Orange juice is one of the world’s most popular drinks and the global OJ market is worth tens of billions of pounds. Around 75 million tonnes of oranges are harvested every year and the world’s biggest producers are Brazil, India, China and the USA.
For many people, nothing quite beats a refreshingly cold glass of OJ in the morning. But whether you’re a supporter of smooth or you’re barmy for bits, have you ever stopped to wonder how orange juice is really made or how is orange juice made in a factory?
A Short History of Orange Juice
The orange tree is believed to be the most cultivated fruit tree in the world and it’s no surprise why. Oranges are delicious!
Oranges have been grown for around 4,000 years, originally in China, Southeast Asia and northeastern India. Large-scale European production started around the tenth century with the bitter orange, but the sweet orange we know today appeared around the fifteenth or sixteenth century.
The humble orange was considered so decadent the European elite grew them in exquisitely constructed private conservatories which became known as orangeries. The most magnificent of all is the Versailles Orangerie at the Palace of Versailles in France.
In the mid-1500s, Spanish explorers introduced oranges to the Americas where they spread to Brazil and Florida, two of the leading production centres of oranges to this day.
It was around this time – known as the Age of Discovery – that Portuguese, Dutch and Spanish sailors discovered that oranges were not only incredibly tasty but they went a way to prevent scurvy, and planted thousands of trees along their trade routes.
How Orange Juice is Produced in a Factory
The industrial production of orange juice is a complex process that involves a number of different steps. Some of the key steps in the production of orange juice include harvesting, juicing, and processing. However, the answer to the question ‘how is orange juice made in a factory’ all starts in the orange groves.
The two main varieties of oranges used in the production of freshly-squeezed orange juice are Valencia and Hamlin. These are harvested in early November while still slightly green, entirely by hand. Before going to the processing plant, the picker will examine the crop and discard any torn or punctured oranges as they may have internal degradation. Superficial marks or nicks on the skin are fine and don’t affect the juice. Once there’s a lorry load, they’re taken to the processing facility which is where we get into the nuts and bolts of how orange juice is made.
The oranges arrive at the juicing plant and are offloaded into a wash station that works exactly the same way as a car wash at a petrol station. Soapy water is sprayed onto the fruit as rotating nylon brushes scrub the oranges clean while they’re shuffled forward on a conveyor belt. Next, the soap is washed off with sprays of fresh water and the oranges pass under drying fans. As the oranges leave the dryer, a technician checks the fruit by eye to ensure no damaged specimens have been missed. The last stage in this process is for the oranges to travel across a series of gentle brushes that remove any last remnants of dust or dirt.
To answer the question ‘how is orange juice made’, this is the most important part of the entire process. Once the oranges are perfectly clean, they can be juiced. The oranges are loaded into a machine called an extractor. It looks a little like two metal circular combs that come together with tremendous force to puncture the orange, peel away the skin and squeeze out the juice. It also filters away the seeds and the bitter white membrane – known as pith – that sits between the sweet flesh and the tough outer skin.
Collection and Filtration
The next step in the process of orange juice production is collection and filtration. The juice flows into a tank with different filters for different levels of pulp. A fine filter allows for smooth orange juice while a slightly looser filter allows for the ‘bits’ to flow in. It takes around 13 – 15 oranges to make one litre of juice. Prior to the packaging, the juice is quality controlled for a number of different criteria including levels of sugar, acidity, pulp, citrus oil, viscosity and most importantly, taste.
The cardboard cartons are passed along an automated production line where they’re filled and sealed. Fresh orange juice is immediately chilled and shipped out in refrigerated lorries to supermarkets up and down the country. This is the final step in the process of how orange juice is made in a factory.