Consumers are confused about what evaporated cane juice (ECJ) is, but the FDA’s preferred term - ‘dried cane syrup’ - is not much better, according to one of the first groups to respond to the agency’s new request for comments on ECJ.
Dee McCaffrey, director of non-profit nutrition education group Processed-Free America said the only reason food manufacturers use the term ECJ is to make what is basically sugar look better (healthier, more natural, premium) on the label.
“The term evaporated cane juice is misleading, as it implies that a liquid concentrated juice is being used to sweeten a product rather than a semi- processed form of crystalline sugar,” she said. “This misrepresentation may lead consumers to believe that ECJ is more nutritious than cane sugar.”
Changing the name to ‘dried cane syrup’ creates its own risk of consumer confusion
However, changing the name to ‘dried cane syrup’ could be equally confusing, she claimed.
“Many consumers are confused about the nature of ECJ. Over the years, we have received numerous inquiries from consumers wanting to know whether ECJ is truly unprocessed sugar cane juice or whether it is a processed form of sugar.
“In response... we posted an article on our website describing what exactly ECJ is. The article has received over 129,000 page views. We believe this demonstrates that many consumers are confused about what ECJ is and are looking for definitive clarification.”
She goes on to quote Felipe Ortuño, CEO of Assurkkar S.A. in Costa Rica, who says the term evaporated cane juice is misleading as it implies that firms merely squeeze out the juice from sugar cane and dry it.
In fact, he said, they have to clarify and filter the juice it to remove solids, heat it with steam and concentrate it into a syrup; seed it with tiny sugar crystals and boil it to form a mixture of crystals and molasses. Next it is put in a centrifuge to spin out the molasses before the golden crystals left in the centrifuge are dried and packed.
The end product has a darker color than white refined sugar, which goes though additional processing steps, but ECJ is still a crystallized sugar, not just evaporated sugar cane juice, he said.
Florida Crystals: No one uses the term dried cane syrup
However, ECJ manufacturer Florida Crystals insists the term 'evaporated cane juice' accurately reflects what the product is and clearly distinguishes it from regular white refined sugar (although it does have the same number of calories and counts as sugar in the Nutrition Facts panel).
Florida Crystals spokeswoman Marianne Martinez told FoodNavigator-USA in a recent interview: "Refined sugar is made from raw sugar, which goes to the refinery to be processed and become white. ECJ is not made from raw sugar [which is crystalized and then melted and crystallized again in the refinery in a process called 'double crystallization'].
"ECJ is made directly from cane juice in a separate facility from the refinery. The cane is harvested and milled the same day using a single crystallization process to preserve the original sun-sweetened flavor and product-enhancing attributes."
Michael DeLuca: Plaintiffs in lawsuits say the industry uses ECJ as a euphemism for sugar. This is incorrect
In a statement submitted to the court in a recent lawsuit over ECJ labels (click here ), Michael DeLuca, VP of specialty ingredients at Domino Sugar said: "The plaintiffs say the industry uses ECJ as a euphemism for sugar. This is incorrect...
"During the entire time that it has been on the market... ECJ has been considered entirely distinct from what is commonly known as refined sugar. ECJ has a distinct darker appearance because it is not decolorized, as is refined sugar. ECJ has distinct taste and smell characteristics. Further, ECJ has nutrients and other inherent constituents that do not exist in refined sugar.”
Meanwhile, he said, "I am not aware of any supplier or food manufacturer who uses the term 'dried cane syrup' as a name for the product commonly referred to as ECJ or any other product.”
Explaining its decision to re-open comments on its 2009 draft guidance document on ECJ, the FDA said it needs “additional data... to better understand the basic nature and characterizing properties of the ingredient, the methods of producing it, and the differences between this ingredient and other sweeteners”.