melted_snowball: (food)
[personal profile] melted_snowball
Alissa Hamilton's Squeezed is a book about processed orange juice.

What's to know? Orange juice, after all, is "100% orange, pure and natural".

Actually, much of what's to know is available right on Tropicana's website, which kind of blunts the claim of the book that they're trying to lie to you.

Anyhow, what is to know? Well, both pasteurized orange juice and concentrated orange juice, if you created them in the obvious ways, would taste awful. So in both cases, what happens is that a quantity of fresh juice or of orange oil is added to them; both concentration and pasteurization destroy these flavour components.

Also, ready-to-serve "not from concentrate" brands turn out to be pasteurized twice: once when they're juiced and placed into huge chilled OJ tanks, and once when they're to be put in cartons or bottles. This means that the "less processed" image of this kind of OJ is totally bullshit. Once upon a time, it was actually a little better: they were frozen straight after being juiced, and then pasteurized right before being bottled.

Another funny situation is that the "Florida" image that Tropicana and Minute Maid cultivate is increasingly bullshit: the actual juice processing plants, including those in Florida, are owned by Brazilian companies these days, while Tropicana and Minute Maid are largely marketing companies. (This is not, one notes, much different from the state of affairs for pet foods; after the melamine-in-pet-food scandal a couple years ago, one of the surprising facts is just how many different pet food companies Menu Foods made pet food for.) Anyhow, most American juice manufacturers are starting to use Brazilian concentrate (or pasteurized not-concentrate) in their production of OJ. They don't have to actually document the quantity of this in their label; they can just say, "from the US, Brazil and South Africa" or whatever.

All of this is vaguely interesting, but the book enters some weird rhetorical flights of absurdity, which gets tiring. Not just the one I posted about a few days ago, but she also waxes at length about how much consumers want more of a connection to all of the steps in their food's processing. I don't really think that's so; probably some do, but others still enjoy their Twinkies, thanksverymuch.

The book ends with a big jeremiad about how awful it is that citrus farming in Florida is losing out to the state being a giant condo community for retirees, and how terrible foreign (Brazilian, in this case) food is for US society.

This really amuses me, because of course, Floridians, until the Brazilians started selling more, used to supply the world with lots of its OJ. So, um, is international trade in foodstuffs only a good thing when it's exported, not imported? Oh, okay. Good to know.

Really, orange juice, like any other commodity is manufactured and standardized. We shouldn't be surprised that international trading partners enter into the process of producing it, and that as a consequence of that, it becomes less possible for people in the First World to make a living producing it. In fact, we should be surprised if that didn't happen.

A couple of other thoughts about OJ. First, I know people who prefer reconstituted OJ or pasteurized OJ to fresh-squeezed. I'm pretty sure my mom does, in particular. Do you?

And second, it does interest me that juice oranges are worth something like $3/bushel to growers. I don't want to think about how much more I pay for them when I buy them here and juice them in my food processor.

Oh, and it should be clear, but don't waste your time reading this book. This could have been an okay Harper's article of 5 or 10 pages, but 200 is way, way too much.

Date: 2009-07-28 09:43 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Oh, geez, I am so surprised by what the author has to say that I'm glad I'm sitting or I'd be fainting... :-P

I can tell which is freshly squeezed, which one is not from concentrate and which one is from concentrate. Not a big deal. If they all had different names, no one would blink and it'd be perfectly OK, just like the different kinds of chocolate or coffee. I can even drink instant coffee, as long as I have not been misled into thinking I'd be getting real coffee.

What I think is that the several kinds of OJ have a different balance of flavors, both not-from concentrate and concentrated taste cooked but I figure that for people who never had or rarely have OJ freshly squeezed from real oranges, they might get confused into thinking NFC is the real deal. It's not. Moreover, I grew up used to having dozens of different breeds of oranges, and people can tell what kind of orange the OJ is from in places like that -- it's about the same as people who can tell what kinds of apples, peaches etc they're tasting here. One of the reasons OJ tastes weird here is that they mix several kinds of oranges to try and balance the flavor and get some flavor consistency. Also, by the time oranges get to us in the supermarkets, they're not as fresh either, which changes the flavor a bit.

Anyway, like I said, I prefer fresh oranges freshly squeezed, but I'm perfectly willing to not only drink, but we actually buy the other kinds. We've been buying stuff like Simply Orange or Tropicana or Florida's Natural (I think that's the name?) because I prefer the balance of flavor, but we also buy frozen (concentrated OJ) sometimes.

Date: 2009-07-28 10:28 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Well, they go past just balancing in different kinds of oranges to adding in tangerines and sour oranges, which is kind of neat.

There are a lot fewer varieties of oranges grown in Florida now than, say, 30 years ago: it's now dominated by two varieties, each of which has around 40% of the market. This is troubling, of course, since they're all clones.

But then again, one could say the same thing about bananas, and I'm not sure I need to read books about bananas...


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