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Evaporated Cane Juice? Puh-leeze. Just Call It Sugar, FDA Says

Is it sugar, or "evaporated cane juice"? The FDA says they're the same thing, folks.
Chris Ratcliffe
Bloomberg via Getty Images
Is it sugar, or "evaporated cane juice"? The FDA says they're the same thing, folks.

The Food and Drug Administration seems intent on bringing sugar out of the shadows.

Not only will food companies have to reveal, right on the package, how much sugar they've added to food; they also will have to call it by its real name.

The FDA is taking aim at one of sugar's cover identities: evaporated cane juice. This ingredient made its appearance about 25 years ago and has been especially popular among companies that have cultivated a healthful image, including Amy's Kitchen, Kind and Chobani.

Just like sugar, this ingredient is created by crushing sugar cane to extract the juice, then purifying that juice, getting rid of the water and turning it into fine crystals. However, it still contains a bit of molasses, which is completely removed from the cane sugar you find in the store.

Food companies that use this ingredient maintain that it's different from sugar and that "evaporated cane juice" is its proper name. Others disagree.

"Evaporated cane juice is the food industry's latest attempt to convince you that crystallizing sugar by this particular method will make you think it is natural and healthy," wrote Marion Nestle, author of Food Politics, in her blog in 2014.

The FDA didn't make up its mind on the matter until this week. Back in 2009, the agency released a proposed "guidance" document that advised companies not to use the term "evaporated cane juice." The FDA proposed instead that companies call it "dried cane syrup."

Now, after years of listening to critical comments on that proposal, the FDA has changed its mind. Its new and final "Guidance for Industry," just released, instructs food companies to call this ingredient "sugar." Companies can add modifying adjectives, perhaps calling it "organic cane sugar," but the word "sugar" should be included.

Such "guidance" from the FDA is not legally binding but can be powerful nonetheless. Several companies, most prominently Chobani, have been sued by consumers who consider the use of "evaporated cane juice" misleading. Some of the judges presiding over these cases have been waiting for the FDA to weigh in.

Florida Crystals Corp., a producer and defender of the product, said in a statement it is reviewing the FDA's guidance but is "not yet in a position to fully comment on it."

Nestle, in an email to The Salt, wrote: "At last. A sensible decision. Sugar is sugar, no matter what it is called. Now the FDA needs to do this with all the other euphemisms."

Other ingredients that are nearly equivalent to sugar include rice syrup, sorghum syrup, malt and corn sweetener.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Dan Charles is NPR's food and agriculture correspondent.