Nutrition Trends: Kosher in the Mainstream

The perception of higher quality is pushing kosher - a Hebrew word meaning 'fit' - well into the mainstream.

By Eric Schellhorn

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Retailers On Board

One of the major developments on the kosher-foods front in recent years has been the decision by many major supermarket chains to devote significant shelf space to kosher products. “The supermarket world has bought into kosher big-time,” says Menachem Lubinsky of Lubicom. “They found providing consumers with everything they need from kosher is good business. They’re keeping people in the store and not giving them reason to go elsewhere.”

Rabbi Luban of the Orthodox Union says such a domino effect should ultimately result in an even greater range of choices for consumers who favor kosher products. In an essay for the OU’s web site, Luban writes: “As more companies become kosher, the suppliers of raw materials must become kosher as well. [If] a large pastry manufacturer, which uses hundreds of different ingredients, applies for kosher supervision, [and] 10 suppliers lack adequate kosher supervision, the pastry company gives notice — either go kosher or we can no longer use you as a supplier. [So] each time another manufacturer becomes kosher, the demand for additional kosher supervision is created, and the kosher food market is expanded.”

The impact extends to other organizations as well, Luban argues. “When certain companies go kosher, it puts pressure on the competition to do so. Fortunately, given the size of the kosher market, companies have more options now than they did 20 years ago. It’s just not that difficult to find kosher materials today.”

R&D NOTES: THE WHOLE PACKAGE

Kosher extends to packaging as well. At first, the idea that containers, foils or plastic wraps could be unkosher seems strange. That is, until you delve a little deeper. Although the use of recycled cooking oils (in which unkosher foods could have been prepared) in food-grade lubricants is mostly a thing of the past, other contact ingredient issues still apply. According to Rabbi Evan Herbsman, of the Orthodox Union, some additives, such as release agents or nonstick agents, may in some instances be derived from animal products.

Herbsman also points out there is the consumer-driven requirement that any item that coming in contact with food must be certified. When gearing up for kosher, every step of the manufacturing process must be checked thoroughly for any possible contact with an unkosher ingredient.

Another important check point is with bulk ingredients. “Many times you can receive raw materials from a company which produces both kosher and non-kosher items,” says Rabbi Levi Goldstein, a mashgiach — kosher certifier — for the Orthodox Union in Iowa. “An OU label will have its own special date code, so make sure you see that code. An example of the code is "8SIVAN65," which stands for the 8th day of the Jewish month of Sivan, in the Jewish year 5765. if this code is not present, you should be concerned.”

Today the OU certifies more than 660,000 products making it the world’s most recognized and the world’s most trusted kosher symbol, and the most controversial certification is the K, a plain letter K found on products asserted to be kosher. A letter of the alphabet cannot be trademarked, so any manufacturer can put a K on a product.



MALT, HOPS AND CHUTZPAH

Jeremy Cowan, a young entrepreneur with a nose for opportunity, expects to sell the one millionth bottle of his kosher He’Brew-brand beer later this year. That milestone, the former English major from Stanford, Calif., says, has come despite his lack of a formal business background and a blunt refusal to take himself or his business too seriously.

Cowan’s operation is called the Shmaltz Brewing Co., and his creations include “Genesis Ale,” “Messiah Bold” and the Chanukah-themed seasonal brew “Miraculous Jewbilation.” Today, He’Brew beer is available in 20 states and carried by 30 wholesalers.

“I never intended to create a kosher beer per se,” says Cowan, who started Shmaltz in 1996. “But after I started expanding, it was important for me to get the beer certified so regardless of whether the person is keeping kosher or not, it’s fine for them.”


HOME ON THE KOSHERED RANGE

The full weight of his decision to keep kosher hit Jack Reiner square in the nose. More than a decade ago, the New Orleans software developer renounced pork and shellfish and was refraining from mixing meat and dairy in accordance with kashrut — the Jewish laws governing what and how one may eat — when he suddenly picked up the scent of a crawfish boil wafting over from a neighbor’s yard.

“I almost climbed the fence — it smelled that good,” says Reiner. But Reiner staved off temptation and went on to kasher his whole kitchen. This involves rendering all appliances, surfaces, dishware, cookware, utensils and virtually everything else involved in food preparation compliant under a rabbi’s supervision.

“Anything in the kitchen that wasn’t metal or glass was discarded. We had to get all-new plates, and we use our big oven for dairy and a smaller convection oven for meat,” Reiner recalls. “The metal and glass things had to be boiled. It took an entire day. When you get to that point, you’re definitely not taking kosher lightly. You’re well past just ‘giving it a try’.”

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