When Did Orange Juice Become a Morning Beverage?

Maybe there’s a better way to start your day than with a glass of sugar, but the orange industry doesn’t want you to know that

Who doesn’t like to begin their morning by immediately consuming an entire day’s allocation of sugar in one sitting? Just to cross it off the to-do list. 

The easiest way to get this done, of course, is with a nice glass of orange juice

Juice, in general, is a mistake. Again, most will deliver nearly a day’s worth of sugar per serving, even if they’re 100 percent real fruit. Why we consider them a nutritious beverage is beyond me. But more confounding is why we consider orange juice in particular to be a nutritious breakfast beverage. 

According to Mr. Breakfast, a site dedicated to the most important meal of the day, the answer is basically just: because we can. Oranges are one thing the U.S. actually does well: We’re second in global orange production, meaning most Americans have access to relatively affordable quality orange products.

But per an investigation of the history of the beverage in The Atlantic, for most of the 20th century, transporting fresh oranges remained a problem. Early in the 1900s, the only reliable method of preservation was to boil down fresh orange juice and can it. Not only was it bland, but boiling it removed much of the vitamin C as well. Vitamin C is indeed a biological necessity, so fruit companies like Sunkist developed massive marketing campaigns to bank on that necessity, bolstered by exaggerated medical claims. 

One 1929 Sunkist advertisement read, “Estelle seemed to lack vitality; didn’t even make an effort to be entertaining; hence, she did not attract the men. … ‘Acidosis’ is the word on almost every modern physician’s tongue,” referencing an unproven condition believed to be caused by a diet of meat and bread that could be cured with citrus. 

Around the same time, soldiers overseas had an actual need for vitamin C, but wouldn’t take the powdered supplements given to them. Pushed by both the need for greater agricultural and economic output and the challenge of adequately feeding soldiers, scientists worked toward developing a tasty orange product that lasted. By 1948, they had created frozen orange juice from concentrate. 

This is where American orange juice consumption really blossomed. Decent-tasting orange juice’s new attainability, combined with aggressive marketing on the benefits of vitamin C, made drinking orange juice a habit. When preservatives and pasteurization processes became the norm in the 1980s, bottled juice as we know it today became the new means of maintaining that habit, despite the fact that pasteurized orange juice more closely resembles the boiled and canned variety save for additional processing that reconstitutes the flavor.  

So like the “Got Milk?” campaigns arguing that milk is essential to our calcium intake, Americans have been convinced that orange juice is essential for our vitamin C intake. Which explains why we drink orange juice. But back to my original question: Why do we drink it in the morning

It’s hard to say for sure. The most probable reason is just that we find it invigorating. Citrus scents allegedly help with mental stimulation, and the fact that it’s essentially a cold glass of sugar is physically stimulating in itself. 

Once again, though, even with the vitamin C it provides, there’s no good reason to drink that much sugar in one sitting, especially not first thing in the morning. You’re way better off just eating an orange, which will provide you with your daily dose of vitamin C. One orange contains about a third as much sugar as a glass of orange juice, but the fiber content of the orange will also help you process that sugar more slowly. 

Although the orange industry really wants you to drink orange juice — BTW: producing the juice uses up way more oranges than anyone would ever actually consume whole — when you consider the sugar content, it just doesn’t make sense to include it as a daily part of your diet. 

Save it, then, for the weekend mimosas.