Dear Dr. Boli: I bought this juice at the supermarket because the label said “100% JUICE” in big letters. Now that I have it at home, I notice that it also says “plus added ingredients” in tiny type below the “100% JUICE,” and the ingredients list includes citric acid, ascorbic acid, and “natural flavors.” So what are we up to now? 107%? I don’t understand. I thought you couldn’t have more than 100% of anything. —Sincerely, Dr. Margaret A. Hamburg.

Dear Madam: You are dealing with a very different kind of mathematics from what you learned in school. This is marketing mathematics, and it is based not on calculation but on negotiation and intimidation. The marketers write “100% juice” on the label because they are allowed to do so under current government regulations, which specify that a beverage can be labeled “100% juice” even if it also contains citric acid, ascorbic acid, flavoring agents, and a dead camel. This permission was achieved by means of delicate negotiations and periodic threats, but in the end it was decided that the negotiated meaning of “100%” would be “mostly made up of the stated ingredients, with  some allowances for boring ingredients that no one wants to read about.”


  1. Clay Potts says:

    Caution: this product was produced in a facility that also processes dead camels. Persons with known or suspected camel allergies should first test this product for reaction on a small portion of their forearm prior to ingesting this product.

  2. Martha says:

    I now anticipate reading “Cannot guarantee free from dead camels” on the list of ingredients on packaging from now on.

  3. Most of those “100% Juice (with added ingredients)” juices are made “from concentrate”. This means that they take fresh fruit picked in season, crush it to extract the juice, and then boil or filter it to extract much of the water, producing “juice concentrate” that is much easier to transport and store for prolonged periods. Adding the water back in allows for “fresh” juice to be canned or bottled far from the fruit groves (but close to the consumers) at all times of the year, regardless of whether fruit is in season. This is how people can have fresh orange juice in the middle of a Minnesota Winter. In this process, however, some chemical components of juice other than pure water are lost along with the water. Adding Vitamin C and other flavor agents chemically identical to those lost in the concentration process, even if sourced from other, unrelated fruits or purely artificial processes, restores the from-concentrate juice to its original flavor and nutritional content. As these added chemicals were originally present in the juice, it can still be called “100 percent juice”, but as they didn’t come from this particular batch of juice itself, they do still have to be labeled as added ingredients.

    People with camel or insect allergies should still avoid swallowing camels or straining at gnats, however.

  4. John M says:

    Aren’t citric acid, ascorbic acid, and “natural flavors” types of juices? (As a product of capitalism, they were probably squeezed out of something or someone.) It would seem that the label just didn’t give a percentage breakdown of the other various other, non-consequential but flavorful juices (such as apple, turnip, and/or dead camel juice) that the product may contain.

  5. “Natural Flavors” means any substance used primarily as a flavoring agent which was ultimately derived from an animal or plant source. If you could isolate a chemical which imparts a “minty” flavor to ice cream from cow droppings, it would go on the ingredients list as “natural mint flavor”, not as “purified cow manure extract”. A chemical which makes from-concentrate apple or orange juice taste more like fresh squeezed, gets called “artificial flavor” if it is derived from extracts of petroleum or coal tar, and “natural flavor” if it is derived from oranges, apples, grapes, or thrice-rendered chicken fat. Given how much overlap there is in the DNA of all living things (humans and daisies share about 40 percent of their DNA in common), and thus how much overlap there is in the enzymes we all produce at a cellular level, even a chemical originally discovered in orange juice might end up being more economically produced on an industrial scale by extracting it from discarded pig gall bladders. And such a chemical would qualify to be listed on the label as merely “natural flavor”. And if it’s a chemical naturally found in detectable levels in orange juice, then it can be added to orange juice without losing the legal right to be labeled as “100% Juice”.

  6. Sean says:

    Thank you, Martin, for that excellent lesson. I always come to sit at the feet of the Good Doctor Boli to receive an education, but that took it to a new level.

  7. C. Simon says:

    Shelve this one next to the Strawberry-Banana-Kiwi punch containing “No Artificial Flavors.” I’m not so bright, but I know that apart from the artifice of juice-mixing human beings, three fruit mixtures do not occur in a state of nature as a flavor!

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