OJ: The Real Thriller
While there are many different taste preferences for Tang around the globe, Kraft researchers have found that consumers’ perceptions of the brand are quite similar across all markets: Tang is a symbol of a mother’s love for her family. —Kraft Foods, on the company's Tang brand focus page
As a kid, orange juice was afternoons of Tang and Sunny D, and the paper box of Tropicana Homestyle OJ on Sunday mornings. A very sweet concoction shot through with tart, citric acid to sting your throat. The sort of drink you see in commercials, featured next to a bowl of corn flakes as apart of a complete breakfast—or in the hand of a smiling teenager on a skateboard.
At some point, you had fresh-squeezed orange juice. All those smiling kids disappeared—not because they didn't like the taste of the real oranges but because they were out finding a job to pay for it. Unlike all the other staples of the American breakfast diet, OJ bills can really start adding up. We all know those awkward brunch checks, where some smart guy sucked back three glasses of $5 OJ and isn't footing his share of the bill.
The industry caught on to this problem early—with powdered Tang, Orange Crush, and especially frozen concentrates. People want fruity drinks that tasted like orange, no matter how much a shadow of the original, as long as they didn't have to pay as much. But to us, even the best-quality OJ from concentrate doesn’t cut it. Pasteurized at least once (twice if it’s concentrate), it always takes on an acidic edge and lacks the headier, sweet notes found in fresh-squeezed. The USDA has devoted entire studies with tasting panels, trying to figure out just why fresh-squeezed tastes so great and how to engineer it for the $8 billion a year Florida orange industry.
We figured that, with a little elbow grease and the elimination of the Tropicana middle man, fresh orange juice could be had cheaply and without recruiting the expertise of your nearest food scientist.
How hard could it be? With a friend arriving early in the morning for breakfast, we decided to make some freshly squeezed orange juice. Nothing says hello like a communal breakfast feast with OJ. We set off, happy-go-lucky, to the corner store and bought a sack of oranges. A half hour later, after squeezing, rolling, and even microwaving eight entire oranges, we had produced exactly 1/2 a glass of juice. Angry, sticky, and insulted, we divided the liquid, roughly a shot of orange juice for each of us, and downed it irritably. It tasted like pulpy water.
Most of the orange juice in the United States is made in Florida, and if we were to believe the commercials, it's all done by flannel-wearing, baseball-cap-donning farmers helping us get the recommended amount of fruit each morning. It’s romantic—and slightly false. In fact, OJ has more calories than the same amount of Coca-Cola, and about the same amount of sugar (though you do get some nice vitamins along the way). But a nice breakfast begs for a few things, and along with coffee and toast, OJ is pretty close to the top of the list.
Which leads us back to our microwaved oranges and pulpy watery mess. Why was there no juice in the cup after eight whole oranges? Did it really take that many oranges to fill up a great big glass? After our last experiment resulted in a small sip and an empty wallet, we stopped bothering, resorting to the local grocery’s fresh-squeezed offering only once in awhile. But walking around the store a few weeks ago, we noticed something strange next to the usual bulk bins: Valencia oranges, with a big sign that read “for juicing.”
Call us incurious, but an orange to us has always just been an orange. It was orange in color and tasted like an orange, and we enjoyed them at soccer halftime like everyone else. Sometimes we’d see clementines and buy a box. And there was, of course, the occasional tangerine.
Curious about this Valencia juicing claim, we bought a sack of these, along with some of the regular jumbo type (navel oranges), and decided to see what the difference actually was.
It pretty much went as planned. The navel oranges were much harder to squeeze and then were overly pulpy, fibrous, and watery—clearly these were the oranges we used in our first, failed experiment. The Valencia oranges' juice was bright, delicious, and easy to squeeze. A revelation? Well, not necessarily, until we looked at the price. It’s pretty obvious that juicing oranges make the best juice (they also have seeds, so they’re not as good to eat). But if only for our own chastisement, here’s a breakdown of the down-and-dirty facts about orange juice yield and cost, explaining exactly how much money we’ve been wasting buying the wrong kind. Valencia orange season is currently in full swing (roughly March through June), so you’re likely to find them cheap at your local grocer.
Yield per orange: 1/4 cup
Price: 4 oranges at 99¢ each
Cost of juice: 99¢
Taste: Watery and full of pulp
Grocery store fresh-squeezed
Price: $5.99 for a half-gallon
Quantity: 8 cups in a half-gallon
Cost of juice: 75¢
Taste: Pretty good, not perfect. But no work required.
Valencia juicing oranges
Yield per orange: ½ cup
Price: 2 oranges at 33¢ each
Cost of juice: 66¢
Taste: Unparalleled. Sweet and heady. The clear winner.
About the authors: Collectively, Nick Kindelsperger and Blake Royer are the Paupered Chef. For more on frugal but flavorful dining, visit their blog, thepauperedchef.com.