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What's in your orange juice?

Posted by Devra First  January 16, 2012 02:36 PM

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Globe Staff File Photo/John Tlumacki

Maybe or maybe not carbendazim, a fungicide linked to liver tumors in animals. After receiving reports from Coca-Cola (which produces Minute Maid and Simply Orange juices) and PepsiCo. (Tropicana) that low levels of the substance had been detected, the FDA began testing samples. The US now imports much of its OJ, and the fungicide is legal in Brazil, where much of the juice is coming from. Thus far, three out of more than 30 shipments have been cleared, according to the LA Times. Meanwhile, orange juice futures have been all over the map, hitting record highs and then plummeting over the course of the past week. (Adding to the volatility, freezing temperatures in Florida have hurt the crops there.)

There's no reason to panic if you've been chugging OJ. But even if all of the samples are determined to be fine, orange juice may not be exactly what you think. A few years ago, I interviewed Alissa Hamilton, author of the book "Squeezed: What You Don't Know About Orange Juice," for the Globe's Ideas section.

Here's an excerpt. (Click here to read the whole interview about orange juice.)

IDEAS: 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.

IDEAS: What goes into these flavor packs?

HAMILTON: They're technically made from orange-derived substances, essence and oils. Flavor companies break down the essence and oils into individual chemicals and recombine them. I spoke to many people in the industry at Firmenich, different flavorists, and at Tropicana, and what you're getting looks nothing like the original substance. To call it natural at this point is a real stretch.

Hamilton also says that looking to Brazil to provide most of our orange juice has created a real struggle for Florida growers.

So even if OJ is declared fungicide-free, there may be reasons to switch up what's in your morning glass.

Of course, most of our apple juice now comes from China. (And, along with grape juice, may come with an additional tasty surprise: arsenic.) How about grapefruit? About 99 percent of that juice found in the US comes from this country, according to this story.

About Dishing

What's cooking in the world of food.


Sheryl Julian, the Globe's Food Editor, writes regularly for the Food section.

Devra First is the Globe's food reporter and restaurant critic. Her reviews appear weekly in the Food section.

Ellen Bhang reviews Cheap Eats restaurants for the Globe and writes about wine.

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