Hey, fellow juice drinkers, gather round. It’s time we had a talk. I imagine you are like me, and you drink a lot of juice. Every morning, I exclusively drink Tropicana Pure Premium Orange Juice and Tropicana Pure Premium Ruby Red Grapefruit juice, both of which are 100% pure and natural juice. They’re all juice, man. They’re not just not from concentrate, they’re never from concentrate. How badass is that? I don’t know who the concentrate drinkers are out there, but I’m never picking them to be on my team. I’m a pure, straight-from-the-orange, juice man.
And don’t even get me started with those drinks or cocktails or punches, the ones that are 10% juice with the rest being water and various forms of fructose and other additives; I don’t even give them the time of day.
What I’m saying is that juice is a major component of who I am, as much as my neighbor’s Prius is to him and your sister's Stumptown coffee is to her. My personal blend of Tropicana Orange and Grapefruit juices, with seltzer, is how I start my day. It’s not just good for me. It is me.
Oh, the lies we tell ourselves so that we can sleep at night. You see, I’ve recently found out that I’ve been living a lie. Well, not a whole lie, but half a lie, which means half a truth, which makes me half the man I thought I was. This realization started with the latest radical raving from my friend Gary, who lives on the Lower East Side, where conspiracy theories just so happen to grow just like orange groves do in Florida, about how my beloved Tropicana juice wasn’t just juice. I didn’t believe it, but just to be sure, I opened up my fridge, looked at the container, smiled at the reassuring image of the straw poking into an orange, and read the words “100% pure Florida orange juice,” as I had hundreds of times before. And I said to myself, “Oh, Gary.”
But a few weeks later, a little voice inside me said that Gary is often right in his ravings, and that maybe I should look into what he said. I did. You, can too. It’s all over the Internet—for what that’s worth.
Let’s start with the obvious: oranges only grow in certain seasons, and because orange juice goes bad after a short period of time, orange juice providers had to come up with a way of storing the juice if they weren’t going to go with the old school method of freezing juice in concentrate. What they came up with is a process called “deaeration,” in which the oranges are picked, the oranges are squeezed, the juice is heated to eliminate bacteria, and then the juice is kept in vast, zillion-gallon tanks from which oxygen is eliminated. This allows the juice to not spoil for up to a year. The downside to this process is that the juice loses its taste, so when the juice is ready to be packaged for consumption, flavor packets are added to give it its consistent, “pure,” orangey taste. Fragrance companies responsible for the same formulas used for perfumes come up with the right taste concoctions that you and I know as orange juice.
These rather stunning revelations come from Alissa Hamilton, who published the book Squeezed: What You Don't Know About Orange Juice in 2009. Her scandalous tell-all might seem like it had the potential for creating a Juicegate, but the book came and went without putting much of a dent into the Big Juice Guys. And, anyway, the process delineated above is pretty much corroborated by Tropicana’s very own website , which cheerfully breaks it all down from “grove to glass.” They’re hiding in plain sight!
This process certainly explains why every carton of Tropicana OJ tastes exactly the same. It also explains why Tropicana juice tastes different in different countries—because Tropicana modifies the flavor packets to the popular taste preferences of different regions. It’s also why Minute Maid’s Pure Squeezed orange juice tastes different—they use different flavor packets. Did you catch that? It’s called “pure squeezed,” which sounds a whole lot like fresh squeezed, but it’s not. Which brings us to the most important point of all: haven’t you ever wondered why a fresh squeezed glass of OJ tastes so different from these “pure” orange juices? It’s the process, stupid.
I’m not mad at you. I’m mad at myself. I never wondered why.
The juice industry is big. Tropicana, which is owned by Pepsi, generated $6.2 billion in revenue last year. This is a money-making behemoth. PepsiCo Global Beverages Chief Massimo D’Amore didn’t mince words when he was interviewed by Bloomberg Businessweek earlier this month. “We have lost perspective here on the primary reason we are in business, which is to make money,” D’Amore said. I bet D’Amore sits at his desk and smokes those flavor packets rolled in $100 bills, while making his billions.
I pursued both Minute Maid and Tropicana (Pepsi and Coke, which owns Minute Maid, produce 59% of the orange juice in America), and asked them questions about their juice production. Not surprisingly, I got the runaround. Eventually, they referred me to the Juice Products Association. After accepting my questions, those guys nicely didn’t get back to me either.
ABC News did a report  earlier this year using Hamilton’s findings, and they elicited a response from an industry spokesperson who said, “The Food and Drug Administration does not require adding flavor packs to the labeling of pasteurized juice…because it is the orange.”
Not surprisingly, a woman in California was so outraged by the juice process, that she filed a lawsuit this January claiming Tropicana is deceiving consumers. Tropicana issued a statement that it "remains committed to offering great-tasting 100 percent orange juice with no added sugars or preservatives. We take the faith that consumers place in our products seriously and are committed to full compliance with labeling laws and regulations."
Sure, I bet they’re in compliance. In fact, the truth of the matter is, those flavor packets are actually derived from the orange peel, so what they’re doing is taking the flavor out, and then adding it back in later. It’s just chemistry. Maybe that’s not so bad. Or maybe it is. But I’m never going to look at my juice the same way. It’s not really the juice I thought it was. It’s more of a drink.