Home What Are You Eating? What’s Going On With Your Orange Juice?

What’s Going On With Your Orange Juice?

by Erika Nicole Kendall

So, while this technically shouldn’t be news to us, ABC’s report is still pretty interesting:

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.


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Dawn A. January 3, 2012 - 12:58 PM

None other than to say kudos to you for helping to inform the masses. If I do juice, I now squeeze it fresh. The taste difference is AMAZING and I’m good with the juice of just 1 fruit (versus upwards of a cup of juice which was the normal pour in my house). Squeezing it fresh takes maybe 3 minutes more than pouring out of a carton in the morning. Totally worth it.

traceyjoy January 3, 2012 - 2:13 PM

I treated myself to a juicer and I will be using it from here on it, I relly didn’t know about these flavor packs.

J January 3, 2012 - 9:50 PM


Something as innocuous as orange juice….I mean, we already know it’s not as good for you as an orange. But damn.

Diandra January 4, 2012 - 4:16 AM

Well, we could always just squeeze store-bought oranges for really fresh orange juice. Possibly while they are in season. And have potatoes, for example, as vitamin C boosters for the rest of the year (and all kinds of other products). It’s scary what the industries do to food to keep it cheap and still have it taste like food…

Melissa January 4, 2012 - 11:41 AM

you continue to open my eyes and support my efforts in clean eating. i’m not 100% but am no longer 0% thanks to you a lot of your information. thanks again for this. i do see myself getting juice from the orange moving forward and not the container with the orange on it.

LikeRamona January 4, 2012 - 12:31 PM

Here we go again! I’m so very tired of the food industry & it’s tricks. I’ve just about gotten my family off big brand juice. On the rare occasion that we have oj it’s fresh squeezed from my local grocer.

I’m definitely going to share this story!

Heather E January 4, 2012 - 2:02 PM

This and that zombie juice article killed OJ for me! And actually, I am okay with that. I realized other fruit juices were just sugar water some time ago and not actually good for you, but for some reason “100% pure” OJ was still acceptable to me. Not anymore!

But my husband is taking it poorly. So I dragged out the juicer, bought a bag of juice oranges and told him if I peeled them, this is what he could drink from now on. I recognize that is still not as good as just eating the dang orange… but at least it’s a step!

Once again, thanks for the info, Erika!!

Adrienne January 5, 2012 - 7:14 AM

Lalalalala, I’m not listening, lalalala. >hands over ears< Haha, just kidding.

Truthfully, this is so hard to hear this about OJ. It's like my second favorite drink (first is water), exactly because of the taste.

Hard pill to swallow (hard zombie orange juice to swallow?)

Thanks for the info.


Mia May 31, 2012 - 3:22 PM

i was a very serious OJ drinker until I started paying attention to calories and decided having a piece of fruit with breakfast and drinking water was a much better use of calories and way to start my morning. I randomly decided to have a glass of OJ and I did not enjoy the taste at all. And now after reading this article I know that I have to let OJ go, great article!

Shira December 29, 2012 - 10:00 PM

W. T. F.

Now I have to take OJ off the list, buy more oranges and a juicer. What will you teach me next? Wait……….

Don’t say anything yet! Let me absorb this news for a while! LOL!

Trina February 12, 2013 - 4:44 PM

In an attempt to reduce extra calories and embrace clean eating I cut out all beverages but milk and water (tea and coffee count as water right?) but I miss my juices and wanted to know what you think about Bolthouse Farm juices. It’s water and fruit juice from concentrate. Is concentrated fruit juice ok or do they add harmful chemicals to that too?

Erika Nicole Kendall February 12, 2013 - 5:09 PM

Juice is juice is juice. It’s still sugar… it’s still excess calories, and unnecessary ones, at that.

I’m on the fence about concentrate. Concentrate means the water was extracted from the juice, and the remainder is stored away somewhere and preserved until sold and used, sometimes for up to a year. I’m not sure I want to eat or drink that, especially since it already counts as excess calories.

If you’re gonna drink juice, you might as well make it good, and make it a rare occasion. Get it fresh squeezed. And by fresh squeezed, I don’t mean “I know it’s fresh squeezed because it says so on the side of a bottle!” fresh squeezed.

Sweetpea March 16, 2013 - 5:53 AM

Yup, I’m a juicer too. I just had some authentic orange juice with a bit of grapefruit juice and lemon — de-datgomme-licious!

Suzanne April 4, 2013 - 11:08 AM

Erika, why do juices need a flavor pack. Surely you squeeze oranges and get orange juice, don’t you?

Erika Nicole Kendall April 4, 2013 - 5:04 PM

Not when you have to store the juice for almost a year to keep it from spoiling, no. You take out all the stuff that makes it flavored, because duhhh the flavor stuff spoils, and before you know it? You need to add flavor stuff back in.

Mikki April 4, 2013 - 10:37 PM

I’m officially going to cry. Orange Juice is the ONLY thing I like to drink. I drink water because I have to but I drink OJ because I enjoy it. I can drink five glasses of water and still feel thirsty but half a glass of OJ knocks thirst right out. Sigh, guess it’s time to ween myself off yet another favorite thing. Seriously, cutting out the sweets & salty aren’t as depressing as this is going to be. But it’s for the best, so I won’t pout for too long.

Erick Gonzales April 22, 2013 - 3:33 PM

Yeah there is a lot of this going on. Definitely heard a bit about orange juice flavoring before, but this isn’t the only juice product doing that, right?

It is a good idea to know what we are putting in our bodies. I have not always been great about that, but I am trying really hard now.

toni July 7, 2013 - 8:44 AM

pssst….we’re going to DIE! pick any processed food and get a similar story. I refuse to scare myself over everything I put in my mouth! I know processed food, no matter what the label says, is not the juicer, garden etc.

Erika Nicole Kendall July 7, 2013 - 9:17 AM

This logic is always so hilarious to me. Yes, we’re going to die, so YOLO, right? It matters naught whether we die ten years from now, or we die tomorrow from something completely avoidable.

Yes, yes, exactly. ROFL

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