Wandering Juice


First of all, what do Tropicana and Minute Maid and companies like that do with all the orange peels they generate? Is there a use for them? Second, why is orange juice in containers made from concentrate? Why is the water removed from the juice, then put back, then put in the container? Why not eliminate two steps and just squeeze the juice into the container?

ELS, San Diego

Good Morning, Matt:

Why does my apple juice contain juice from the following countries: USA, Germany, Austria, Hungary, Chile, Argentina, and New Zealand?! Come on! Aren't there plenty of good apples right here at home?

Sandy, downtown

I'm glad to see there are still a few starry-eyed folks who can look at a glass of juice and imagine rosy-cheeked, smiling farmers in Florida or Washington carefully picking only the sweetest oranges or apples from robust trees, carrying the baskets to Ma in her sunny country kitchen, where she gently presses out the juice, packs it, loads it into the family pickup, and delivers it to your breakfast table. Truth be known, fruit juice is a major element of big-time international agribusiness, which shuffles around the globe absolutely every type of edible, from squid parts to passion fruit. That morning eye-opener is likely better traveled than most of the people who drink it.

For the last 20 years, Americans have been obsessed with various juice drinks; it's a hot, competitive market. As a result, the U.S. industry is forced to be a net importer of fruit juice concentrates, particularly orange and apple. Depending on weather conditions in our major growing areas and some other factors, as much as 50 percent of the apple and orange juice you drink was squeezed from foreign fruit. U.S. orchards can't begin to satisfy the demand even though about 90 percent of U.S.-grown apples and oranges are ultimately converted to juice for one purpose or another. According to Tropicana, they can process 60 million oranges a day, a mind-numbing figure; but still they must import concentrate to meet demand. One-half to three-quarters of the world's supply of OJ concentrate ends up here.

To get the full picture, consider Brazil, the country that supplies us with most of our imported concentrate. They harvest and juice the fruit, then remove water to reduce the juice to a six- or seven-to-one concentrate. Why waste space and money schlepping water around the world? It's pumped into the holds of refrigerated ships and dispatched to tank farms in such places as Florida, Delaware, New Jersey, and Holland. (I had to ask, and the Tropicana spokesorange told me, there has never been a major orange juice spill at sea.) Some of the tank farms enhance the concentrate by adding orange flavoring extracted from the peels, then the juice goes by rail or truck to the processors, who blend the available domestic and imported concentrates to control for color and taste and to meet FDA standards, add water, then package it and ship it to stores.

Nutrition from the rinds of oranges comes back to us in the form of beef. The juiced fruit is dried, chopped, and mixed into cattle feed.

Apple juice is in less demand than orange, but because of seasonal variations, apple sources must be more numerous and widespread. Central Europe is our biggest supplier.

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