What You Don’t Know About Your Wine and OJ

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When the mood and time are right, nothing satisfies like a glass of wine. And when the mood and time are right earlier in the day, nothing satisfies like a glass of orange juice. The drinks, in their way, seem incredibly wholesome. They’re both fruit juices—one fermented, one fresh.

But both beverages—in their modern, mass-produced forms—are less natural than you think. The food conglomerates selling them aren’t keen to share the fact, but a lot of wine and orange juice depend on additives. The two flavorings involved aren’t unhealthy or bizarre, but knowing about them might make you rethink how "real" your favorite drinks are. So drink up, and let’s dive in.

Juicing orange juice 

The first additive is known as a "flavor pack," and it's added to virtually all "not from concentrate" orange juice. To ensure a consistent, year-round supply, OJ producers store their juice in giant tanks. To keep it from going bad, they take out all the oxygen. That also takes out a lot of the flavor. So the companies have turned to fragrance companies—the same ones that formulate perfumes—for a fix. The solution is a concentrated mixture of orange essences, or the flavor pack. Because it's made from orange peel and oil, it doesn't have to be listed separately on the orange juice label.

Orange juice companies actually admit to adding flavor packs, but they try to soft-pedal the issue, suggesting that they’re just adding “natural oils” back into the juice. 

Making wine “mega”

The second additive serves a similar purpose and is even more hidden: "Mega Purple." This concentrated grape juice product (and ones like it, such as Ultra Red) is used in many wines sold for less than $20 a bottle. It ensures a darker color, obscures unpleasant flavors, and makes the final product sweeter. 

Mega Purple is used in tiny amounts (usually less than half a percent), but most winemakers don't want to admit they use it—even though blending wines to ensure consistency has a long history in the field. But the concentrate keeps being made, and it likely goes into some 25 million bottles a year.

Like flavor packs, Mega Purple doesn’t have be listed on wine labels. After all, it’s made from grapes, just like wine. And some in the industry are skeptical that it makes much of a difference, at least compared with winemakers who add sugar or other substances to their output.

As natural as they may seem, wine and orange juice are mass-produced commodities. In the modern era, it’s probably futile to expect that anything produced on such a scale wouldn’t be massaged in some way. Drinkers want cheap wine that looks dark and smells fruity. Breakfasters want their favorite orange juice brand to taste the same throughout the year. So if you want to ensure you're getting something truly all-natural, pony up the money for a more expensive bottle of wine. Or buy some oranges and juice them yourself.