Serious Eats: Drinks

Taste Test: Fruit Punch Juice Boxes

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[Photograph: Jessica Leibowitz, all other photos Alice Gao]

The Winners!

#1: Back to Nature Fruit Punch
#2: Minute Maid Fruit Punch
#3: Juicy Juice Fruit Punch

Now that we're all settled in back to school, it's time to look again at what's packed in your (or your kid's) lunch box. PB&J? String cheese? Maybe a strawberry yogurt? But is a lunch sack really complete without a juice box?

Since you can't really tell what's in the box before you buy, we decided to grab all the portable fruit punch we could find and conduct a blind taste test. Would classic fruit punch all taste the same, or would these juice boxes vary widely? Could we channel our inner children and find a winner, or would this stuff just be too gross for our adult selves?

The Contenders

We gathered 14 nationally-available brands of fruit punch juice boxes (and squeezable Capri-Sun type juice pouches).

  1. Honest Kids Super Fruit Punch (website)
  2. Back to Nature Fruit Punch (website)
  3. Capri Sun Fruit Punch (website)
  4. Kool Aid Jammers Tropical Punch (website)
  5. Hansen's Junior Juice Fruit Punch (website)
  6. Knudsen Organic Sensible Sippers Fruit Punch (website)
  7. Juicy Juice Fruit Punch (website)
  8. Hi-C Flashin' Fruit Punch (website)
  9. Hawaiian Punch Fruit Juicy Red (website)
  10. Trader Joe's Kids Reduced Calorie Fruit Punch Drink (website)
  11. Mott's For Tots Immune Support Fruit Punch (website)
  12. Minute Maid Fruit Punch (website)
  13. Apple & Eve Elmo's Punch (website)
  14. Apple & Eve Fruit Punch (website)
  15. 365 Organic Fruit Punch (website)

The Criteria

Before we started, we assumed that 'fruit punch' meant the red stuff: sweet cherry-berry juice, likely blended with apple and grape...and, well, water and sugar. But these juice boxes ended up being more diverse than we anticipated. Some were red-fruity as we expected, but others were much more tropical, with coconut and pineapple flavors, or they leaned more on the grape side. (And some tasted just like apple juice.) Some offered electric-bright colors (fun for kids, scary for adults) while others were a bit more natural-seeming.

We looked for juice boxes that were well-balanced in flavor, with enough fruitiness to justify the sweetness, and fruit flavors that seemed to go together.

The Results

The fruitier punches came out on top. Some brands were knocked down for odd off-flavors and strange aftertastes, and several were criticized for being too watery. The highest scoring option, Back to Nature Fruit Punch, scored a 6.1 out of 10, showing that overall, we weren't totally crazy about any of 'em.

Back to Nature Fruit Punch: 6.1/10

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Tasters noted this this juice blend was predominantly appley, with hints of grape and cranberry flavor, though some complained that it wasn't tart enough. "Vaguely artificial," noted one taster, "but pretty yum anyway." Some praised its balance and natural-seeming color, though several wished for a tad less sweetness.

Minute Maid Fruit Punch: 5.9/10

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"Actually tasty!" noted one taster, who found it fresh and full of tart apple and berry flavor (with a big cherry aftertaste.) "So few of these punches actually taste like fruit," one taster noted, "but this one does." Some picked this the nostalgic winner, though others complained that it was a little watered down and slightly medicinal.

Juicy Juice Fruit Punch: 5.8/10

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Grapey in a familiar way, this fruit punch was what many tasters felt fruit punch should taste like. Though some tasters weren't wild about the color (it looks just like apple juice), Juicy Juice won our hearts for being sweet but not too sweet, and tangy but not too tangy.

Apple & Eve Elmo's Punch: 5.5/10

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While one taster called this "the quintessential fruit punch—what soccer game snacktime tastes like," others complained that it had a strange scent and odd banana and payaya-like flavors. Some found it nice and light, while others knocked off points for flavors that didn't mesh and seemed a little watered-down. These punches were all tasted blind (poured into cups), but the box design would have probably scored this juice a few points, too.

Apple & Eve Fruit Punch: 5.5/10

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Tasters also noted some odd tropical flavors in this one, but found it light and refreshing, if a little watered down. "This is kind of what I'd expect a classic juicebox to taste like," noted one taster, but others found it too sweet.

Capri Sun Fruit Punch: 5.4/10

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"Not the worst," wrote one taster, "but supersweet and doesn't taste like juice." Several tasters wished this punch was a bit more tart, but some thought kids would like this sugary, peachy sipper.

Hansen's Junior Juice Fruit Punch: 5.1/10

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"This punch tastes like caramel apples," wrote one taster. Some thought this juice seemed not quite natural-tasting, though others praised it for balancing sweet and tart. Several noted a strange aftertaste and found it overly sweet, but it wasn't the worst in the bunch.

365 Organic Fruit Punch: 5/10

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Tasters felt that this punch wasn't overly sweet, but weren't sure kids would like its pruney, grapey flavor. "This has a good balance of sweet and tart, but it tastes like something old people would drink," wrote one taster.

Hi-C Flashin' Fruit Punch: 5/10

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Some tasters said this tropical punch was fun, sweet, and fresh tasting, but some felt that the flavors were way to artificial and that the sweetness could be dialed down considerably. "Tastes like camp!" wrote one taster—and perhaps your little campers will enjoy it.

Hawaiian Punch Fruit Juicy Red: 4/10

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This super-red punch was a dead giveaway, several tasters identified it immediately. "If I was a kid," wrote one taster, "I'd definitely want this. It's totally artificial in a fun way." But several other tasters channeled their inner child and wrote, "YUCK" and complained that it tasted like "fake candy juice."

Mott's For Tots Immune Support Fruit Punch: 3.4/10

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And now the gloves come off. Tasters complained that this punch was watery, like melted ice cubes with a little bit of juice left in the cup. Though some tasters liked the grapey, lemony flavors, most wished for more intensity and complained about a sour aftertaste.

Honest Kids Super Fruit Punch: 3.3/10

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Again, tasters found this juice too watery, with hints of pineapple and coconut flavor. Though some liked the unexpected tropical taste, the group wasn't wild about this one.

Trader Joe's Kids Reduce Calorie Fruit Punch Drink: 2.9/10

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Though some appreciated that this one wasn't syrupy-sweet, it was too watery for many. "Inoffensive," noted one taster, "but it's too bland."

R.W. Knudsen Organic Sensible Sippers Fruit Punch: 2.6/10

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This punch scored low points because most found it watery with an unidentifiable fruit flavor and a funky scent. "Maybe this one's for healthnut parents," wrote one taster, "but there are better options."

Kool-Aid Jammers Tropical Punch: 2.1/10

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Yikes! This one was a bright blue color, which might win it points in kid-land, but our tasters found it way too sweet and artificial-tasting. "Sugar overpowers the flavor here," wrote one taster, "There can't be real fruit here."

Which is Your Favorite?

Which fruit punch do you pack in your lunch? Are you partial to a certain juice box? Let us know in the comments.

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