Never From Concentrate? Never Again

Readers, you're about to read why I'll never buy another container of Tropicana Pure Premium Orange Juice--ever again.

How is it possible that every carton you've ever had of Tropicana Pure Premium--every single carton--tastes exactly the same?

The "Never From Concentrate" Tropicana OJ you drank last week tastes the same as the stuff you had last summer. Even more weirdly, it tastes exactly the same as the cartons you bought a year ago. And the year before that.

Seriously, if this is supposed to be real juice, then how is that possible?

It's possible because that delicious and impossibly uniform Tropicana taste is entirely manufactured.

Tropicana's process involves juicing oranges, pasteurizing the juice, and then "de-aerating" the juice--a fancy word for storing the juice in an environment that's stripped of oxygen. Juice that's been processed in this way can then be stored for extremely long periods of time without spoiling. And that enables Tropicana to store juice inventory for months--thereby selling you "fresh juice" when oranges aren't remotely in season.

The thing is, this industrialized process also produces juice that basically tastes like nothing. Which brings us to the worst part of all: Tropicana then adds back flavoring and fragrance agents to their juice, using so-called "flavor packs" that are engineered to replicate a specific and consistent scent and taste. And because these flavoring and fragrance additives are technically made from oranges, Tropicana can still claim their juice is all-natural and never from concentrate.

That's why every single carton of orange juice tastes--freakishly--exactly the same. It has been manufactured that way.

When I first began to learn about the flavoring, scenting and storage processes behind the market's best-selling orange juice, I quite simply couldn't believe it. Or maybe, after too many years of habitually paying a huge price premium to buy a skillfully-branded product, I just didn't want to believe it.

But once you think it through, it's inherently logical. Oranges from different years don't taste exactly the same. It is quite simply not possible--and not natural--to harvest and produce totally identical-tasting fruit juice from season to season and year to year. Mother Nature simply does not work that way. Tropicana would have to do something to their juice to make it perfectly uniform.

Here's another thought. Yes, it's weird that this brand of orange juice tastes exactly the same all over the United States, all year round. But it's even weirder that until a few months ago, it never crossed my mind that this might be weird. And I'm a food blogger! This is how far we as consumers have gotten from the food we eat.

In reality, the frozen concentrate orange juice in the freezer compartment suddenly doesn't look quite so bad in comparison. Yes, it's equally processed and manufactured, but it sells for one third the price. More importantly, it may more accurately reflect the true taste of orange juice. Things aren't always as they seem, are they?

Readers, ask yourselves: is this simulacrum of fresh orange juice really worth a premium price? Share your thoughts!

Freshly Squeezed: The Truth About Orange Juice in Boxes (
Civil Eats)
The Secret Ingredient In Your Orange Juice (
Food Renegade)
The Secret Ingredient In Orange Juice, Is NOT Orange (
Healthy Times Blog)
Tropicana: Our 100% Juice Could Contain "Anything From Nature," Even Dairy (
Alissa Hamilton's book
Squeezed: What You Don't Know About Orange Juice

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Eleni said...

BANG! What a revelation! I must admit that I gave up discriminating against juice "from concentrate" a while ago, mainly due to the price difference, but when I thought about it, I live in a country which cannot grow oranges, so any kind of juice will always have had to travel very far to get to me, and won't be fresh. If it says 100% orange juice, then I'll buy it - it's the easiest way to top-up my fruit&veg intake.

AmandaLP said...

The more I read about the "food industrial complex," the more I shop at the farmers market and food coop.

There is a rumor that Pepsi and other companies are using "Senomyx," which does not habe to be labeled on a food. ( ) there is also some controversy (that has not been denied) that fetal cells are used in the process. But, it does not have to be listed on the label. Just as many milk companies use powdered milk in their products without disclosure.

Closing loopholes such as these would go a long way in changing the food system.

Charmian @ChristiesCorner said...

Wow. I rarely drink orange juice but always spent the $ on Tropicana because it wasn't processed. Or so I thought.

Thanks (I think!) for the eye-opening post.

I see a Vitamix in my future...

Anonymous said...

I care a bout a lot of things, we eat 80% of our produce steamed, boiled or roasted with olive oil - aka plainly so that you can taste the vegetables. I only eat wild salmon, but that isn't local...

I drink juices (the kind that you buy for whatever they are charging in the regular grocery store) without thought & I have come to the conclusion that I don't care. Life is too short, I can't "LIVE" my life in fear of what is happening to my juice.

Mostly because I have NEVER had a palitable freshly squeezed glass of juice & because I have had to toss some of that fancy juice because it went bad before we drank it - & I even resorted to screw drivers to try to get it down. (This includes those made in front of my eyes - no gimmicks behind the scenes.)

I buy & use powdered milk without qualms.

I like farmers markets just fine, they are fun to walk through, but they can also be very homogenized. (I couldn't find a heirloom tomato for the love of money at one.) & They not unlike grocery stores are loaded with other goodies - bread, olive oil, freshly squeezed juices, ciders, cheeses, etc. With the exception of the baked goods, the other items aren't local (from what I could tell - unless 100+ miles is local)...
& we (the farmers & judging from the parking area most of the shoppers) all spent a lot of gas to get there & then go back home. So I am not sold on that solution either...

Color me sceptical, just not about the stuff that they do to juice, milk, etc.

We'll all be in a grave eventually whether we fret over our juice or are drinking beer & smoking cigarettes. & I've seen my fair share of those who took the latter approach & were far happier about it.

Janet C. said...

I have been drinking the stuff from the freezer concentrate for tastes fine to me, and it is far less expensive. We do squeeze our own when we find oranges on sale (usually at the Mexican market you can find good juice oranges).

But a lot of commercial fruit juices have pitfalls. Most apple juice sold in the US (and that includes the apple juice that is part of the "100% juice" cranberry stuff they sell) is manufactured and concentrated in China under less than ideal conditions. Since I'm on a "made in USA" (or at least a "Not made in China" kick, I have given up all apple juice except the cider that our local apple orchard makes. Heck, I'm not even that much a fan of juices anyway. I'd rather just eat the fruit.

Owlhaven said...

We routinely drink frozen concentrate but lately I have been beefing it up with a fresh carrot/apple juice mix made in my juicer. To half a gallon of OJ, we add the juice from 4 carrots and 6 apples. If tomatoes are in season, we'll toss in a couple of those too.

It is still orange in color, which makes my kids happy (they don't like it when I add spinach!) and it has a good balance of sweet/tart. And I like knowing that it contains more vitamins.

Unknown said...

I stopped drinking fruit juices regularly about six months ago. Adding to the concerns you raised above, juices in general do not have the fiber that actual fruits have, and they also concentrate sugars in a way that make it very easy to double, even triple your daily sugar intake. I think it's better to actually eat oranges and apples instead of orange or apple juice. Plus, you get the benefit of feeling like you've eaten something, which will make you psychologically more full and less likely to overeat.

Daniel said...

Some great comments right out of the gate, thank you all for the insights.

And I can see why some readers might view purchasing store-bought juice as a fundamentally foolish and pointless act: if you were to use my first-order and second-order foods framework, you'd have to consider store-bought juice a second-order food, with the incremental processing and branding costs (obviously) paid for by the consumer.


Anonymous said...

Orange juice is on my personal list of icky foods, but Mr Autumn likes his OJ in the morning, so its whatever tropicana or similar product is on sale. He drinks 4oz every morning, so a half gallon lasts us about 2 weeks, so I don't mind paying for it cause the convenience is worth it to him. I have frozen juice concentrate for other juices in the freezer, but I really only drink juice if it has booze in it. Otherwise give me the fruit.

Jenna said...

For myself, orange juice tends to only hit my fridge when I'm sick or when I'm in the mood for screwdrivers. And then... usually I go with the concentrate. (Which is also handy to keep in the freezer for marinades, and to flavor citrus baked goods)

Maybe twice a month I'll splurge while out on a grocery run and buy a single-serve bottle of real fresh squeezed to drink while I'm running errands (the kind you bottle yourself from the store's self-serve automated squeezy station where you watch the oranges fall into the hopper). It's a lot more than simply buying a soda (or simply drinking the water I keep in the car in my waterbottle) but I figure 2x a month... $2 for a gulp of the really fresh unpasteurized stuff is a decent splurge.

The "Fresh" stuff in the carton always tasted like citrus fabric spray to me, never developed a taste for it. Now I'm glad that was the case!

chacha1 said...

I'm with Jessica Isabel, but it's been *years* since I regularly bought any kind of juice. Because the nutrient value vs. caloric load does not come out in favor.

Orange juice is basically tangy sugar. I don't have room in my calorie budget for that to happen on a regular basis.

Once in a blue moon I'll get a carton of orange-pineapple, or a bottle cranberry-blueberry, but honestly? Mostly when I'm in the mood for some mixed drinks. :-)

Joanne said...

And now we can add this to the MANY reasons why I just don't drink juice. I'd rather have the fruit itself and know where it came from and what's in it.

Anonymous said...

Well, I can't promise I'll stop drinking it because I do like the product (not the price), but I do appreciate the education. I wish food producers had to be plain-language honest in their advertising. Knowledge is power, and I appreciate your post for this reason. Thank you.

Marc-Olivier Meunier said...

I am lucky enough to travel often and to nice places, with nice hotels, and they usually have someone squizzing fresh juice from fruits. And when I'm home I just buy what I call Happy Juice, the one that makes me happy. Without any consideration... often concentrate but no added sugar... but what do I know, now that you raise that point, maybe they send my happy juice to the moon first to give it some superpower and then ship it back to my store... I hope not, I don't want to turn into a martian :)

kellypea said...

We rarely drink orange juice opting to eat the fruit instead. Although we live where fresh citrus is plentiful, seeing how many oranges it takes to squeeze one small glass seems both wasteful and an unnecessary load of calories -- at least for us.

Juice in general is something we avoid. Too much of it is loaded with other ingredients, and regularly purchasing 100% juice of any kind can get expensive.

It would be interesting to look at a smaller company that produces far less organic juice to compare processes.

Good morning read -- thanks!