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Natalya Murakhver, a New York food writer and mother of an 18-month year old daughter, loved her premium brand orange juice -- the "100 percent pure" and "not from concentrate" kind that comes in the colorful carton and tastes consistently delicious.
That is, until she said she learned from her first-time moms group that there's a "secret ingredient" in all premium orange juices that companies are not required to put on their labeling.
"One of the moms said she had read about [how the juice is made] and they held it in tanks for up to a year and it pretty much lost all of its flavor and had to be reinvigorated with these flavor packs, which are essentially chemicals," said Murakhver, 40, and co-author of "They Eat What?: A Cultural Encyclopedia of Weird and Exotic Food from around the World."
For the last 30 years, the citrus industry has used flavor packs to process what the Food and Drug Administration identifies as "pasteurized" orange juice. That includes top brands such as Tropicana, Minute Maid, Simply Orange and Florida Natural, among others.
Murakhver said the addition of the flavor packs long after orange juice is stored actually makes those premium juices more like a concentrate, and consumers need to know that.
After oranges are picked, they are shipped off to be processed. They are squeezed and pasteurized and, if they are not bound for frozen concentrate, are kept in aseptic storage, which involves stripping the juice of oxygen in a process called "deaeration," and kept in million-gallon tanks for up to a year.
Before packaging and shipping, the juice is then jazzed up with an added flavor pack, gleaned from orange byproducts such as the peel and pulp, to compensate for the loss of taste and aroma during the heating process.
Different brands use different flavor packs to give their product its unique and always consistent taste. Minute Maid, for example, has a distinctive candy-sweet flavor.
Flavor packs are created from the volatile compounds that escape from the orange during the pasteurization step.