Secrets of orange juice

 Ben1112 "Squeezed: What You Don't Know About Orange Juice" is a forthcoming secret history of the orange nectar. For example, I didn't know that OJ's popularity was seeded by its use as a Vitamin C delivery system for World War II troops. Or that the whole Florida imagery surrounding the drink is mostly a myth these days and that the majority of it comes from Brazil. The Boston Globe interviewed the author, Alissa Hamilton (photo by Bart Nagel):
Squeezedjuiceee What isn't straightforward about orange juice?

HAMILTON: It's a heavily processed product. It's heavily engineered as well. In the process of pasteurizing, juice is heated and stripped of oxygen, a process called deaeration, so it doesn't oxidize. Then it's put in huge storage tanks where it can be kept for upwards of a year. It gets stripped of flavor-providing chemicals, which are volatile. When it's ready for packaging, companies such as Tropicana hire flavor companies such as Firmenich to engineer flavor packs to make it taste fresh. People think not-from-concentrate is a fresher product, but it also sits in storage for quite a long time...

So parse the carton for us. For example, what is the phrase "not from concentrate" really about?

HAMILTON: In the '80s, Tropicana had a hold on ready-to-serve orange juice with full-strength juice. Then this new product, reconstituted orange juice, started appearing in supermarkets. Tropicana had to make decisions. Storing concentrate is much cheaper than full-strength juice. The phrase "not from concentrate" was to try to make consumers pay more for the product because it's a more expensive product to manufacture. It didn't have to do with the product being fresher; the product didn't change, the name simply changed. Tropicana didn't want to have to switch to concentrate technology.
Squeezed: What You Don't Know About Orange Juice (Amazon), Q&A with Alissa Hamilton (, via Michael Leddy's Orange Crate Art)


  1. See also: Oranges, by John McPhee.

    This book, which sounds very similar, is weirdly unrecognized as a predecessor to much modern food journalism.

  2. I never assumed “not from concentrate” meant it was fresh, although I guess it makes sense that that is what they would be implying. I just assumed it was a taste thing. Tropicana does taste significantly better than all its major competitors, after all.* Is there any evidence that any of these processes affect the healthiness of the final product?

    *I am in no way affiliated with or paid by Tropicana to express these views, although if a Tropicana representative reads this and wants to reward me financially, feel free to contact me for paypal information.

  3. The right way to approach this would be to concede that most stores in the USA have no such thing as orange juice. Let us recap the complex definition of this product: The juice of oranges, as squeezed into a container. The end.

    On my first visit to the USA, I spent probably an hour looking for orange juice amongst the aisles packed with stuff falsely labelled as orange juice. The choice was huge – from concentrate, not from concentrate, with vitamins, pasteurised, filtered… but there was simply no orange juice.

    I suggest a fantastic reality check: Travel to a country that produces oranges (like Cape Town, South Africa), buy some from a farm stall, and squeeze them yourself. The first sip will jolt the hell out your synapses and bring flooding a tsunami of childhood memories.

  4. I love the whole genre of history through the lense of commodities (starting, I think, with Cod — but now there’s one for practically everything).

    Also, “Turn Those Machines Back On!”

  5. DIGILANTE – In florida in some roadside tourist trap stands you can get fresh squeezed that day that is awesome. At same said stores you can buy unpasturized fresh squeezed orange juice in jugs.

    The local ones here in central florida seem to all be “Indian River” brand.

    You can also get classy items made from bits of gator and authentic souvenirs of florida (made in china).

  6. In my grandparents’ time southern California was still one of the world’s biggest citrus growing regions. The city I grew up in still has reminders everywhere, especially the “orange crate art” that growers used to differentiate their crops. Now most of the areas that once had orchards have been converted to tracts of suburban housing and California imports most of its O.J. from Florida or overseas (except for that one infamous O.J. who now resides in a Nevada penitentiary).

    It still blows my mind when I go to the supermarket and see citrus that was shipped to California from halfway around the world.

  7. What about the “Simply Orange” branded stuff? I definately prefer that to Tropicana, but if I’m being honest, I don’t really know what sort of processing it does or doesn’t go through.

  8. Also, read Oranges by John McPhee. It was the second book of his I read and still a favorite.

  9. I did just come back from Morocco, where a) Oranges are grown and b) the juice is freshly squeezed. I did wonder why it tasted different to the most expensive juice I can buy in the UK, but gullible me put it down to oranges being harvested a touch too early. Oh well, lesson learnt.

  10. “The [Florida] groves are disappearing. They’re being turned over in favor of condominiums.”

    Well that’s one problem fixed. Now to destroy Brazil…

  11. I’ve definitely noticed that fresh-squeezed orange and grapefruit juice tastes distinctly different from the “not from concentrate” juices. Interesting to learn why.

    The thing that drives me nuts about juices, though, is the cocktails and “juice beverages.” When I buy grapefruit juice, I’m not looking for something that’s 80% pear or apple juice, dammit. If I wanted that I’d buy pear juice, and it would probably come adulterated with something even sweeter.

  12. I’m pretty sure Simply Orange brand is also not-from-concentrate. I think they’re owned by Minute-Maid. That’s definitely my favorite storebought juice though, much brighter and cleaner flavor than Tropicana.

    This isn’t surprising to me, but if you don’t want pasturized products you will have to make your own or accept a certain risk of infection. E. Coli and other bacteria can be contracted from unpasturized juices. Some health food stores– and of course juice and smoothie shops– sell freshly pressed juice, but beyond that you can’t expect a consistent product available all year made from fruit without some kind of preservation and processing.

  13. Holy schemoley, now I know why the juice I make here at home is good and the boxed stuff isn’t. I just never thought that Tropicana would be lying to me.

    (I really wish I could say that the above paragraph was written with snark, but to my great chagrin and the utter destruction of my tree-hugger street cred, I really didn’t ever think of it.)

    Here in Puerto Rico, you can buy a twenty-pound bag of really ugly local oranges for ten dollars from the guys on the street corners. They look ugly, because they aren’t bred for looks. They taste like ambrosia and when you squeeze them, there’s nothing left but juice. But you can only get them in “winter”, because in the summer it’s too hot for the trees.

    Digilante @3 – this juice, while wonderful, doesn’t bring back childhood memories. In the Indiana of my childhood, oranges were far too expensive to juice. Nobody I knew even thought of doing that. OJ came in a bottle. I suppose, then, that really it’s the Tropicana that brings me the childhood memories.

  14. Ah the strangeness of Canada!

    Obviously, no oranges here. But when I was a child, proper frozen OJ was available (with pulp, no less) or you could buy floridian oranges and squeeze yourself — yummy, textural.

    Then real fruit became unacceptable — suddenly, no one wanted pulp in their OJ or lemonade (frankly more popular here) and pseudo-juice was all you could get.

    The greatest crime for me, however, was the loss of fuzzy peaches!

  15. I hope this book brings up some of the politics of the Florida orange cartel, i.e. Phyllis Schlafly and her anti-gay nonsense.

  16. The wonderful ambrosia coming from a orange tree in bloom. Ahhh. It so reminds me of my childhood days in Yuma.

    My brother and I so looked forward going to the ‘golfball’ (a geodesic dome). Our name for a citrus, melon, and fruit stand down near the river. You could smell the juice machine from just outside. Once inside it was almost overpowering. I so remember the sticky floor surrounding the machine. Filling the bin from the top with the oranges (a combination of blood and Arizona Sweets) we just bought. The noise it made while it worked. And of course the taste of the strong pulpy juice just poured from the recently filled plastic jug. We loved it!!

    Grocery store orange juice is just an orange flavored drink.

  17. Then, of course, there was that awful frozen stuff you could get (here in the UK anyway) in the seventies (back in the day when an orange juice might also be ordered as a starter for a meal – and a high-class starter at that). You added your own water and the pulpy, frozen mass gradually disintegrated. It was as good as it sounds.

  18. My wife remembers, when living in Florida, being able to go to some of the orchards and getting a quart of Navel Orange juice. She says it blows away anything, including fresh-squeezed from normal oranges.

  19. Orange juice, even fresh from the garden, is a huge sugar load and a pretty terrible way to get nutrients. Drinking a big glass of orange juice is equivalent to eating six or eight oranges, with most of the fiber removed and all that fruit sugar available to destabilize your metabolism. Carrot juice, that staple of the hippie kitchen, is just as bad.

  20. Growing up in Southern California in the early 80’s I remember seeing orange squeezing machines right there in the supermarket in the produce section – you could watch a machine squeeze your juice and then decant it into jugs which you could purchase.

  21. #26 – it may be a terrible way to get nutrients, but it still tastes great, because of all those sugars of course.

    It’s also a couple of steps up from soda, which don’t even pretend to be nutritious.

    It’s pretty obvious that what you drink when you’re thirsty should be water. Everything else is just an interesting way of snacking.

  22. In Florida, many of the groceries had the real thing, though it cost about twice as much. The YMCA gym by my house had it in their vending machines, though I don’t know who would drink it after exercising.

    90% of the time it’s great; 10% of the time it was horrible. Ah, natural variation, bane of modern existence. Maximize profit through uniform mediocrity! Throw the mountains into the lakes, and harvest corn syrup on the flats!

  23. If you’re looking for a “not from concentrate” OJ made with US oranges in a conventional grocery store, Florida’s Natural brand is available in nearly every regular grocery (at least that’s true here in Texas). It is a co-op product made only with US oranges and it’s not much more expensive than the stuff that blends Brazil/China/Wherever.

  24. I don’t get it. The author is objecting to pasteurization? She would prefer a NON-pasteurized juice?

    That’d be dangerous and illegal. Naming the process of rapid heating something chemical-sounding doesn’t make it bad.

    “Tropicana didn’t want to have to switch to concentrate technology.”–because Tropicana (rightly) felt they had a superior-tasting product. Why is this presented as some kind of bad thing?

    Pasteurization is bad! Immunization is evil! It upsets me when well-intentioned people believe in a kind of sympathetic magic–appartently intentionally mislead.

  25. You could of course buy juice oranges and
    squeeze it yourself,every supermarket usually has juice oranges ,it’s easy and no food technology company is needed to restore the flavor and color.

  26. I’ve gotten Odwalla OJ from Costco in a gallon jug that tastes pretty good.

    Am I about to be stoned for mentioning Costco???

    1. Am I about to be stoned for mentioning Costco???

      As long as you don’t get a job there for six weeks and then tell us that the American Dream is within everyone’s reach, you’re probably safe.

  27. I love when people go on rants about how the “modern” conveniences we have are so “wrong”… Really, I didn’t think any non-super-premium OJ was actually an orange that was squeezed and bottled (pasturized of course). I know Tropicana has a super premium one out now, I think it’s called Tropicana Pure. It’s GREAT, smooth, with a hint of tangy after taste. Probably 80-90% the flavor of a real fresh squeezed orange. But at almost 3 times the cost, yeah…only on special occasions.

    When people talk about how bad things are at the supermarket I just wish someone would ban them from shopping at any, period. Oh you can visit the farmers market, but no, you can’t buy milk, you’ll have to know a farmer or own a cow. Cause that’s the REAL ‘ish, which is what you wanted…

    Please, both my parents grew up on farms. I ate LOTS of fresh (and still do) vegetables that are grown in my parents (and my own) garden. You are right when you say nothing really compares to fresh from your garden, certainly nothing at a grocery store can.

    But sometimes I want a salad with tomatoes in the middle of winter…(and I don’t have room for a greenhouse, at least not yet).

    (That and I’m a product of the American culture. I’ll never forget the “flavor” of sour cream and onion chips, mountain dew, cheese doodles (or cheese balls), white bread, or any other supermarket goodie. Sorry.)

  28. I don’t understand the rant. If you live in Florida? Sure, I can understand being annoyed that your OJ doesn’t come straight from the groves of Eden. I live in fucking Boston though. I just got done shoveling a foot of snow off of my car. Guess what? If I want OJ or “OJ product”, it is going to come in a carton and probably not be freshly picked from a tree. In fact, if I want to eat anything other than say potatoes in the middle of a Boston winter, it is probably going to come from a less than natural local source.

    Don’t get me wrong. I like a farmers market. I like fresh foods. I just don’t like them enough to pay the horrific costs of zipping them to me fresh from a farm or have the desire to move to some horrible drought ridden suburb hell hole like California* that has a climate to support a diverse food supply. I live in Boston. Everything is dead six months out of the year and our local crops make a Ukrainian diet look exciting. I still like to occasional eat something interesting, even if I didn’t get to pick it with my own grubby little hands.

    I don’t understand the fanatic obsession with food. Some places in the world just suck for food. They go off and do other things and import something worth eating. I use a pile of highly toxic chemicals to make a semiconductor device in a frozen academic stronghold… some nice country like Brazil takes my devices and sends back food. Awesome. Division of labor. w00t.

    *I don’t consider San Francisco to be a drought ridden suburban hell hole. I do consider “silicon valley” to be one though.

  29. LOLOL!! I cannot BELIEVE the last post from Bostonian “Rindan”!…I am the most FANATIC connoisseur I know (when it comes to fresh-squeezed orange juice) and Boston happens to be where I got HOOKED on it!

    (so while we’re talking about OJ…)

    Good Sir (or Madam), unlike many in this country, you LIVE near a Whole Foods Market!! Albeit a chain, WFM is nonetheless (in my opinion) the #1 purveyor of fresh, unpasteurized O.J., squeezed at a location within hours of the store, bottled, chilled and delivered 4 times a week!…Sure, maybe nothing grows in the area 6 mos. out of the year, but the culinary OPTIONS at your fingertips in a Metropolis like Boston should not to be overlooked or taken for granted!

    Lemme guess, you moved there from the South of France?! Lisbon?

    After 6-years as a Bostonian, I NOW live in the mountains of Western North Carolina. I still purchase my in-store, fresh-squeezed OJ at a ‘trying-to-be-upscale’ supermarket…But it cannot compare to the universally high-caliber array of products (and year-round fresh produce) once found at said Whole Foods in Massachusetts.

    You complain of being in a place that sucks for food?? Maybe for year-round farmers’ markets, yes — But a HUGE segment of the population living in Anywheresville, U.S.A. is forced to shop at Wal-Mart because it is the only place to buy FOOD within 60 miles! — Meanwhile, just hop on the Red Line to Central Sq. and you’ve got 64 oz. of fresh-squeezed OJ. on sale at 9:30pm EST. Voila!

    It also occurred to me you might still be shopping at Shaws!….If your semiconductor job ever allows you enough time off to explore your environs, check out WFM locations at Fresh Pond, River St. and Prospect St. in Cambridge, Symphony Hall in Boston, and several more in Brighton and outlying neighborhoods. YOU LIVE ALONGSIDE THE HIGHEST QUALITY SUPERMARKETS IN THE U.S.A.

    If you don’t want to pay more for fresh juice, fine. Like most, you’ll be abiding with the American epidemic of accepting uniform and mass-produced foods like Tropicana as NORMAL and satisfactory (because it’s not about sensory enjoyment anymore, it’s about budget)!

    But as long as you are there, and I am here, I will be eternally envious.

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