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.)