FDA Not Sweet on Cane Juice Label

Sugar cane

What do you picture when you hear the phrase “evaporated cane juice?”

If you're having trouble envisioning anything, you're not alone, according to a Food and Drug Administration guidance calling on food-makers to change how they label sweeteners derived from sugar cane juice.

Released May 25, the nonbinding guidance said that consumers may confuse evaporated cane juice as somehow healthier than refined cane sugar because of the word “juice.”

Put simply, evaporated cane juice is sugar, and should be labeled as such, FDA says.

“The FDA’s view is that the term 'evaporated cane juice' is false or misleading because it suggests that the sweetener is fruit or vegetable juice or is made from fruit or vegetable juice, and does not reveal that the ingredient’s basic nature and characterizing properties are those of a sugar,” a May 25 statement by the FDA announcing the guidance said.

The FDA announcement piggybacks a major overhaul of nutrition facts labels released May 20 which requires food makers to display how much added sugar is in a product.

Both announcements represent a shift in government regulation of how sugary products are marketed, pushing companies to disclose more information on packaging.

A popular ingredient in products marketed as healthy, evaporated cane juice is made by cutting or shredding sugar cane, pressing out the juice and then removing most of the molasses using a centrifuge.

A worker at a sugar mill extracts sugar cane juice

The end product is a more raw form of typical refined cane sugar, which is often melted and re-crystalized several times.

Even though the cane juice guidance is nonbinding, it's likely to have an impact across the food industry. Judges have delayed several lawsuits over the term “evaporated cane juice” until the FDA could come out with guidance, such as a California suit against Greek yogurt-maker Chobani over the term. Many of those suits may resume.

Further, the guidance could impact how soda-makers label their latest creations as companies look to swap out high-fructose corn syrup for sugar cane-based sweeteners to attract health-conscious consumers.