Glass of Sunshine

“I’ve had crud in my sinus cavity for three days,” griped my husband Patrick. “When I blow my nose, I’m seeing colors that I normally associate with zombies.”

“Well, thanks for sharing,” I replied. “Maybe it’s because you’ve been binging on cheese crunchies ever since we did our taste test last week. When it comes to junk food, you wax and wane like the moon — binge and fast, no middle ground. And now your body is letting you know about it.”

Patrick cozied up to me. “Help me change my ways, sweetie. Give me the natural high I crave — a little orange sunshine.”

In days gone by, when I was less busy, I used to buy oranges and juice them myself whenever Patrick started to come down with a cold. Now I’m ready to just keep a jug in the fridge, even if it is relatively expensive. It’s still better than cheese crunchies. I sailed around the city gathering up freshly squeezed candidates, and to help out in our search for the finest orange fix on the market, I called my friend Cherie. “I may be biased going into this,” she warned. “I grew up in Arizona, amid citrus groves, so I may be a bit of a snob. Fresh-squeezed orange juice is just what we had every day, and I think Arizona oranges have the best flavor. They don’t get as much water as the California oranges, and the flavor is more concentrated. But I’m happy to give my two cents.”

We started with the flash-pasteurized OJ from Trader Joe’s ($4.69 for 64 oz.). “This won’t do,” sighed Patrick. “The taste is flat, and it lacks body at its core. I just don’t much like pasteurized juice; it always has a sort of dairy tang at the end.”

“I find it a bit thin,” added Cherie.

The unpasteurized version from Trader Joe’s ($5.49 for 64 oz.) fared far better. “Much pulpier,” I noted, “and I love the way it pops on my tongue.”

“This is classic fresh OJ,” said Cherie. “Balanced acidity and sweetness. It’s just lovely.”

“Much higher acidity than the flash-pasteurized, but still not tart,” said Patrick. “I’d kill my mother for a glass of this. Well, my friend’s mother.”

We decided to placate Patrick by sticking with the unpasteurized offerings. I poured out a cup of OJ squeezed and bought at Jamba Juice a few hours earlier ($2.95 for 12 oz.). “Oh, this is it,” smiled Patrick. “It’s like eating a really ripe orange. It’s holistic — the most integrated orange experience. The sweetness, acid, and pulp are disparate elements in the Trader Joe’s — which was still really good — but here, I get them all intertwined.” I let Patrick know that there was no way we could afford $.25 an ounce for OJ but agreed that it was amazing. “I just want to keep it on my tongue and keep tasting it.” Cherie, on the other hand, preferred the higher acidity of the Trader Joe’s.

Next up was the Evolution unpasteurized organic OJ from O.B. People’s Co-Op ($5.29 for 32 oz.). “This is a juice of extremes,” commented Patrick. “It has the most acid — almost like lemon acid — and yet it’s so sweet. It’s all elbows and ankles.”

Cherie agreed. “I like the high acid, but it’s too sweet — not balanced.”

“I dunno,” I countered. “I think if it ran into a cold, it would get into a fistfight and win. It’s the fittest OJ, in the Darwinian sense.”

Evolution also offered a nonorganic version ($8.69 for 64 oz. at Whole Foods). Cherie was not impressed. “It’s thinner, not nearly as concentrated. Even though it’s not marked as pasteurized, it has that wan quality that pasteurization gives to food. You know, it tastes less alive.” We agreed. And then we moved on to two more juices that were pasteurized. I told Cherie to keep an open mind.

First up: Odwalla pure squeezed OJ ($9.99 for 64 oz. at Ralphs). “Ew!” blurted Cherie. “This tastes like the stuff from the can, the frozen stuff.”

“Does ‘pure squeezed’ even mean the same thing as ‘fresh squeezed’?” asked Patrick. “I mean, it’d be fine if it was all you drank, but if you have it after some fresh, unpasteurized juice, it’s just a little sad. I grew up on the East Coast drinking Minute Maid from concentrate. This is better than that, and it’s even better than not-from-concentrate juice from the carton. I mean, it’s recognizably from an orange. You grow up drinking the juice from concentrate, and you never stop to think just how different the flavor is from an actual orange. It’s just the way orange juice tastes. Then you come to California, and the scales fall from your eyes. You think you’re back in Eden — orange juice can taste like oranges. Imagine!”

That was enough from Patrick. We opened the Naked Fresh orange juice ($3.69 for 15.2 oz. at Vons). “This is just a better version of juice from concentrate,” frowned Patrick. “I mean, it’s on that side of the continuum.”

“Well, it doesn’t make me say ‘ew,’” offered Cherie, “but it’s too thin, both in body and flavor. If I didn’t know better, I’d say they cut it with water.”

Overall best buy — quality and price — was Trader Joe’s unpasteurized. Patrick and I gave top flavor marks to the Jamba, while Cherie stuck with Trader Joe’s. Everyone agreed that Evolution Organic landed in third.

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