quite a long time.
IDEAS: What goes into these flavor packs?
HAMILTON: They’re technically made from orange-derived substances, essence and oils. Flavor companies break down the essence and oils into individual chemicals and recombine them. I spoke to many people in the industry at Firmenich, different flavorists, and at Tropicana, and what you’re getting looks nothing like the original substance. To call it natural at this point is a real stretch.
IDEAS: Why isn’t orange flavor listed in the ingredients on the carton?
HAMILTON: The regulations were based on standards of identity for orange juice set in the 1960s. Technology at that time was not sophisticated at all . . . I don’t think the concern is so much “are these flavor packs unhealthy?” The bigger issue is the fact that having to add flavor packs shows the product is not as fresh and pure as marketed. The flavor industry can lend diversity to products that aren’t really that diverse. Soft drinks are a perfect example: They’re corn syrup and flavor. With orange juice, it’s masking the processing procedure rather than the diversity of ingredients.
I know I am putting quite a bit of the article in here, but I just couldn’t help myself, I found almost every question and answer to be interesting and important to the discussion at hand. The last bit:
IDEAS: To what degree is orange juice still made from Florida oranges?
HAMILTON: Most concentrate is now from Brazil. Shipping it is relatively easy. Until recently, you could count on [Tropicana] Pure Premium being from Florida, but shipping technology has advanced. Companies like Tropicana have started shipping full-strength juice from Brazil rather than buying and squeezing in Florida. The majority of not-from-concentrate is coming from Florida-squeezed oranges, but that’s certainly changing. The orange growing is moving to Brazil, which grows the most oranges for juice by far. Land is cheaper, and environmental regulations are almost nonexistent.
This is scarily true, I looked at the OJ in our fridge, Tropicana Pure Premium, and wouldn’t you know it oranges from Florida and Brazil. I am tired of crap like this, why can’t we just get good quality products made with integrity, what is so hard about that? Don’t even get me started on what happens to the vitamin C content of the OJ after pasteurization and storage and shipping, a whole other can of worms.
On a good note, I found out that my mom has been reading my blog and she is looking for fresher food options. She walks every day and she passes a “farm”, it’s not really I just don’t know what else to call it, a family with some animals and a little land, and she bought a dozen freshly laid eggs from “the farmer” for 1 dollar. These chickens get to go outside every day, they eat their natural diet in the warm spring and summer, and these eggs aren’t being shipped for hundreds of miles and sitting for who knows how long before being consumed. Pretty exciting stuff in my world. And just for clarification, my family is from Maine, but we don’t live in the boonies where there are farms all over the place, we live in the second biggest city in the state (which isn’t saying much, but still), so it is nice to know that it is still possible to get eggs the old-fashioned way.
PS – Goi, you had a question on a recent blog post of mine which I accidentally deleted while getting rid of spam. If you read this, please repost and I will gladly answer. Sorry.
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