For the last 30 years, the citrus industry has used flavor packs to process what the Food and Drug Administration identifies as “pasteurized” orange juice. That includes top brands such as Tropicana, Minute Maid, Simply Orange and Florida Natural, among others.
Murakhver said the addition of the flavor packs long after orange juice is stored actually makes those premium juices more like a concentrate, and consumers need to know that.
Experts estimate two-thirds of all Americans drink Florida orange juice for breakfast, and companies spend millions on their marketing campaigns touting its health benefits.
The “not from concentrate” brands appeared on store shelves sometime in the 1980s to differentiate them from frozen juice and other bottled concentrates. Despite its high price tag — now up to $4 a carton — sales of the premium brands have soared.
But those juices don’t just jump from the grove to the breakfast table.
After oranges are picked, they are shipped off to be processed. They are squeezed and pasteurized and, if they are not bound for frozen concentrate, are kept in aseptic storage, which involves stripping the juice of oxygen in a process called “deaeration,” and kept in million-gallon tanks for up to a year.
Before packaging and shipping, the juice is then jazzed up with an added flavor pack, gleaned from orange byproducts such as the peel and pulp, to compensate for the loss of taste and aroma during the heating process.
Different brands use different flavor packs to give their product its unique and always consistent taste. Minute Maid, for example, has a distinctive candy-sweet flavor.
Kristen Gunter, executive director of the Florida Citrus Processors Association, confirmed that juices are blended and stored and that flavor packs are added to pasteurized juice before shipping to stores.
Flavor packs are created from the volatile compounds that escape from the orange during the pasteurization step.
But, she said, “It’s not made in a lab or made in a chemical process, but comes through the physical process of boiling and capturing the [orange essence].”
The pasteurization process not only makes the food safe, but stabilizes the juice, which in its fresh state separates. Adding the flavor packs ensures a consistent flavor.
The Food and Drug Administration does not require adding flavor packs to the labeling of pasteurized juice (which includes the from-concentrate as well as the not-from-concentrate versions), because, “it is the orange,” said Gunter.
Non-pasteurized juice must be labeled as such, with warnings about potential pathogens. These regulations have been in place since 1963, she said.
As for the New York City mothers, Gunter said, “I don’t think there has been a large outcry.”
“If consumers have the false impression that pasteurized orange juice is not heated or treated because they have a picture of an orange on the carton, then they are not informed,” said Gunter.
“There’s a lot of literature and movies taking the food manufacturers to task on food preparation,” she said. “We have left the farms and it’s just not possible to feed everybody. I love the raw-food crowd, but we cannot get that many oranges out to that many people before they go bad in refrigeration.”
But Alissa Hamilton, a former food and policy fellow at the Institute of Agriculture and Trade, said that modern technology is so “sophisticated” that these flavor pack mixtures “don’t exist in nature.”
“They break it down into individual chemicals,” she said. “The flavor of orange is one of the most complex and is made up of thousands of chemicals.”
“They are fine-tuned so each company has its trademark flavor,” said Hamilton, who is author of the 2009 book, “Squeezed: What You Don’t Know About Orange Juice.”.”
One that is used in a variety of foods, including alcoholic beverages, chewing gum and as a solvent in perfumes, is ethyl butyrate.
According to Doug Kara, a spokesman for the FDA’s food safety division, the chemical is “generally recognized as safe as a food additive for flavoring.”
I’m going to reiterate, here, because I’m sure that people are going to look for reasons why this is “okay,” what’s so annoying about this.
First, she says “If consumers have the false impression that pasteurized orange juice is not heated or treated because they have a picture of an orange on the carton, then they are not informed.” If that’s the case, then why isn’t the picture on the carton a picture of a vat of orange juice being pasteurized? Don’t insult my intelligence by telling me that I shouldn’t believe what you tell me. Because if that’s the case, then…
Secondly, why should I believe that the only thing in the “flavor pack” is “the orange?” We took a look at the inside of a lab that makes these “flavor chemicals.” We know damn well how easy it is to create a flavor like orange juice. I’m not supposed to believe you when you tell me your orange juice is “fresh,” but I’m supposed to believe you when you tell me what’s in the flavor pack? I’m, also, supposed to believe that the representative for the Florida Citrus Processors Association is going to tell us anything that might harm the organizations she represents?
Thirdly, if the reheating takes out “everything that makes an orange an orange,” what is that doing to the nutritive quality of the oranges involved? I know that whenever I’m feeling under the weather, I eat a few oranges or grapefruit to feel better… not drink orange juice. Now I know why my hunch was correct.
In the ABC article, you find this post from Civil Eats. I’m going to extract the important parts (sort of like the orange juice processors – extracting the important parts…zing! Anybody? Nobody? Okay.):
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.
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.