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About the Foundation

Orange juice

For a long time, oranges were seen as a luxury food item. The discovery of vitamin C and advertising made them a symbol of fruit that is ‘good for your health’. In Europe and North America, orange juice has become more popular than fresh oranges. Most commercially produced orange juice is prepared using concentrate from Brazil. In recent years, the working conditions in Brazilian orange orchards have been in the spotlight.
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© Shutterstock / Iness_la_luz - Orange orchard in Spain

Oranges for health, increasingly consumed as juice

As with many fruit trees, orange trees are native to South East Asia. The sweet orange arrived in Europe in the 15th century, when Portuguese sailors spread it throughout the Mediterranean region. Sweet oranges were rare and expensive for a long time, but became more commonplace in the 19th century, although they remained a precious Christmas present for many children in poorer families. Squeezed oranges were made into orangeade (sugar, water, juice and peel), which was not at all fizzy at that time.

Nowadays, oranges can be found in shops everywhere. They are obviously still enjoyed for their refreshing taste, but their connection to health now tends to take precedence.

In the 18th century, sailors had already noticed that a few drops of lemon or orange juice taken every day prevented scurvy, a real scourge for seafarers who were deprived of fresh food. The discovery of Vitamin C in the 1930s and advertising meant the orange gradually became the symbol of ‘healthy’ fruit, even though other fruit, such as blackcurrants, kiwi fruit and strawberries contain more Vitamin C.

Consumption of orange juice began to take off at the end of the First World War, but skyrocketed in the 1980s, to the detriment of fresh oranges. In Europe and North America, a glass of generally ready-made orange juice became such a classic breakfast favourite that nutritionists warned against drinking too much of it, as it is naturally very sweet.

Orange production is far from straightforward

The orange tree adapts to many regions around the world, provided the climate is mild and sunny, and there is water and no possibility of frost. Currently, Brazil is the main producer and exporter of oranges.

However, growing oranges is still a complicated process, as the trees are susceptible to disease and destructive pests, which explains why there is often heavy use of pesticides. The Yellow Dragon disease, transmitted to orange trees by an insect from China, has been threatening plantations on the American continent since the beginning of the 21st century. First of all it affects the leaves, which turn yellow, and then the fruit, which withers and falls. If a tree contracts this disease, it must be cut down.

Oranges must be picked when they are ripe, as once they are removed from the tree, the ripening process stops. The rind of the fruit is delicate and does not withstand bumps or abrasions. Oranges used to be wrapped in tissue paper to protect them. Nowadays they are treated with fungicide and coated in wax, and can keep for up to twelve weeks in temperatures between 3°C and 8°C.

Factory orange juice

Orange juice which is ‘pure fruit juice’ or ‘100% pure juice’ can be obtained by simply squeezing oranges and adding nothing at all. It is pasteurised, but mainly consumed in markets close to where it is produced.

The orange juice consumed in Europe primarily comes from Brazil and is mostly made from orange concentrate. After oranges have been picked, they are taken to a factory where they are pressed. The juice is then heated in a double boiler until a concentrate has formed, which is then frozen and transported by refrigerated cargo ship. Once it has arrived at its destination, it is rehydrated with exactly the same amount of water as was originally extracted. As flavours disappear during the concentration process, fresh juice or concentrated flavourings are added before packaging.

The prompt arrival of orange trees in America

The first seeds of the orange tree arrived in the New World one year after it was discovered, in late 1493 in Haiti to be precise, during Christopher Columbus’ second voyage.