Don’t Get Squeezed by OJ Marketing

Who doesn’t like a glass of orange juice, especially during these winter-month mornings when our bodies crave vitamin C? You probably have an image natural, fresh-squeezed juice from an Eden-like garden in Florida, but the reality couldn’t be further from the truth.

by John D. Ivanko
Fresh-squeezed orange juice and orange halves
Courtesy Digital Vision/Thinkstock
Take control over your orange-juice consumption—squeeze it yourself or just eat a whole orange.

Who doesn’t like a glass of orange juice, especially during these winter-month mornings when our bodies crave vitamin C? You probably have an image natural, fresh-squeezed juice from an Eden-like garden in Florida, but the reality couldn’t be further from the truth. If we knew that the majority of premium orange juice sold in this country is stripped of its flavor and stored in huge tanks for months and that some of it comes from other countries, we’d feel as squeezed as our friend Alissa Hamilton, author of the book Squeezed: What You Don’t Know About Orange Juice (Yale Press, 2009) and a leader in orange-juice research.

Although she’s based in urban Toronto, Alissa shares our core Farmstead Chef beliefs of authenticity, transparency, knowing our food sources, and connecting directly with farmers who grow or raise what we eat. She doesn’t use shock statistics or point fingers at big corporations to relay her message. Instead, she blends her legal and scientific knowledge to communicate her research.

For starters, she has shed new light on phrases, such as “not from concentrate,” which have become so ingrained in our shopping vocabularies we don’t question what they actually mean.

“’Not from concentrate’ orange juice simply means orange juice that has been pasteurized rather than reconstituted from concentrate,” Alissa explains. “Marketers want you to believe that ‘not from concentrate’ means a better, higher-quality, fresher juice than ‘from concentrate.’ But ‘not from concentrate’ is still a heavily processed product. Many ads show oranges being squeezed and then going directly into the carton or a straw punctured into an orange. They imply the juice comes straight from the tree. It does not.”

She also demystifies orange-juice making process: “In order to have a 365-day supply of ‘not from concentrate’ orange juice, the big-brand names store their product for up to a year in million-gallon aseptic storage tanks, where the juice is stripped of oxygen so it doesn’t oxidize or go bad in the tanks.”

Strip a juice of oxygen and you also strip the juice of its flavor and nutrition. As a result, orange-juice companies chemically engineer flavor packs to add back to the juice to make it taste fresh.

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“Something that says ‘100-percent juice’ may still contain flavor packs,” Alissa cautions, “but unfortunately you won’t see that on the label because the orange-juice companies have fought not to have to disclose the addition of these flavor packs as an ingredient in their juice.”

Alissa says she wants people to know exactly what they’re buying and to be sure they aren’t being played by marketing myths. Part of the myth surrounding orange juice is that it comes from Florida when in reality much of the juice on the market today is imported from Brazil. This raises red flags, as juice oranges in Brazil are sprayed with the fungicide carbendazim, which has been banned for use on oranges in the United States since 2008.

Still feeling confused about that carton sitting in your fridge? We may not be able to fix the citrus industry (fortunately Alissa is spear-heading that), but we can make more knowledgeable choices with our pocketbooks. Here’s some advice from Alissa:

1. Eat the (whole) orange.
Avoid juice controversies and simply eat a whole orange—ideally one that’s organic. “You’ll get the most nutrition by eating a whole, fresh orange rather than drinking any form of commercial juice,” Alissa says.

2. Make your own OJ.
If it’s the juice you crave, make your own for 100-percent authentic, fresh-squeezed orange juice in a glass. Four oranges will yield approximately 1½ cups of juice. Valencia oranges make great-tasting juice, are available from Florida and are in seasonal abundance from March through June, so your food budget and taste buds will get more bang for their buck then.

3. Look for smaller companies and a shorter shelf life.
Because of the need to keep stores stocked with orange juice 365 days a year, the big companies, such as Tropicana and Minute Maid, use processing and storage techniques that allow for shelf-lives of 60 days or longer. Alissa recommends looking for juice with a shorter shelf life, keeping in mind that fresh juice only lasts a few days. Also, juice made by smaller companies and brands based in Florida, like Organic Valley Family of Farms or Uncle Matt’s, is less processed so it doesn’t have to rely on the addition of flavor packs to make the juice taste good.

While we’re talking orange juice today, these same transparency issues in labeling apply to everything on our plate, especially when we can’t buy something directly from our farmer source.

“Orange juice is a good example of a much bigger issue of what’s wrong with our food system and why it is imperative for each of us to individually ask questions and hold food companies accountable for their claims,” Alissa sums up. “Misleading marketing combined with a loss of seasonal eating and demand for all types of food anytime of the year, make it complicated and confusing to understand what’s truly on our plate—or in our cup.”

Savoring the good life,

John and Lisa's Signatures

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