Orange juice is a breakfast staple for many people. The refreshing, tangy taste provides a boost of vitamin C and other nutrients to start the day. But orange juice also contains a lot of sugar, so it’s important to pay attention to serving sizes. When it comes to processed orange juice sold in cartons, bottles and jugs, one of the biggest questions is: should you buy pasteurized or not?
What is pasteurized orange juice?
Pasteurization is a process of heating liquids to a high temperature to kill bacteria and extend shelf life. For orange juice, the juice is heated to 185°F for 1-2 minutes and then rapidly cooled. This heating process destroys microorganisms and enzymes that can cause spoilage. Pasteurization allows orange juice to be stored for long periods without refrigeration.
Most of the orange juice sold commercially has been pasteurized. You can identify pasteurized orange juice by reading the label – it will say “pasteurized” on the packaging. Unpasteurized orange juice is also available in some natural health food stores and farmers markets, but it must be refrigerated to prevent spoilage.
Heating orange juice does lead to some loss of nutrients. According to one study, pasteurization decreases vitamin C content by 22%, provitamin A by 17%, vitamin E by 10%, and folate by 5% (1). Some of the antioxidants found naturally in oranges are also degraded by heat.
However, pasteurized orange juice still retains most of its original nutritional value. An 8 oz glass of pasteurized orange juice provides around 60-80% of the recommended daily intake for vitamin C. It also contains vitamin A, calcium, potassium and other minerals (2).
Overall, the nutrient loss from pasteurization is relatively minor for most people. But it can be significant for those who consume large amounts of orange juice and depend on it nutritionally.
Pasteurization itself does not change the flavor of orange juice very much. However, some people feel that pasteurized orange juice tastes less fresh. The heating process does degrade some volatile compounds that contribute subtle aromas and flavors (3).
The larger influence on taste is likely the packaging and storage conditions. Pasteurized orange juice in cartons often sits in warehouses for weeks or months, which can diminish flavor. Unpasteurized orange juice sold refrigerated at farmer’s markets is more comparable to fresh-squeezed juice.
Pasteurization dramatically lengthens the shelf life of orange juice from a few days to several months. Sealed, refrigerated pasteurized orange juice will stay safe for consumption for 5-8 weeks past the printed expiration date (4). At room temperature, pasteurized orange juice can last 2-3 weeks after opening.
In comparison, unpasteurized orange juice only lasts about 5-7 days when refrigerated. It spoils quickly at room temperature within 1-2 days. The short shelf life makes unpasteurized orange juice impractical for most commercial purposes.
Pasteurization was originally adopted by the orange juice industry in the 1930s to prevent spoilage and foodborne illnesses. Unpasteurized orange juice can potentially harbor dangerous E. coli, Salmonella and other bacteria that cause food poisoning.
Today, modern sanitary harvesting and production methods reduce the risk of bacterial contamination. But pasteurization provides an extra layer of protection against pathogens in orange juice. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommends only consuming pasteurized fruit juices to avoid foodborne illness (5).
However, pasteurization does not make orange juice 100% safe. There have been a number of recalls of pasteurized orange juice due to microbial contamination after processing. Consuming any spoiled orange juice, pasteurized or not, poses health risks.
Some sources claim that pasteurization makes the nutrients in orange juice less bioavailable for absorption. However, research does not show a significant difference in nutrient absorption between pasteurized and unpasteurized orange juice.
One study found similar antioxidant capacity and folate bioaccessibility in pasteurized versus unpasteurized orange juice (6). Another study showed pasteurization had minimal impact on the bioaccessibility of carotenoids in orange juice (7).
Overall, there is no evidence that pasteurization hampers the body’s ability to absorb nutrients from orange juice in any meaningful way.
Pasteurized orange juice sold commercially often contains added ingredients besides oranges. This includes:
- Flavor packs – aromatic oils extracted from orange peels during processing and added back for consistent flavor between batches.
- Ascorbic acid – synthetically produced vitamin C to replace some of the vitamin C lost during pasteurization.
- Calcium citrate – a calcium fortifier.
- Omega-3 fatty acids – usually ALA from plant sources like flaxseed oil.
- Sweeteners -often corn syrup or other sugars to enhance sweetness.
Check the ingredient lists carefully if you want to avoid added flavorings, sweeteners and other extras. 100% orange juice products do not contain these additives.
Pasteurized orange juice is generally cheaper than unpasteurized options. The typical price per ounce for leading pasteurized orange juice brands like Tropicana and Simply Orange is around 7-9 cents. Unpasteurized fresh-squeezed orange juice costs 10-15 cents per ounce in natural grocers or juice bars.
Of course, making your own homemade orange juice is the most economical option. Assuming oranges cost around 50 cents each, you can make 8 ounces of fresh orange juice for 25-50 cents. But juicing oranges is time-consuming and yields variable results.
Some argue that pasteurized orange juice sold in bottles and cartons has a larger carbon footprint compared to fresh oranges or unpasteurized juice. Factors like packaging waste and energy usage during processing and long-distance transportation contribute to higher greenhouse gas emissions.
However, the full environmental impact depends a lot on growing practices. Organic oranges grown locally sold as unpasteurized juice in glass bottles are likely the most sustainable option. But sustainability involves many complex factors, so definitive comparisons are difficult.
Here is a summary comparing some key differences between pasteurized and unpasteurized orange juice:
|Lower in some vitamins and antioxidants due to heat damage
|Contains full natural nutrient content
|Milder flavor from sitting in storage longer
|More fresh, robust orange flavor
|Lasts 2 weeks to 2 months refrigerated
|Lasts 3-7 days refrigerated
|Lower risk of pathogens from heat treatment
|Higher risk of bacteria without pasteurization
And a cost comparison:
|Orange Juice Type
|Typical Price Per Ounce
|Pasteurized (Tropicana, Simply Orange)
Ultimately, whether you choose pasteurized or unpasteurized orange juice comes down to your priorities. If keeping costs low and maximizing shelf life are most important, pasteurized orange juice makes the most sense for the average consumer.
However, unpasteurized orange juice provides a more nutritious, flavorful option for those willing to pay a premium. Minimizing processing can also appeal to health-conscious consumers worried about additives found in many conventional pasteurized orange juice products.
The majority of nutritionists and doctors recommend drinking limited amounts of fruit juice in general due to the high natural sugar content. When enjoying orange juice, portion control is important. The American Academy of Pediatrics advises no more than 4-6 ounces of juice per day for children under 7 years old.
Within these limits, either pasteurized or unpasteurized orange juice can be included as part of a healthy diet. Just be sure to handle and store unpasteurized orange juice properly to avoid foodborne illnesses.