Tuesday, 24 July 2012

Orange juice and citrus fruit

“Try not thinking of peeling an orange. Try not imagining the juice running down your fingers, the soft inner part of the peel. The smell. Try and you can't. The brain doesn't process negatives.”
Doug Coupland
I recently saw an article expounding the use of the complete lemon instead of just using the squeezed lemon juice and some ‘zest’ from the peel. The article suggested freezing the citrus fruit you wanted to use and grating it over the dish that needs that citrus taste. A more common method is to blend the fruit whole, this technique can be used on many fruits giving a taste sensation you never knew was possible. Excellent lemonade can be made from blending a whole lemon, water, some sugar or fructose to taste, then straining into a jug.

The seeds and peel of citrus fruits are edible, but a few other fruit seeds, such as apple, are poisonous. Different varieties have different flavours and you may need to experiment with a few types of oranges and lemons before you find the taste you like.

Citrus varieties, particularly lemon, with a thick skin and pith may not be suitable for holistic cooking purposes although the thick pith is often used as a snack in some communities. Peel and pith which is often thrown away contains many important oils, nutrients and flavonoids. Flavonoids have a bitter taste and are considered extremely important to our health and well-being although the efficacy of some flavonoids may be exaggerated.

If you prefer to squeeze your orange juice at home be aware that the oranges available out of season may have been in cold storage for four months or more and will have lost some of their flavour and vitamin C content. Chilled oranges will lose all of their flavour and vitamin C within one year. Some more astute suppliers source their oranges from the Southern hemisphere when they are out of season in the Northern hemisphere.

Freshly squeezed unprocessed orange juice has a shelf life of about eleven days. The best supplier is probably your local cottage industry or orange grower. The same problems face fresh juice producers as those facing fresh milk producers and distribution methods for juice have been copied from milk bottlers. Always check the use before date on the pack. Suppliers try to make sure short dated product is removed but nobody is perfect. Some bottlers use juice concentrate or processed orange juice in their chilled product, don’t be misled, check the label and buy from a source that you can trust.

Large producers of orange juice face problems with the seasonal supply of oranges and the different tastes throughout the year. One solution is to flash pasteurise the juice and then store it in large tanks at or below four degrees centigrade for anything up to a year. Orange juice loses flavour and vitamin C when it is pasteurised and while it is stored. Oils are extracted from the orange peel when the oranges are processed and these oils are used to revive the flavour of the orange juice when it is bottled. The vitamins are also topped up and additives included. Some bottlers develop a ‘flavour pack’ to ensure that their brand of orange juice always tastes the same.

There are a number of lawsuits and class action claims against PepsiCo (Tropicana) and Coca-Cola (Simply Orange) alleging deceptive or false representation of the freshness of the juice on its packaging. Tropicana’s website clearly describes the processes that they use, and why, during storage and bottling of orange juice including ‘flavour packs’.

The most popular process with suppliers is concentration of the orange juice using UHT or flash pasteurisation and vacuum concentration. Some suppliers freeze the juice to extend the shelf life which causes further degradation to the juice. Reduced bulk makes storage and transport accordingly cheaper. The vacuum concentration removes the aromatics and oils that give the orange juice its flavour. The aromatics are sometimes distilled and added back into the concentrate but more often a ‘flavour pack’ made from orange peel oil is shipped with the concentrate to the bottlers. There have been concerns over what is exactly in the ‘flavour pack’ besides orange oil, and what the country of origin is. The bottlers also add vitamin C and other permitted additives.

The bulk of orange juice concentrate used in Australia is imported from Brazil. The US recently (January 2012) suspended imports from Brazil because of fears of fungicide and herbicide contamination. Australian bottlers claim that all supplies are tested for fungicides and herbicides (carbendazim etc) and comply with Australian food standards but there are claims that the testing is inadequate. Incidentally, the label on the bottle may say ‘made from local and imported ingredients’ where the local ingredient is just filtered water.

While we as individual consumers are doing are best to use all of the citrus fruit, it has been estimated that 15.6 million tons of citrus waste is produced annually on a global basis causing citrus producing countries enormous problems.

There are a number of organisations around the world exploring options for the use of this waste. Researchers are excited about the products that can be produced from citrus waste, just a few being: food additives, replacement of petroleum-derived products, bio-degradable plastics, pharmaceuticals, cosmetics, household cleaners, fragrances and deodorisers, solvents and paint strippers, and importantly the bio-fuel ethanol.

Florida’s five million tons of citrus waste could produce sixty million gallons of ethanol. Brazil produces eight million tons of citrus waste which could take the pressure off other ethanol feedstocks such as corn. Researchers in the US and the UK are using microwaves to convert orange peel and other waste into polysaccharides and an enriched form of cellulose for ethanol feedstocks. In Florida experimenters are using modified tobacco enzymes to convert citrus waste into ethanol.

I am sure that the growers in Australia who are dumping oranges that they can’t sell or even give away will appreciate an alternative use for their unwanted fruit. There needs to be a life-cycle approach by more farmers and growers in Australia to use bi-products and waste in an innovative way rather than just plough under, burn or dump. Waste recycling is not being ‘green’ it is being smart; many Yorkshiremen will tell you that ‘where there's muck there's brass (money)’.

As for my small contribution to the use of orange peel, it can be used in the smelliest room in the house as a deodoriser, it’s very effective. It also works for the garbage bin.

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