Agri Leader

Beyond the juice: Other uses for citrus

The next time you pour yourself a glass of orange juice, take a moment to think about what happens to oranges after manufacturers have sufficiently squeezed the juice out. There's pulp, seeds and peel. Unless there's an orange heaven, they've got to have some other purpose, right?

Turns out, there is indeed a huge purpose for citrus byproducts.

"Consumers are often surprised by the array of byproducts associated with Florida's citrus industry," said Florida Department of Citrus spokesman David Steele. "We are fixtures at the breakfast table, but we also show up in many other aspects of people's lives."

In fact, if you look around your house - in your bathroom, with your cleaning supplies, and perhaps even in your kitchen pantry - I'm guessing you might find a few pathways leading back to citrus byproducts. And if you do any work with cattle, there's yet another link.

So let me outline a few different uses for all the citrus items produced here in the state.

First, they're used as cattle feed. Certain farms located near citrus processing plants receive - for a price - full truckloads of the byproducts to provide "energy feed" in the winter to their cows, said Dusty Holley, director of field services for the Florida Cattlemen's Association. It works out quite handy that citrus season is in the fall and the winter, just when the cows need the extra energy feed.

I also spoke with Janet Mixon of Mixon Fruit Farms in Bradenton, who said they give their citrus byproducts to Three Suns Ranch, a large bison operation in Punta Gorda. "The vet had told the farmer that the bison were too lethargic and they needed citrus," said Mixon. "He called us and now they have their dump truck at our farm every time we squeeze the fruit."

Holley theorized that this unique form of wet energy feed for cattle is probably less common outside of the Southeast or perhaps California, simply because there aren't enough oranges to go around. Areas of the country like the Midwest use corn or sorghum to provide energy feed, he said.

"Cattlemen are good about looking for local resources," he said.

However, there's a larger role for citrus within the cattle business. Dried citrus byproducts - cooked and pressed into little pellets - are a common part of cattle feed and can be easily shipped around the nation or the world, said Dan King, director of scientific research for the Florida Department of Citrus.

When the citrus is processed into pellets, it produces a chemical that is then used in cleaning products, King explained.

Then there's the use of citrus byproducts to make essential oils for fragrance purposes in perfume and beauty products. Take for instance the Boca Raton-based Florida Salt Scrubs, which makes a hand and body salt scrub with Florida-themed aromas like orange, coconut, key lime and lemongrass. The sea salt comes from the Atlantic Ocean, and the company purchases citrus and other essential oils to provide the smell, said company president Geoffrey Schmidt. Because of the citrus theme, their product is available at orange grove retail stores throughout the state as well as restaurants, spas and online. Interestingly, Schmidt said he has to obtain the key lime essential oil from an out-of-state distributor.

The essential oils from citrus products are also used for food flavoring, said King. There are a few food flavoring businesses based in Central Florida, he said.

Ironically, one citrus byproduct is removed and then placed back into some of the juice you might drink. Because it's difficult to process orange juice with the pulp, juice manufacturers will make the juice, pasteurize it, and add pulp back in to "homestyle" or "grovestand" type juices, which contain pulp, King explained.

Finally, citrus byproducts are finding an even larger purpose as researchers investigate their use in making fuel-grade ethanol, said King.