What Does '100% Juice' Mean?

memoriesarecaptured/istock via getty images
memoriesarecaptured/istock via getty images

Buying fruit juice at the supermarket is a surprisingly complicated task that leads to myriad questions. What’s really in that “100% juice”? Why does that “juice” have the word “cocktail” loitering behind it? Let’s take a look at the exciting world of juice labeling.

What does “100% juice” mean?

As you might guess, that label legally means that everything in the bottle or carton was expressed from a fruit or vegetable. Seems straightforward enough, right? Not quite. Things are a little trickier. The “100% juice” label means that everything in the bottle came from a fruit or vegetable, not necessarily the fruit or vegetable you think you’re chugging.

So what fruits are in the bottle, then?

Juice makers have a problem. High-end fruit juices are delicious, but they’re also expensive. It’s tough to turn out an affordable product when you’ve got to squeeze loads of pricey fruits to produce a single bottle. To save money, companies dilute their wares with cheaper juices like white grape, apple, or pear. The finished product is still 100% fruit juice, but it may not be juice from the fruit you were expecting.

How can you tell what’s really in the bottle?

The FDA has a slew of naming and labeling restrictions that would be too confusing to remember; the prose stylings in the labeling regulations bear a more-than-passing resemblance to the tax code. The easiest solution to sniffing out what you’re really drinking is to have a look at the ingredients list rather than just taking the product name’s word for it.

What about the fruit cocktails and “drinks” that line the shelves?

Those drinks are a totally different animal. Unless a beverage is 100% juice, the FDA won’t let companies refer to it as a juice without jumping through some other hoops. If a drink is diluted to less than “100% juice,” the FDA’s rules stipulate that the word “juice” must be qualified with an additional term like “beverage,” “drink,” or “cocktail.”

What other beverages have to declare their percentage of juice?

Surprisingly, a few types of bar mix are legally obligated to declare what sort of juice they’re packing. According to FDA rules, if a bar mix “purports to contain juice,” it must declare what percentage of juice is in the final product. For example, the FDA writes, “Bloody Mary mix, by appearance and taste, purports to contain tomato juice and thus would be required to bear a statement as to the percentage of juice contained in the product.”

Same goes for strawberry daiquiri mix, but only if “its label or labeling also includes pictures of the juice dripping from strawberries or if the product looks and tastes like it contains strawberry juice or strawberry pulp.” If the product billed itself as “strawberry-flavored daiquiri mix,” it would be in the clear from a labeling perspective.

Are there any other exceptions to the labeling rules?

The FDA doesn’t require companies to disclose the percentage of juice if the juice in question is only used in minor amounts for flavoring and the drink doesn’t have anything on its label or in its appearance, like pulp, that would make a consumer think it was a fruit juice. That’s how a drink like Mountain Dew can avoid saying just how much of its recipe comes from orange juice. (There goes our plan to use Mountain Dew to ward off colds.)

What's the Difference Between Yams and Sweet Potatoes?

Julia_Sudnitskaya/iStock via Getty Images
Julia_Sudnitskaya/iStock via Getty Images

This Thanksgiving, families across the country will enjoy a traditional meal of turkey, stuffing, and sweet potatoes ... or are they yams? Discussions on the proper name for the orange starchy stuff on your table can get more heated than arguments about topping them with marshmallows. But there's an easy way to tell the difference between sweet potatoes and yams: If you picked up the tuber from a typical American grocery store, it's probably a sweet potato.

So what's a sweet potato?

Sweet potato and yam aren't just different names for the same thing: The two produce items belong to their own separate botanical categories. Sweet potatoes are members of the morning glory family. Regular potatoes like russets, meanwhile, are considered part of the nightshade family, which means that sweet potatoes aren't actually potatoes at all.

Almost all of the foods most Americans think of as yams are really sweet potatoes. The root vegetable typically has brown or reddish skin with a starchy inside that's orange (though it can also be white or purple). It's sold in most supermarkets in the country and used to make sweet potato fries, sweet potato pie, and the sweet potato casserole you have at Thanksgiving.

Then what's a yam?

Yams.
Yams.
bonchan/iStock via Getty Images

Yams are a different beast altogether. They are more closely related to lilies and grasses and mostly grow in tropical environments. The skin is more rough and bark-like than what you'd see on a sweet potato, and the inside is usually white or yellowish—not orange.

They're a common ingredient in parts of Asia, Africa, and the Caribbean. Because the inside of a yam is less moist than the inside of a sweet potato, they require more fat to make them soft and creamy. They're also less sweet than their orange-hued counterparts. In many regions in the U.S., yams aren't sold outside of international grocery stores.

Where did the mix-up come from?

Also sweet potatoes.
Also sweet potatoes.
Kateryna Bibro/iStock via Getty Images

So if yams and sweet potatoes are two totally different vegetables that don't look or taste that similar, why are their names used interchangeably in the U.S.? You can blame the food industry. For years, "firm" sweet potatoes, which have brown skin and whitish flesh, were the only sweet potatoes grown in the U.S. In the early 20th century, "soft" sweet potatoes, which have reddish skin and deep-orange flesh, entered the scene. Farmers needed a way to distinguish the two varieties, so soft sweet potatoes became yams.

Nearly a century later, the misnomer shows no signs of disappearing. Many American supermarkets still call their orange-fleshed sweet potatoes yams and their white-fleshed ones sweet potatoes, even though both items are sweet potatoes. But this isn't a strict rule, and stores often swap the names and make things even more confusing for shoppers. So the next time you're shopping for a recipe that calls for sweet potatoes, learn to identify them by sight rather than the name on the label.

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What's the Difference Between Memorial Day and Veterans Day?

iStock/flySnow
iStock/flySnow

It may not be easy for some people to admit, but certain national holidays often get a little muddled—namely, Memorial Day and Veterans Day. In fact, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs sees the confusion often enough that they spelled out the distinction on their website. The two days are held six months apart: Veterans Day is celebrated every November 11, and Memorial Day takes place on the last Monday of May as part of a three-day weekend with parades and plenty of retail sales promotions. You probably realize both are intended to acknowledge the contributions of those who have served in the United States military, but you may not recall the important distinction between the two. So what's the difference?

Veterans Day was originally known as Armistice Day. It was first observed on November 11, 1919, the one-year anniversary of the end of World War I. Congress passed a resolution making it an annual observance in 1926. It became a national holiday in 1938. In 1954, President Dwight D. Eisenhower changed the name from Armistice Day to Veterans Day to recognize veterans of the two world wars. The intention is to celebrate all military veterans, living or dead, who have served the country, with an emphasis on thanking those in our lives who have spent time in uniform.

We also celebrate military veterans on Memorial Day, but the mood is more somber. The occasion is reserved for those who died while serving their country. The day was first observed in the wake of the Civil War, where local communities organized tributes around the grave sites of fallen soldiers. The observation was originally called Decoration Day because the graves were adorned with flowers. It was held May 30 because that date wasn't the anniversary for any battle in particular and all soldiers could be honored. (The date was recognized by northern states, with southern states choosing different days.) After World War I, the day shifted from remembering the fallen in the Civil War to those who had perished in all of America's conflicts. It gradually became known as Memorial Day and was declared a federal holiday and moved to the last Monday in May to organize a three-day weekend beginning in 1971.

The easiest way to think of the two holidays is to consider Veterans Day a time to shake the hand of a veteran who stood up for our freedoms. Memorial Day is a time to remember and honor those who are no longer around to receive your gratitude personally.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, send it to bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

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