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Secret Ingredient in Orange Juice is Worrisome: The "100 percent pure"

Tim Boyer's picture
Orange Juice

According to a recent news story, moms are discovering that their store bought "100 percent pure" orange juice is not so pure after all. Makers of brand name orange juices admit that their products are enhanced for consumption and do contain proprietary secret ingredients. The following reveals what really happens to orange juice between the time an orange is plucked from a tree and its juice is poured into your glass.

Since the 1980’s, the phrase “not from concentrate” has played a significant role in motivating consumers to buy and drink their orange juice from containers with labels such as “freshly squeezed, “pure and natural,” and “100% pure.” The message was that concentrate is a less-healthy choice because it comes frozen in a can, whereas “not from concentrate” pictured on a carton with images of sunny orange groves and picture-perfect glasses of orange juice implies freshness that should be a no-brainer for the health minded and good parent.

However, as it turns out, this no-brainer was based on no-information regarding how orange juice is actually processed for drinking.

When oranges leave the orchard they are shipped to a processing facility where the oranges are crushed and squeezed. Like milk, the juice from the crushed oranges has to be pasteurized with heat to protect the consumer from spoilage. Excess moisture from the juice is evaporated off and stripped of oxygen in a process referred to as “aeration.” The juice is then stored for as long as one year in large commercial tanks until it is needed for further re-processing into the cartons of juice we buy.

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The disadvantage to processing orange juice is that a significant amount of natural flavor is lost. To compensate for the lost flavor, orange byproducts such as pulp and peels retained from the crushing process are reconstituted to add flavor back to the processed juice. Processed orange juice without added flavorings is essentially referred to as “Brix”—a mass of orange sugar solid and acid. It is not until you rehydrate the brix and add a flavoring to it will you have what is recognizable as orange juice.

The added flavorings used are patent protected “flavor packs” that gives a juice its characteristic brand flavor. For instance, although both are made from oranges, brands like Minute Maid and Tropicana are as distinctive in taste from each other as different brands of cola to suit consumer preferences for taste. Information about what exactly is in the flavor packs is kept from the consumer under claims of proprietary information that cannot be revealed due to competitive interests. And this is what has moms worried.

In a recent ABC news report, mothers are beginning to voice their concern asking not for a removal of flavor packs from their orange juices, but disclosure on what orange juice makers are putting in the juice they feed to their children. According to the author of the book titled “Squeezed: what you don’t know about orange juice,” FDA regulations concerning orange juice have not changed since the 1960’s and that major advances in orange flavor manufacture have rendered the original regulations, upon which the current rules are based, out of date.

Currently, there are no new regulations concerning the flavor packs used in orange juice. Although some makers claim that since all of the ingredients come from oranges originally—chiefly volatile oils collected during the initial processing—that it should not be a concern. However, if there is no disclosure, then are consumers obligated to take a manufacturer at its word?

A further worry is that of pesticides residing on and within the surface of reused orange peels. How do processing methods prevent low level pesticide contamination? Current trends show that even previously considered low levels of some chemicals are in need of reassessment and evaluation for new standards to ensure human safety.

Until new studies are carried out by independent researchers, changes in disclosure and labeling are unlikely to occur anytime in the near future. According to one mother quoted in a news report, she and her family will no longer buy their juice from a supermarket, but make their own “100 percent pure” by buying a juicer.