The orange juice industry is picking an extra dollar from your grocery budget, and you probably feel good about it. But you shouldn't.
If you've recently switched to orange juice labeled "not from concentrate" (NFC), you've been picked like low-hanging fruit.
In Alissa Hamilton's book Squeezed: What You Don't Know About Orange Juice from Yale University Press, she says that people looking for fresher, less processed foods won't find it in a carton of Minute Maid Premium, Tropicana or Simply Orange.
"It's a misconception that it's freshly squeezed from the groves of Florida," she said.
Rather, it's often a heavily processed product. In the pasteurization process, it's heated, stripped of oxygen and flavor chemicals, then put in huge storage vats for up to a year. When it's ready for packaging, flavor derived from orange essence and oils is added to make it taste fresh. Each company has its own special flavor pack, but to call it natural at this point is a real stretch, she said.
The phrase "not from concentrate" came about when Tropicana (an NFC juice) suddenly had to compete with similar looking cartons that were reconstituted from concentrate. The phrase was introduced to try to make consumers pay more for a product that is more expensive to manufacture but not fresher, said Hamilton. Orange "flavor" isn't listed on the label ingredients because that disclosure isn't required.
We decided to try a blind, unscientific taste test to see if people could pick out freshly squeezed from "not from concentrate." I chose Lunds/Byerly's freshly squeezed, unpasteurized juice and placed it unmarked alongside NFC store brands from Aldi, Cub, Rainbow and Trader Joe's. I chose the store brands because they're about 20 percent cheaper than name brands from Coca-Cola (Simply Orange and Minute Maid) and Pepsi (Tropicana). One easy way to know that "not from concentrate" isn't fresh from the groves is cartons with a freshness date 45 to 60 days away. Lunds' freshly squeezed juice should be used within a week of purchase, said a Lunds produce manager.
Six of the eight testers rated Lunds' OJ the winner. Fresh doesn't come cheap, though. At $7 for 48 ounces, it's about 14 cents an ounce. Cub's NFC came in second, and Trader Joe's and Aldi tied for third. If you're trying to save money, Aldi's Nature's Nectar in the clear jug is the cheapest at about 4.5 cents per ounce, followed by Trader Joe's.
But if you start your day with a glass of OJ, you'll probably get as much freshness from frozen concentrate, or concentrate in a carton, as the more expensive "not from concentrate."
Say it ain't so, Bing Crosby.