The Federal Trade Commission's complaint against the maker of Pom Wonderful pomegranate juice was certainly worth headlines. The regulators have accused Pom Wonderful LLC of making unsubstantiated claims about the health benefits of its beverage, which it advertised as a panacea for heart disease, prostate cancer and erectile dysfunction, among other ailments.
According to the FTC, most of the research the company cited did not follow standard scientific method or back up the advertised health claims.
Pom Wonderful has filed a lawsuit against the FTC, saying the agency is holding the company's products to a new and unfair standard, according to news reports.
Pom might have a high profile right now, but consumers should also be wary about the marketing of other juices, says Alissa Hamilton, author of "Squeezed: What You Don't Know About Orange Juice."
The marketing for most pasteurized, "not from concentrate" orange juice found in the refrigerated section of the grocery store is designed to evoke a pure, simple product straight from a Florida grove. If you like the juice's taste, go ahead and pay the premium for it. But according to Hamilton, a recent fellow with the Institute of Agriculture and Trade Policy, much of the juice was not recently squeezed — rather, it languished in storage "tank farms" for months.
To keep juice from spoiling, the manufacturers use a system that removes the oxygen from the juice — a process that also removes the volatile compounds that make fresh orange juice taste so delicious.
"If you would taste the juice coming out of these tanks, it wouldn't taste like orange juice. It would taste like sugar water," Hamilton said.
To turn up the taste, the orange juice processors add "flavor packs" to their beverages, oils and essences that are derived from orange byproducts.
"They mix and match and come up with the flavor pack," Hamilton said. "Each company has its own trademark flavor." In the United States, manufacturers emphasize ethyl butyrate, a flavor Americans associate with fresh oranges, she said.
Because these flavors are derived from oranges, the flavor packs are not listed on the label.
Gina Judge, a spokeswoman for Tropicana, which Hamilton writes helped to develop the "not from concentrate" marketing, said the flavoring allows the company to achieve consistent flavoring year round. She compared the addition of flavor packs to using orange zest in a recipe.
"Everything in the juice comes from the orange," she said. "One hundred percent juice is mixed with natural oils found in the peel. Nothing artificial is added."
But Hamilton said the flavor essences are broken down into individual chemicals and recombined. "With the flavor packs, you're getting chemicals in different concentrations you wouldn't normally have in fresh-squeezed product," she said.
Moreover, many of the oranges probably don't come from Florida. It's likely they were grown and juiced in Brazil, where land and labor are cheaper and environmental regulations are less stringent, she said.
If all this sends you to another aisle, be sure to check the label when considering juice blends.
You might be attracted to an exotic combination of peach-mango-raspberry juice, but don't pay more for it than you would for a container of grape or apple juice. A scan of the label will usually show that these two cheaper juices make up the bulk of juice blends' contents, according to Consumer Reports. (Ingredients are always listed from greatest to smallest quantity.)
What about lower-calorie juice options? They're usually just watered down and sweetened up, according to Consumer Reports.
If all this hasn't killed your desire to drink juice, what can you do? Consider making your own low-calorie juice by adding just a splash or two to a glass of water.
Hamilton recommends eating whole oranges and other fruit instead of drinking juice because the fruit provides more fiber and vitamins.
"Don't pay a premium for 'not from concentrate' because you think it's a fresher product," Hamilton said. "If you're paying the premium for juice because you think it's better for you or think it's fresher, you're being misled."