If you’ve ever had a glass of fresh-squeezed orange or grapefruit juice, then you know that the stuff you buy in a carton, a bottle, or (shudder) a can tastes almost nothing like it. There is simply no comparison. Why?
Say you’ve got a thirst for some OJ. You pop out to the store and pick out the best quality stuff you can find. It’s 100% all natural fruit juice, not from concentrate, with no added sugars or any additional ingredients. Sounds healthy, right? Compared to orange “drinks” with added colors and flavors, it’s a good choice. However, even the highest quality container of juice has been processed in some way, then packaged, then shipped. Each step away from the orange itself strips the juice of some of its nutrients and enzymes.
In the United States, 98% of all fruit juices are pasteurized or otherwise treated to kill potential pathogens. In the rare instance when you can find completely raw juice in the market, the bottle will have an ominous warning label stating that the juice may contain bacteria that can make you seriously sick.
That may well be true, but that’s because a bottle, or a carton, is not as good a vehicle for transporting orange juice as, say, an orange. The minute an orange is squeezed, the juice comes into contact with the air, with possibly contaminated factory equipment, unsterile surfaces, improperly sealed containers — you name it. The longer that juice is parted from the cellulose structure that protected it inside the fruit, the greater the odds that something will contaminate it. That’s why the argument for pasteurization is a pretty strong one.
The problem with pasteurization is that it depletes the vitamins and enzymes in the juice, according to many studies (though others argue against this.) Many manufacturers add vitamin C back into their orange juice to help compensate. Do you see ascorbic acid on the label? That’s vitamin C.
Leaving aside the pasteurization debate (which will continue to rage on), consider that unless you buy organic juice, you’ll be quenching your thirst with a cocktail of pesticides and carcinogens — all the stuff that’s sprayed on conventional fruits. If you choose apple or vegetable juice, you’re also likely to find sulfites — a food preservative to which one in 100 people is sensitive. Sulfites have been banned on raw fruits and vegetables, but are still found in some juices.
Once an orange is squeezed, the juice begins losing nutrients immediately due to oxidation. Exposure to air causes food to break down — think of an apple slice turning brown. So, pasteurized or not, the vitamins and enzymes in your juice started degrading the minute the fruit was squeezed.
The volatile compounds that make fresh orange juice taste so amazing also degrade quickly. They’re not called volatile for nothing! Nutritional value aside, freshly squeezed juice tastes better, and that’s one reason why.
So the next time you’re thirsting for a glass of orange juice, just juice a couple of oranges, simple as that. I use a pretty, old-fashioned glass juicer. It’s the kind where you simply press and turn an orange half against the juicer part. The juice flows into the dish, and then I pour it into a glass. I also have an inexpensive electric citrus juicer, which I use when I want to make more than a single glass. For other fruits, more complicated juicers are necessary, but citrus juice is so quick and easy! There’s really no reason not to squeeze a delicious, fresh glass whenever it strikes your fancy.
About the Author: Kim Kash has been a writer and editor for over 20 years, many of those in the book trade with Daedalus Books. Topics she covers as a freelance writer for range from federal government policy to yoga, food and travel. She often writes for beachbody.com, which provides home fitness video programs and recently launched P90X2, which delivers an even more advanced fitness workout. The author of the bestselling Ocean City: A Guide to Maryland’s Seaside Resort (Channel Lake, 2009), Kim is a founder of the Greenbelt Farmers Market near Washington, D.C. Two years ago at age 40, Kim and her husband sold everything and moved to the Middle East. Since then, she has traveled to twelve new countries and has taken up sailing, diving, and rock climbing.