Thursday, June 7, 2012

Bottoms Up!

Among the beverages that no longer make it into my house are (most) soda products (we buy a locally hand-crafted rootbeer) and juice (except for locally pressed apple cider - the non-alcoholic variety).

I know most people, especially parents, shake their heads at me for being such a tyrant, because juice is okay, right? Well, in many cases, it's not. In fact, in most cases, the "juice" parents buy is really no better than soda, and any nutritional value in those juice boxes is added back in in the form of "fortifying."

It's what manufacturers have done to most of the processed food that is sold - strip the original food of all of its nutrients and then add them back in after the food has been fully processed and sterilized into an unpalatable, no-longer-recognizable-as-food blob.

When it comes to juice, really, one only has to read the label to understand that what's in the bottle isn't juice, but rather something other than. Most juice products in the store, even the ones that claim "100% fruit juice" really aren't. What they are is diluted fruit syrup.

I know, you're asking, "Say, what? The label says apple juice from concentrate."

Yep, and that concentrate is syrup.

In fact, it's the same stuff Deus Ex Machina and I make every year in February and March when we tap the maple trees. We harvest the sap, which is slightly sweet, but mostly water, and then, we boil off all the water until what we have is, mostly, sugar.

It's the same principle, and pretty much the same process, for juice makers. They squeeze the juice out of the friut, pour the juice into a big vat and boil it down until what's left is mostly sugar (if they boil too far, they have jelly), and then, they add water to the syrup and bottle it and call it "100% fruit juice."

What's worse, though, is that some fruit is simply not sweet enough to pass the sweet-enough-for-a-kid test, and so many of those 100% fruit juices also contain other concentrates (grape and apple are two of the most oft used for increasing sweetness levels). It's all fruit concentrates, and so, technically, it's still 100% fruit juice, but labeling a bottle of cranberry juice as 100% fruit juice with the implication that it's 100% cranberry juice, and then, adding a bunch of other juices to make it palatable is a very fine line between truth and fiction, in my opinion.

While it may be true that what they're selling has only the juice concentrate and water, that's not 100% juice - not any more than my maple syrup is 100% maple sap, and I could try adding back water, but I'd never get it to the same taste and consistency as the real sap. It will always be sweeter than what comes out of the tree. For maple syrup, that's exactly what I want, but I don't drink maple syrup as a daily beverage.

In an article I read this morning, Dr. Weil recommended adding water to fruit juices to dilute the sugar content.

I'd actually go a step further. Instead of bottled fruit juices (some of which also contain toxic preservatives and most of which are bottled in poison-leaching plastics), make juice from real (local) fruit, boil it down (like maple syrup), and then, allow the kids to add it to water themselves. They'll learn to dilute it to their own tastes, and if other kids are anything like mine, the result will be a lot more water and a lot less juice concentrate than is in the store-bought varieties.

As an occasional treat, store-bought juices are probably okay, but they really aren't the best choice for a daily beverage. And, for me, when I have to read product labels on every bottle to ensure that I'm not paying for things I wouldn't want my children to consume, it becomes too cumbersome of a task to deal with, and I just make different choices. With juice it seems like manufacturers are trying to sneak in all sorts of stuff, and so I just avoid all of it ... except the fall treat of locally pressed apple cider ... 100% apple juice and never from concentrate.


  1. My boys do drink the 100% from concentrate stuff...but it's 6 oz a day. Considering the crap I see their friends eat and drink, while I'll admit you're right that it is basically sugar water, I'm still doing better than a lot of the population.
    I guess I don't feel that guilty about it because I'm aware of what I'm giving them. I'd feel worse if reading this post of yours was new information to me. ;-)

  2. I think the "not sweet enough for kids" thing is a learned behavior. Mason, age 2-1/2, will eat blackberries right off the vine, and they can be pretty tart. Even when they're ripe. He and I are usually the only ones in the house who will drink blackberry smoothies, too. I should try juicing them this year; we still have plenty of leftover jam/jelly/syrup from previous years' harvests.

  3. I feel your pain on this one! I buy only 100%, not-from-concentrate juices made from US-grown produce - and if I can't find it, I don't buy it. When it's orange season, we juice oranges and have fresh OJ... YUM! Maybe this year I'll have time to try my hand at making apple juice - we'll see!

  4. You are wrong about your chemistry and the juice thing. People should realize that juice is not fruit, but they should also realize that milk is food, not water. But it isn't the devil either. It would be better for the world if all juice that was transported was transported without its water.