In the 1950s, a Lithuanian immigrant named Ann Wigmore helped introduce America to the healing power of juicing when she beat colon cancer by using traditions from her heritage combined with a raw food diet.
As part of her healing routine, she cut fresh wheatgrass and juiced it daily. Her belief was that the sooner you got the greens from ground, the more nutrients you'd get.
Today, most health nuts are hip to the wonders of wheatgrass; carrying a bottle of green juice is a status symbol. Just look at the shelves of any grocery store or coffee chain and you're likely to see some green juices and coconut waters. These juices are typically produced by grinding produce into a pulp and extracting the juice with hydraulic presses.
But how can these drinks — made with perishable produce — stay on the shelves for weeks?
Let's take a look.
What's pasteurized juice?
Most of the juices we grew up with (Minute Maid, Tropicana, V8, etc.) are fully pasteurized which means they don't technically need to be refrigerated. Often they're placed in the refrigerated sections purely for marketing purposes, to sell the illusion of fresh juice.
Other mass produced juices will say gently pasteurized or lightly pasteurized and truly require refrigeration. Technically known as flash pasteurization, this process heats the juice for shorter period of time. It's not long enough to create a shelf-stable product like Tropicana, but it's long enough to extend shelf life for months and avoid bacterial contamination. In particular, this protects against the most worrisome bacteria: E. coli, Listeria, and Salmonella.
Flash pasteurization heats the juice and kills bugs, but the downside is that it destroys vitamins and phytonutrients.
And the process doesn't guarantee safety 100% because some germs, like botulism, are not killed off. Nonacidic juices (like carrot) are most at-risk for botulism and small outbreak occurred in 2006, prompting a recall. In extreme cases, this could lead to paralysis.
The best way to avoid botulism growth is to refrigerate your green juice.
What are Raw and HPP juices?
As discussed above, the downside of pasteurization is that it kills off some nutrients.
Another way to enjoy juice without making it yourself is to buy raw, cold pressed juices made without heat. The trade-off is a shelf life of only 3-5 days. In Detroit, companies like Drought Juice (I have no financial connection to the company; I'm just a superfan) sell green juices and coconut water made in this manner.
The newest entry to the market are juices using a high-tech approach called "high-pressure processing," or HPP. This involves huge machines that can cost from $1-3 million and are limited in availability. Juice companies that use HPP typically require the juice to be bottled in plastic, not glass.
After bottling, they're placed in a cold-water pressure chamber where 87,000 psi are applied, killing or inactivating bacteria heat. The juices are date-stamped, refrigerated, and shipped with a shelf life that's often more than four weeks.
What's a juice-loving wellness junkie to do?
If your goal is to get the most nutrient bang for your buck, your best bet is to drink fresh home or store made raw juices.
After that, aim for HPP juices.
You may as well skip the pasteurized ones, since they've had the good stuff heated out and may be contaminated.
The Drought Juice quotes Buddha as saying “believe nothing, no matter where you read it or who said it, no matter if I said it, unless common sense.”
The spectrum of juicing for health is broad and ranges from the truly nutritious living drinks (like wheatgrass shots) to the lower quality mass produced juices (including pasteurized juices made with nonorganic produce and GMO contaminants).
These lower-quality juices have not only cooked the nutrients out of your beverage, but often take one final step of removing any plant pieces because the juice looks prettier when clear.
What’s so ugly about a juice that separates? A little shake is all it needs.
Green juices on store shelves and in coffee shops provide a convenient route for enjoying the surge of phytonutrient-rich nutrition when you don’t have time to juice at home. The convenience may be at a cost of not having the juice freshly pressed and the environmental impact of trucking juice thousands of miles to your store.
A great resource for finding pressed juice in your neighborhood can be found at www.pressedjuicedirectory.com.
While I kick back with a 12 essentials cold-pressed juice in my hand, I have to give a shout-out to whole produce. Fiber is a foundation of health, and an “apple a day” has now been confirmed by science as a strategy to reduce the risk of heart disease. In juicing, as in life, balance is the goal.