Traditionally the flavor of processed orange juice depended only on the oranges squeezed. Now the flavor is sourced from all parts of oranges everywhere. Many consumers would be shocked and disappointed to learn that most processed orange juice, a product still widely perceived to be the definition of purity, would be undrinkable without an ingredient referred to within the industry as “the flavor pack.”
The fact that the modern orange juice flavor pack has retained almost complete anonymity is a symptom of orange juice standards of identity that were literally “fixed” in the 1960s. Significant advances in orange flavor manufacture have rendered the original regulations, upon which the current rules are based, out of date.
The growing complexity of the orange juice flavor pack and the ambiguity surrounding its regulation highlight a fundamental problem with the standard of identity. Its content rather than its packaging-focused approach is ill-suited to the regulation of a processing sector that has become sophisticated enough to skirt the FDA’s radar.
During the 1961 [FDA orange juice standard of identity] hearings, orange juice processors surprised the FDA with testimony that they had been experimenting with orange essence since the 1950s. After the hearings, James Redd became known as the man who turned orange flavor extraction into a highly lucrative commercial enterprise. Redd, who also flew to Brazil after the Florida freeze of 1962 to lend his expertise to Brazil’s growing juice-processing industry, started Intercit, the first company in Florida devoted to recovering orange essence for resale to juice processors. Firmenich eventually bought Intercit, which is now home to the international flavor and fragrance company’s Citrus Center in Safety Harbor. Renamed, and the essence recovery systems that Redd engineered for Intercit updated, the Citrus Center retains the same purpose: to capture the essence of orange juice.
The deal that now almost every orange juice processor makes to create a decent-tasting processed juice involves an intricate give and take between orange juice processor and flavor manufacturer, usually an outside flavor and fragrance house operator. Typically, the orange oils and essences that juice concentrators collect during evaporation are sold to flavor manufacturers, who then reconfigure these by-products and sell them back to juice companies. The flavor house that purchases this material may use some of it for fabricating fragrances and flavors for other products, and the rest is broken down and reconfigured into “flavor packs” for reintroduction into orange juice. Renée Goodrich of the Citrus Research and Education Center says that “it’s only been fairly recently that we’ve had the good equipment to take out excess peel oil that lets us get down enough to then add back the flavor packages.”
While most brands rely on flavor packs to restore to their product the aroma of freshly squeezed juice that is destroyed during processing, others use the flavor pack to imitate the best imitations. Former flavor house employee Daniel King, who moved on to become director of technical services at the Florida Citrus Processors Association, recalls customers asking for blends that, when reintroduced into their juice, would mimic the taste of a specific brand.
Minute Maid has a reputation for having an especially distinct flavor. Its “from concentrate” orange juice, says a former agricultural technology expert at Tropicana, is known for the “flowery flavor package that’s floating on top.” His colleague at the time, a Tropicana director, is more specific: “If you drink Minute Maid, it has and always has had a unique candy-type flavor to it. The oranges as they come out of the grove aren’t always like that. But obviously the orange has that flavor, and that’s one that is highlighted in whatever they’re adding to their juice. Maybe people who like Minute Maid like it for that reason.”
Not all orange juice companies can afford distinctive flavor packs. King says the blends of different companies vary in their degree of sophistication: the “more specialized the flavor package is . . . the more expensive components one blends into it . . . the more complexity the cost.” But however modest the investment, it appears to be worth it. Industry consultant Allen Morris has tried undoctored concentrate: “If you taste the bulk concentrate that hasn’t had the essence added back, it just tastes like sugar.”
Tropicana’s former agricultural technology expert offers a parallel perspective, particularly for frozen concentrate and the reconstituted cartons of orange juice that Minute Maid makes from it: “Once you strip all your volatiles out . . . what have you got? Brix (orange sugar solids) and acid. You cut it back and add a flavor pack until you’ve got orange juice.”
During the 1961 hearings, juice processors vigorously denied suggestions that their interest in essence derived from its capacity for deception. They did not want to give the FDA or consumer representatives the impression that they were using essence to cover poor-quality juice. However, the contemporary flavorist is not shy to admit that the modern flavor pack serves, in the words of the Firmenich flavorist, “a protective or masking role.”
The high-tech concoctions of varying fractions of orange essence and oil soften the effects that processed orange juice suffers at the hands of processors who, the flavorist says, like to “crank up” the heat to get rid of dangerous bacteria and increase shelf stability. Goodrich does not think the smaller-scale premium juices made by companies such as Odwalla contain flavor packs — more evidence that they act as a Band-Aid for processors who are rough with their oranges.
At our table sit many authors: cooks, critics, journalists, memoirists, humorists, and more. Join us here for excerpts from their work.
Want more? Comb the archives.
A father’s legacy
The vegetarian-cooking pioneer
Barbecue, tamales, cocktails, and more
Good on everything