Monday, February 27, 2012

It's all in the juice

Knowing where your food comes from sounds easy. Orange juice comes from oranges - end of story. That's not true. Understanding the processing of our foods gives us better perspective of what we are putting into our bodies.
Oranges are a one season crop - they are prolific in the winter in the Southern states. That means one harvest for juice manufacturers. However, the demand for orange juice is year round.
The solution was easy - juice all the oranges, place them in large vats, suck all the air out and wait for the supply to dwindle before filling up more containers. The problem with this is the juice lost it's flavor with the air. Well that, coupled with the American public's need for consistency.
You see, not all oranges taste the same. Some are sweet, some are a little tart. Each vat would have it's unique combination of oranges but that's not good for a company - they need each bottle to taste the same.
Enter flavoring. After sucking all the life out of the juice, the companies add flavoring to the orange juice to make it taste like their orange juice should. That makes for a consistent product. The really tricky part - they don't have to label the flavoring on the package. Due to the type of flavoring they use, the FDA does not require it to be disclosed.
I learned this a few weeks ago from an article on secret ingredients in our food that we don't know are there. Every time I learn a new trick that manufacturers use on us to make the food less expensive to make it confirms my need to eat more natural and to produce my own food.
So I juiced oranges this weekend. I have, now, just over a gallon of orange juice in my fridge.
Back in January, I bought a box of tangerines from bountiful baskets. The cost was $15 for about 40 pounds of oranges (if I remember correctly). It was a great deal and I thought it would give my teenager a healthy snack. Well, we didn't count on getting more oranges and citrus from the baskets over the next three baskets. Pretty soon, I have a huge bowl of oranges/tangerines on my counter and over half a box of tangerines on my porch. We were getting sick of them. I ate an orange a day for most of February and the pile never seemed to go down.
I borrowed a juicer from my mother and went to work.
Before I cut up the oranges for juicing, I zested about 20 of them, giving me about 1 quart of large zest pieces. I saved about another quart of peels (2 quart sized bags full of large peels) to put in the garbage disposal or for potpourri. Then I juiced. The hardest part in juicing oranges is peeling them. All in all, it took me about an hour.
I made orange tapioca. It didn't come out perfect but it was fun and I'll try it again tonight to see if I can make a shareable recipe. However, I did learn something - cheap canned orange juice tastes a lot like homemade orange juice. Which got me wondering - are they actually 100% natural with no added flavors? That just might be true. That flavor we associate with cheap orange juice might actually be the true flavor of orange juice. I may have to contact Western Family and ask them.
I will say - I won't be buying any orange juice in the bottle or carton any more. It's time to learn to appreciate the fruit as nature intended.

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