Orange Juice

During the 20th century, orange growers processed an ever larger fraction of their harvest into orange juice. In the early 20th century, pasteurization killed the bacteria that might have otherwise made orange juice unsafe. Trucks brought orange juice to northern and midwestern markets, expanding the reach of orange growers. In the aftermath of the Spanish flu, mothers wanted to give their children food and drink that would ward off contagion. When physicians recommended orange juice, these mothers bought copious quantities of the liquid. Health-conscious Americans appreciated the benefits of orange juice. By the 1920s, orange juice had become a popular breakfast beverage. By then orange juice came chiefly from Florida, which produced the juiciest oranges. California, in contrast, produced oranges with less juice that were sold as fresh produce. In 1950, one-half Florida’s orange crop went to juice whereas in California the figure was one-quarter. Whereas the United States processed several percent of oranges into juice in 1934, the figure rose to more than half of all oranges in 1953.

This increase owed much to the baby boom. The post-World War II increase in the birthrate spurred the consumption of orange juice. Parents who had been reared on orange juice fed it to their children in turn. In the 1940s, manufacturers began to make orange juice from frozen concentrate. Between 1945 and 1960, the consumption of orange juice tripled in the United States. In 1999, the average American drank several gallons of orange juice. To keep pace with this consumption a factory can produce several hundred gallons of orange juice per minute. The beverage nets billions of dollars in revenues per year in the United States. Brazil is the world’s largest producer of orange juice, totaling the majority of the world’s output. Coca Cola buys juice from Brazil, selling it under the Minute Maid label. Anxious to prevent Brazil from gaining too large a share of the market, Florida growers convinced Congress to impose a tariff on Brazilian juice in the early 21st century. The wealthiest Brazilian planter, Jose Cutrale, responded by purchasing orange trees in Florida, thereby circumventing the tariff. With land in Brazil and Florida, Cutrale has millions of orange trees. Florida and Sao Paulo, Brazil, total nearly all the world’s production of orange juice. Brazil grows twice the number of oranges as Florida. Because labor is cheap, growers in Sao Paulo employ tens of thousands of workers to pick oranges by hand. The mechanical tree shaker is not widespread. Sao Paulo reaps several billion dollars in revenues from the sale of orange juice. The people of the United States, Denmark, Honduras, the Philippines, Jamaica, and Trinidad and Tobago drink orange juice at breakfast.


As is true of other crops, the orange depends on minerals in the soil for nourishment. The citrus lands of Arizona have calcium, magnesium, sodium, phosphorus, and potassium, though Florida’s soils may lack these nutrients, requiring the application of fertilizer. Many citrus soils throughout the United States lack nitrogen. The application of nitrogen increases the number of oranges per tree but may reduce fruit size. The addition of nitrogen to the soil causes oranges to produce a thick peel. Oranges that grow in nitrogen-rich soil produce juice with a high content of acid. Soils deficient in phosphorus yield large, misshapen fruit and a thick peel. The core of an orange is hollow, and the fruit and peel are a dark orange. The addition of phosphorus to the soil decreases the thickness of the peel. Fruit that grows in phosphorus-rich soil is juicy, though the juice has less vitamin C than oranges grown in phosphorus-deficient soil. The addition of potassium to the soil increases the size of fruit and the thickness of the peel. When the soil has a dearth of magnesium, orange trees yield poorly and fruit is small and discolored. The addition of manganese to the soil increases the sugar in oranges. Too much copper in the soil yields oranges with a high acid content. Oranges in this soil mature slowly. A lack of copper decreases the yield, causes the fruit to be small, and reduces the amount of vitamin C. Where zinc is deficient fruit is small. In Florida, zinc-deficient soil produces a thin peel, but in California it yields a thick peel. Too much boron in the soil decreases the content of vitamin C. Citrus soils in California tend to have too much boron. On the other hand, some soils in Florida have too little boron. These soils produce fruit with little juice. Soils deficient in iron produce small fruit and the yield is low. Where molybdenum is in shortage, trees lose their leaves and the yield is small. The addition of arsenic to the soil, necessary in many citrus lands in Florida, reduces the acid content of oranges.

The application of the chemical 2, 4D, although not a nutrient, benefits trees by reducing the loss of oranges by dropping. In the presence of 2, 4D, fruit grow large. Water is as important as any nutrient. When it is in short supply, the fruit grow small. An abundance of water increases the amount of juice in oranges and reduces its acidity. Pollution slows the growth of trees and reduces yield.

Christopher Cumo

Further Reading

Hamilton, Alissa. Squeezed: What You Don’t Know about Orange Juice. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2009.

Laszlo, Pierre. Citrus: A History. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2007.

McPhee, John. Oranges. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2000.

Patil, Bhimanagouda S., Nancy D. Turner, Edward G. Miller, and Jennifer S. Brodbelt. Potential Health Benefits of Citrus. Washington, D.C.: American Chemical Society, 2006.

Sinclair, Walton B., ed. The Orange: Its Biochemistry and Physiology. Berkeley: University of California, 1961.

South America, Central America and the Caribbean, 2007. London: Routledge, 2006.

Train, John. The Orange: Golden Joy. Easthampton, MA: Antique Collectors Club, 2006.

Wilson, Ted, and Norman J. Temple, eds. Beverages in Nutrition and Health. Totowa, NJ: Humana Press, 2004.

Orange Lily. See Fire Lily

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