The Not So Sunny Side of Conventional OJ
On a recent especially humid and hot day, I found myself standing in front of a relatives fridge desperately looking for something to address my thirst and my need for something cool to throw down my gullet. I located a carton of conventional orange juice (not from concentrate) and decided to pour myself a glass (no, I opted not to drink from the carton). It was cold, tangy and refreshing, but it tasted more like an approximation of an orange than anything that was actually derived from an orange. Not entirely artificial, but not entirely convincing either. I figured it might have been some off-flavors from the carton and dismissed my worst suspicions (OJ taint). But if this was just orange juice, literally extracted from an orange, why did it taste at all peculiar?
For the most of us, a recipe for orange juice is as simple as simple can be:
For that packaged carton of orange juice you load into your grocery cart at your local supermarket, the means of getting from orange to OJ are a bit more involved. Even if the orange juice is market “natural” and “not from concentrate” there is something artificially uniform about the whole operation, as well as the end result. If you have ever wondered why each carton of orange juice from companies like Tropicana, Minute Maid, and the like all taste relatively the same, it is not because they all use the same variety of oranges each time. It is because they all use the same orange flavoring each time to insure relative uniformity.
According to a report on Gizmodo, the manufacturing of most conventional orange juice begins simply enough with the squeezing of the orange. Then that juice is collected and stripped of all oxygen, a process in which the juice is kept from prematurely spoiling. The juice is stored in gigantic vats, where the juice is sometimes stored up to a year before packaging. The only problem with this sort of storage technique is that virtually all the orange flavor is lost in the process. No oxygen = no flavor. So manufacturers add flavor and fragrance to the OJ through the use of “flavor packs” that are somewhat akin to the perfume packs used to sent your shampoos and perfumes. According to an earlier report from Civil Eats, “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.” Even though it says 100% juice, it is still artificially flavored
And if you have ever wondered why, at any given time of the year, you are able to go to the supermarket and purchase a carton of “Fresh Florida Orange Juice” even in the middle of January when orange groves are in lockdown over the threat of ice and especially cold temperatures, well this is why.
Does any of this information about the production of your go-to breakfast drink make you think twice about that sunny delight? Are you more inclined to just eat a real orange, than pour an approximation of one?