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What Does '100% Juice' Mean?

Jason's Fridge
Jason's Fridge

Buying fruit juice at the supermarket is a surprisingly complicated task that leads to myriad questions. What’s really in that “100% juice”? Why does that “juice” have the word “cocktail” loitering behind it? Let’s take a look at the exciting world of juice labeling.

What does “100% juice” mean?

As you might guess, that label legally means that everything in the bottle or carton was expressed from a fruit or vegetable. Seems straightforward enough, right? Not quite. Things are a little trickier. The “100% juice” label means that everything in the bottle came from a fruit or vegetable, not necessarily the fruit or vegetable you think you’re chugging.

So what fruits are in the bottle, then?

Juice makers have a problem. High-end fruit juices are delicious, but they’re also expensive. It’s tough to turn out an affordable product when you’ve got to squeeze loads of pricey fruits to produce a single bottle. To save money, companies dilute their wares with cheaper juices like white grape, apple, or pear. The finished product is still 100% fruit juice, but it may not be juice from the fruit you were expecting.

How can you tell what’s really in the bottle?

The FDA has a slew of naming and labeling restrictions that would be too confusing to remember; the prose stylings in the labeling regulations bear a more-than-passing resemblance to the tax code. The easiest solution to sniffing out what you’re really drinking is to have a look at the ingredients list rather than just taking the product name’s word for it.

What about the fruit cocktails and “drinks” that line the shelves?

Those drinks are a totally different animal. Unless a beverage is 100% juice, the FDA won’t let companies refer to it as a juice without jumping through some other hoops. If a drink is diluted to less than “100% juice,” the FDA’s rules stipulate that the word “juice” must be qualified with an additional term like “beverage,” “drink,” or “cocktail.”

What other beverages have to declare their percentage of juice?

Surprisingly, a few types of bar mix are legally obligated to declare what sort of juice they’re packing. According to FDA rules, if a bar mix “purports to contain juice,” it must declare what percentage of juice is in the final product. For example, the FDA writes, “Bloody Mary mix, by appearance and taste, purports to contain tomato juice and thus would be required to bear a statement as to the percentage of juice contained in the product.”

Same goes for strawberry daiquiri mix, but only if “its label or labeling also includes pictures of the juice dripping from strawberries or if the product looks and tastes like it contains strawberry juice or strawberry pulp.” If the product billed itself as “strawberry-flavored daiquiri mix,” it would be in the clear from a labeling perspective.

Are there any other exceptions to the labeling rules?

The FDA doesn’t require companies to disclose the percentage of juice if the juice in question is only used in minor amounts for flavoring and the drink doesn’t have anything on its label or in its appearance, like pulp, that would make a consumer think it was a fruit juice. That’s how a drink like Mountain Dew can avoid saying just how much of its recipe comes from orange juice. (There goes our plan to use Mountain Dew to ward off colds.)

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Big Questions
Why Do Fruitcakes Last So Long?
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Fruitcake is a shelf-stable food unlike any other. One Ohio family has kept the same fruitcake uneaten (except for periodic taste tests) since it was baked in 1878. In Antarctica, a century-old fruitcake discovered in artifacts left by explorer Robert Falcon Scott’s 1910 expedition remains “almost edible,” according to the researchers who found it. So what is it that makes fruitcake so freakishly hardy?

It comes down to the ingredients. Fruitcake is notoriously dense. Unlike almost any other cake, it’s packed chock-full of already-preserved foods, like dried and candied nuts and fruit. All those dry ingredients don’t give microorganisms enough moisture to reproduce, as Ben Chapman, a food safety specialist at North Carolina State University, explained in 2014. That keeps bacteria from developing on the cake.

Oh, and the booze helps. A good fruitcake involves plenty of alcohol to help it stay shelf-stable for years on end. Immediately after a fruitcake cools, most bakers will wrap it in a cheesecloth soaked in liquor and store it in an airtight container. This keeps mold and yeast from developing on the surface. It also keeps the cake deliciously moist.

In fact, fruitcakes aren’t just capable of surviving unspoiled for months on end; some people contend they’re better that way. Fruitcake fans swear by the aging process, letting their cakes sit for months or even years at a stretch. Like what happens to a wine with age, this allows the tannins in the fruit to mellow, according to the Wisconsin bakery Swiss Colony, which has been selling fruitcakes since the 1960s. As it ages, it becomes even more flavorful, bringing out complex notes that a young fruitcake (or wine) lacks.

If you want your fruitcake to age gracefully, you’ll have to give it a little more hooch every once in a while. If you’re keeping it on the counter in advance of a holiday feast a few weeks away, the King Arthur Flour Company recommends unwrapping it and brushing it with whatever alcohol you’ve chosen (brandy and rum are popular choices) every few days. This is called “feeding” the cake, and should happen every week or so.

The aging process is built into our traditions around fruitcakes. In Great Britain, one wedding tradition calls for the bride and groom to save the top tier of a three-tier fruitcake to eat until the christening of the couple’s first child—presumably at least a year later, if not more.

Though true fruitcake aficionados argue over exactly how long you should be marinating your fruitcake in the fridge, The Spruce says that “it's generally recommended that soaked fruitcake should be consumed within two years.” Which isn't to say that the cake couldn’t last longer, as our century-old Antarctic fruitcake proves. Honestly, it would probably taste OK if you let it sit in brandy for a few days.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

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Big Questions
What's the Difference Between Stuffing and Dressing?
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For carbohydrate consumers, nothing completes a Thanksgiving meal like stuffing—shovelfuls of bread, celery, mushrooms, and other ingredients that complement all of that turkey protein.

Some people don’t say “stuffing,” though. They say “dressing.” In these calamitous times, knowing how to properly refer to the giant glob of insulin-spiking bread seems necessary. So what's the difference?

Let’s dismiss one theory off the bat: Dressing and stuffing do not correlate with how the side dish is prepared. A turkey can be stuffed with dressing, and stuffing can be served in a casserole dish. Whether it’s ever seen the inside of a bird is irrelevant, and anyone who tells you otherwise is wrong and should be met with suspicion, if not outright derision.

The terms are actually separated due to regional dialects. “Dressing” seems to be the favored descriptor for southern states like Mississippi, Tennessee, South Carolina, and Georgia, while “stuffing” is preferred by Maine, New York, and other northern areas. (Some parts of Pennsylvania call it "filling," which is a bit too on the nose, but to each their own.)

If “stuffing” stemmed from the common practice of filling a turkey with carbs, why the division? According to The Huffington Post, it may have been because Southerners considered the word “stuffing” impolite, so never embraced it.

While you should experience no material difference in asking for stuffing or dressing, when visiting relatives it might be helpful to keep to their regionally-preferred word to avoid confusion. Enjoy stuffing yourselves.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

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