Friday, February 09, 2007

Add Three Cans Cold Water and Stir

Before anyone figured out how to ship large volumes of fresh-squeezed juice long distances, growers struggled to market the seasonal and perishable orange. How could the market be expanded with new products or new ways of shipping, preserving, or packaging their product? Some fruit was sectioned and jarred, and in the 1930s, Dr. Phillips found a way to flash pasteurize canned juice to avoid the metallic taste. However, when juice was dried and powdered to reduce shipping volume, the good taste evaporated as well.

During World War II, the United States government turned to orange juice as a source of Vitamin C for troops in Europe. In what Gary Mormino calls “Florida’s equivalent of the Manhattan Project,” scientists devised the “cutback process” where full-strength juice and fruit oils added to evaporated juice yielded satisfactorily tasty frozen concentrates.

After World War II, Americans fell in love with technology and the wonders of modern science. Prosperity and growth put new freezers in family kitchens; innovations in food processing filled those freezers with frozen food products including frozen orange juice concentrate.

Frozen orange juice concentrate was easy, convenient, predictable, nutritional, and became a common household item. Its popularity dramatically changed Florida’s citrus industry as grove owners shifted from growing fruit to be eaten fresh to growing juice oranges. Large corporate growers such as Minute Maid and Tropicana took the place of small, independent growers. Recent challenges for juice producers are competition from Brazil, citrus canker, popularity of low-carb diets, and development.

(For anyone interested in the story of Florida oranges and the people who grow them, I highly recommend John McPhee’s Oranges. Actually, I highly recommended this book even if oranges make you break out in a rash, and it’s only 150 pages, so give it try.)

Factoid: In 1967 orange juice became the official state beverage.

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