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What is Orange Juice and how is it produced?

What is Orange Juice?

Orange juice is an agricultural commodity, made from the orange— a citrus fruit. Quite simply, Orange juice is the juice obtained by pressing or squeezing oranges.

Orange juice is very popular due to its well-publicized health benefits, particularly its high vitamin C content.  It also contains significant potassium, antioxidants, thiamine and foliate.

The orange tree is a semi-tropical, non-deciduous tree. It can take up to 15 years to mature and bear the orange fruit (which is technically a berry!). Orange trees grow primarily in tropical and subtropical climate and like other citrus plants, enjoy moderate temperatures, with sufficient sunshine and water.

There’s always a threat of epidemic looming around the orange industry. The orange crop is extremely sensitive to weather disruptions, specially hurricanes, freezes and tropical storms. In frost and freeze seasons, orange farmers sometimes even burn fuel oil between trees to raise low temperatures.

Orange trees are also affected by many pests like the cottony cushion scale and diseases like the bacteria-induced citrus greening disease and the fungal disease Greasy Spot.

Orange juice comes primarily from tropical locales like the U.S., Brazil, Costa Rica and Mexico. Some of the largest orange juice brands in the world include Tropicana, Minute Maid, Florida’s Natural and Del Monte.

There are three major varieties of oranges: sweet orange, sour orange and mandarin orange (also known as tangerine). Sour oranges are used for marmalade and liquors, whereas sweet oranges are converted into orange juice. The common oranges (also called white or round oranges) are sweet oranges that make up 2/3rd of all orange produced in the world and are used for most orange juice in the world.

The U.S. only produces sweet oranges for commercial use. Sweet oranges include Hamlin, Jaffa, blood orange and Valencia sub-categories, depending on different cultivars. Each of these has different properties and often juice from different cultivars is mixed to produce the final orange juice product we see in the markets.

To make 1 cup of orange juice, you need two to four medium sized oranges. In Florida, most oranges are harvested by mechanical harvesters that shake the canopy of trees with consistent frequency and stroke. Before the juice is extracted from the fruit, the orange peel is used to extract orange oil.

After harvesting, some oranges may be cured or allowed to sweat to turn the green unripe skin into ripe orange. Oranges may also be stored in climate-controlled refrigerator chambers for up to 12 weeks.

Orange juice is obtained by squeezing oranges using a juicer or squeezer, or using industrial machines. Oranges are selected for juicing based on various factors like variety and maturity of the fruit. The USDA has created a special grading system for oranges used to produce juice, which includes two grades: US Grade AA Juice and US Grade A Juice. The grades are determined by the juiciness of the oranges, solids in the juice and anhydric citric acid.

The juice accounts for nearly 50% of the weight of oranges. The remaining seeds, pulp and peel is also utilized as cattle feed and other products.  Most juice manufacturers today use mechanical extractors which can extract the juice from 400 to 700 oranges in a minute!

For centuries, oranges were consumed as a fresh fruit, since they were highly perishable and could not be stored or shipped over long distances. Today, orange juice trades internationally as frozen, concentrated orange juice (FCOJ). FCOJ is also a favourite with customers, who prefer it over fresh oranges due to convenience and taste. Orange is the main fruit crop in the United States, and has risen in importance with the invention of the Frozen Concentrated Orange Juice.

The process for making FCOJ was first developed at the Citrus Research and Education Center at the University of Florida in 1948. To make FCOJ, Orange Juice is squeezed commercially, then pasteurized and filtered. It is then evaporated using heat and vacuum to remove most of the water content. The concentrated juice, containing about 65% sugar by weight, is then stored in cool temperatures. Sometimes, FCOJ may lose its essence, Vitmain C or oils—which are later added back. This FCOJ can be drunk again by adding water.

Orange juice is concentrated to reduce volume. Concentration increases the shelf life of the juice, and is easier for shipping and storage as well.

The FCOJ market has grown tremendously in recent years, with high demand from overseas countries. Several technical innovations, better packaging and enhanced transportation has helped orange growers meet this rising demand and make substantial profits. While most of the FCOJ produced in the U.S. is consumed domestically, Brazil exports most of its FCOJ and dominates the markets with over 80% of the supply.

FCOJ is not the only form of orange juice though. Other forms include Not From Concentrate, Canned juice and freshly squeezed juice. Not from Concentrate orange juice refers to juice that is pasteurized but not concentrated. The juice is usually kept in an aseptic storage, with no oxygen, for up to a year. Flavor may be re-added to the juice before selling. A small percentage of orange juice is canned. Canned juice retains more Vitamin C than bottled juice. Orange juice is also sold freshly squeezed, without pasteurization, additives or flavours. However, freshly squeezed orange juice has a very short shelf life.

History of Oranges

The Orange presumably originated somewhere in Asia and was first cultivated in China around 2500 BC. Historians say that Chinese farmers cultivated orange orchards around 1000 A.D. and catered primarily to the noble classes.

Oranges came to Europe from the Arab world. The crusades in the 11th century led to the bitter orange being brought to Italy. Italian and Portuguese merchants brought sweet orange trees to the Mediterranean around the 15th century. Oranges spread across the Mediterranean region, and were initially used for medicinal purposes, due to their high prices. Slowly they began to be consumed for their flavour as well. The sweet orange was initially a luxury commodity, grown in private conservatories. But by 1646, sweet orange spread throughout Europe.

Early Spanish explorers were responsible for planting orange trees in America in the 1500s. Planted mostly in Florida, the orange plant grew quickly in the warm, sub-tropical climate. The first orange grove was cultivated on Merritt Island in 1830.

In 1493, Christopher Columbus introduced oranges to the Caribbean. In the mid 1500s, orange was introduced to South America.

Orange juice is a breakfast drink today, but it’s production started strangely. In the mid 1910s, during an oversupply of oranges in California, the orange growers decided to juice their oranges, pasteurize the juice and ship it to other cities. This is the first instance of mass supply of orange juice.

In 1947, frozen concentrated orange juice began to be manufactured in Florida. Before the invention of frozen concentrated orange juice (FCOJ) , orange juice was freshly squeezed and consumed instantly. This made orange juice perishable and highly prone to supply bottlenecks. The industry would have to contend with severe and sudden supply shocks. With FCOJ, orange juice could be stored for longer time and thus, could be transported internationally as well.

Till the 1960s, Florida oranges were the leaders in orange juice exports. However, Florida was prone to getting hit by hurricanes and freezes, which is why other countries began growing in importance in the orange juice exports market. Brazil, specially, began capturing the market and has grown in it share over the past 30 years. Today, Brazil is the world’s leading FCOJ exporter, representing nearly 80% of the all international OJ exports. Around 30-50% of the U.S.’s orange juice too comes from Brazil.

The frozen OJ futures were introduced in 1966. FCOJ depends only on two geographical regions for supply. This is what makes FCOJ prices extremely sensitive to weather.


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