Does “unsweetened” OJ actually have sugar in it?

Dear Cecil:

The term "unsweetened" on an orange juice can, I have been told, means that the OJ within is no sweeter than an industry-set standard. Supposedly it's permissible to add sugar to substandard orange juice to bring it up to that level and still call it "unsweetened." On the other hand, I've heard, truly superior OJ says "no sugar added." This means that "unsweetened" is virtually a sure sign that sugar has been added. Is this true? Also, what's the story on "100 percent concentrate"? And is the fetuslike tumor at the bottom of a navel orange in any way different from the rest of the orange?

Cecil replies:

According to our federal protectors, any product attempting to pass as “concentrated orange juice” or “orange juice concentrate” must contain, by weight, 11.8 percent orange juice solids after being diluted for consumption. Ready-to-drink “canned orange juice” must contain 10 percent solids. These solids are essentially fruit sugars and associated citric acids — the stuff that’s left over after you squeeze the juice out of the fruit and remove the water. Substandard juices are generally adjusted for taste, color, and sweetness by blending with other juices; if any foreign sweetener is added, the label is supposed to say so clearly.

In other words, the theory you outline above is jive — if the label doesn’t say “sugar added,” the presumption is that no sugar has been added. Terms like “unsweetened,” “no sugar added,” and “100 percent” have no special, technical meanings in this regard. They are merely hype used by various packers to emphasize the wholesomeness of their products and make the other packers look like poison-peddling scumbags.

Of course, some packers and repackers of orange juice — most often the distributors of regional and private-label brands — have been known to bend the rules, but unfortunately these bad apples (I know, poor choice of words) can’t be detected by close label reading. In any case, they’re not much of a problem. Something like 95 percent of the orange juice concentrate sold at retail in the U.S. is packed in Florida, where state standards exceed federal standards and are strictly enforced.

The common navel orange appears to have arisen naturally as a mutation of the Brazilian orange variety known as the Selecta. Its existence is recorded at least as far back as the 17th century, and it was brought to the U.S. in 1870. The “fetuslike tumor” you mention might more accurately be described as a tumorlike fetus, though it is properly called the navel. It is a secondary, rudimentary orange that will never get to grow up, poor little fella. Proportionally, it contains less pulp than the mature fruit, but the pulp is quite similar in composition to the mama fruit and is eminently edible, if you’re into that kind of thing.

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