By Matt Rozsa
It’s very easy to be duped by products that sound natural but aren’t. Take orange juice. As long as it’s “100% juice,” that means you’re safe, right? After all, the back of the package says that the main ingredient is “oranges.” How can that not be good for you?
The problem with this assumption is that it grossly misunderstands how orange juice is made, at least when produced on a mass scale. In order to prevent the squeezed juice from spilling, manufacturers heat it up using a process known as “deaeration.” While this helps preserve the liquid itself, it also removes almost all of its flavor… which means consumers at the markets won’t think it tastes or smells like “real juice.”
To get around this, orange juice companies add different “flavor packs.” Developed by perfume companies from oranges and their skins, each company has their own distinct formula that constitutes its individualized “taste.” In North America, this usually involves a high amount of ethyl butyrate; in Mexico and Brazil, the chemicals may be decanals or valencine. Regardless of what you choose, though, the chemicals that add the “orange juice” flavor to your orange juice have been so altered that they barely resemble real orange juice by the time you drink it.
Nevertheless, when you check that orange juice package, it probably won’t indicate that this is the case. According to the FDA’s logic, those flavor packs can be labeled as “oranges” because they initially contained ingredients derived from the actual orange fruit. Comforting, right?
This rule is hardly limited to orange juice. Although “natural flavor” is the fourth most common ingredient listed on food labels, it can refer to substances that contain anywhere from 50 to 100 additional ingredients. Anything from cereal and granola bars to apple juice and organic shakes can be adulterated in this way – an important consideration as you’re reading labels and gauging the nutritional and “natural” value of the product.