Orange Juice: Know Your Label Lingo
When I was a kid, our grocery store had a giant squeezer for fresh orange juice. You’d press a button and watch as oranges were fed down a tube and bright orange fragrant juice was dispensed into the waiting bottle.
Most of us don’t find juice anywhere near that fresh unless we squeeze it ourselves, but the information below should help you find the best orange juice for your taste and budget.
“Fresh Squeezed” / “Country Style” / “Grove Fresh”
These terms have no legal meaning and are, in fact, pretty darn meaningless on most labels. Orange juice is commonly squeezed fresh from oranges after they’re harvested, but it is then pasteurized (heated to kill bacteria) and then stored in aseptic tanks, which strips the juice of oxygen, a process known as “deaeration,” so it doesn’t oxidize in the giant tanks where it’s kept for up to a year. Various orange essences and oils are then added to make it taste fresh. These flavors are derived from oranges (each brand has its own proprietary blend), and government regulations do not require them to be included on the list of ingredients.
This process explains why every carton of orange juice you buy tastes the same. Truly fresh-squeezed juice would taste sweeter or more sour, more orange or more bitter from carton to carton, and it would start to ferment within days of being squeezed (that is, turn to alcohol and get a bit fizzy). Anything with a shelf life of longer than a week or so is not as “fresh squeezed” as you might imagine.
“Not from Concentrate”
Orange juice concentrate is made by pasteurizing, filtering, and evaporating orange juice under vacuum and heat. Any vitamin C or flavor removed during this process is added back with essences and oils. It is then sold as a frozen concentrate that consumers add water to, or it is reconstituted and sold as fresh orange juice. Juices labeled “not from concentrate” are never concentrated, but, unless labelled “unpasteurized,” they are pasteurized and subject to the treatment outlined above under “fresh squeezed.” Whether it’s worth the extra cost to buy OJ “not from concentrate” is, at best, questionable, since the nutrition level is the same (vitamin C is added back in to make sure it appears in consistent levels). Try a taste test to see if the difference matters to you.
Unpasteurized orange juice is truly fresh squeezed, since it only lasts about a week before starting to sour and spoil. It has not been heated to kill bacteria and must be consumed in a timely fashion. If you want truly fresh orange juice, this is the label to look for.
“Calcium Fortified” / “Vitamin D Fortified”
These juices have had calcium (and often vitamin D) added in. If you or someone in your family drinks orange juice rather than milk, this can be a good choice.
As with all organic produce and produce products, organic orange juice is made from oranges grown without the use of synthetic pesticides or herbicides, no genetically modified organisms, no irradiation or sewage sludge and are subject to inspections to make sure growers are following USDA organic standards. Commercial orange juice is made by simply crushing the entire orange, not cutting and twisting it as one might at home, so the juice comes into plenty of contact with the peel in the process, which raises concerns about pesticide residue for some experts. Because organic produce is raised without the use of pesticide, those concerns do no apply to orange juice labeled “organic.”
“With Pulp” / “Without Pulp” / “Extra Pulp”
As you might guess from the description of “fresh squeezed” above, basically all pulp is removed from orange juice when it is squeezed and then added back in to match label descriptions. Thus, just because a juice is sold with more pulp, that doesn’t mean it has gone through any less processing. Choose the version you prefer, knowing that orange pulp is an excellent source of fiber.
Juices labelled “100% juice” must actually contain only juice. Here’s the catch: unless a label states which juices those are, they may not actually all be orange juice. Apple juice, grape juice and pear juice are sometimes used to round out a variety of drinks labeled “100% juice.” While this is more of an issue with other fruit juices (cranberry in particular), if what you want is pure orange juice, check the label and make sure that “orange juice” is the only ingredient listed.
Shop smarter! Check out all our “Know Your Label Lingo” articles!