That’s just not kosher!
WFIM members & guests had an enlightening networking session with Richard Rabkin, Director at COR (Kashruth Council of Canada). Richard’s presentation was entitled “Kosher 101”, but with all of our technical questions, it certainly turned into Kosher PhD.!
“That’s just not kosher.” You may have heard or even used that expression before but do you really know what “kosher” is? If you listen closely, you’ll even hear it at the end of the Clash’s song “Rock the Casbah”. The word kosher has certainly penetrated into our lexicon.
Basically, kosher means “fit for consumption”. It is a set of rules that are set out in the Bible and Talmud. It also makes one think “You are what you eat!”
Here are the basics of kosher food:
- Animals – have to have split hooves, and chew its cud (you can google “chew the cud” to learn the exact definition). Why chewing cud? It appears that the animal is thinking, ruminating (you are what you eat). Cows, goats & lambs are kosher, if they are slaughtered following the ritual process called “shechita”. Shechita is slaughter by a trained rabbi with a knife so sharp that it doesn’t even contain the slightest nick so that the animal does not suffer unnecessarily, even for a split second. The animal also can’t be sick at the time of slaughter, and that is usually discovered through an investigation of the lungs. Pigs, horses & rabbits are examples of animals that are not kosher
- Birds – chicken, turkey, duck are kosher. Scavenger birds (ostrich, hawk, vulture) are not…you are what you eat.
- Kosher seafood – has to have fins and scales, such as salmon, pollack, tilapia. Not the bottom feeders such as catfish, shark, shellfish. White fish has to be purchased with the fins on, so that you can properly identify it.
- Cheese must be kosher certified – contain vegetable rennet which is poured by a person of Jewish faith.
- Insects are not kosher. Richard advised that fruits & vegetables be thoroughly soaked, agitated & examined to ensure they do not have insects on them. Broccoli & raspberries are usually infested! Watch out for natural red colour in food products – this comes from the carmine beetle.
- Wine & grape juice have an important role in Jewish holidays and rituals, making it especially important that they are kosher. The entire wine making process – crushing, pressing, transferring to tanks, spigot testing – must be completed by people of Jewish faith. Richard gave us the heads up that we will soon be able to get kosher wine from the Niagara region!
A few more rules that make kosher tricky to follow:
- Each ingredient used to make a food must also be kosher. Ingredients such a gelatin (usually from pigs), glycerin, lipase, fatty acids, tallow, pepsin, civet (cat, beaver), are not kosher.
- Meat & diary must be strictly kept separate. Not just in the recipes that you make, but to the extent of different dishes, and even dishwashers, must be used. There are even some kosher appliances on the market today!
Here’s some tips for manufacturers:
- If using kosher gelatin in your product, ensure the ingredient label states Kosher Gelatin.
- Kosher product cannot be processed in non-kosher equipment if it is also used for hot processes unless the equipment is “kosherized”: be thoroughly cleaned, kept in a 24 hour abeyance, boiled at 100C or using a direct flame. Cross-contamination occurs when non-kosher “flavor” is conducted from the vessel to the food.
- There is no restriction on when kosher products can be manufactured, unless you are Jewish – people of the Jewish faith cannot “own” leavened products or leavening agents during Passover, in which case, COR facilitates contracts where Jewish business owners “sell” their leavened products to a non Jewish appointee for the duration of Passover.
Richard tells two stories about Jewish people “selling” their businesses during Passover:
One business owner “sold” his food business to a police officer during Passover. The business was broken into during the course of the officer owning it. Therefore, the police officer volunteered to press charges – he “owned” the business during the time of the break in after all. The police department didn’t think that that was quite “kosher”, and the business man had to find someone else to “sell” the business to the next year.
Another story – A business was “sold” to a non-Jewish man, who was married to a Jewish woman. No one felt that this would be a problem. Until the head rabbi of the certifying agency woke up in the middle of the night and thought – what happens if, God forbid, the business owner dies during Passover, in which case the business would be transferred to the Jewish wife! The only remedy to this problem said the rabbi: pray that the man didn’t die.
What does all of this mean to food manufacturers?
According to the Kashruth Council of Canada, the kosher food industry has grown dramatically of late with over $200 billion of kosher certified food products being sold globally every year. One reason for this explosion in kosher food products has been the increase in both Jewish and non-Jewish kosher consumers.
There are 15 million actively kosher consumers in North America. And, 28% of Americans have knowingly bought kosher food. Yet, only 15% of kosher consumers are Jewish. Vegans & vegetarians buy kosher food, as do people who follow Halal. People who are looking for quality, healthy, and safe products also choose kosher. The kosher seal is as good as the ‘good housekeeping seal’: to consumers, the COR stands for kosher quality.
99% of kosher consumers would buy a desired product if it became kosher. Richard tells of eyeing a certain brand of chocolate bars in the grocery store: “Why can’t I have you?” he says, patiently waiting & hoping for the manufacturer to become kosher certified.
COR certifies over 70,000 products at over 1000 facilities now. In fact, over one-third of products in North American supermarkets are kosher. Here’s few that might surprise you:
Pepsi, Gatorade, Heinz, Lays, Nestle ice cream (but not their chocolate bars)
After being enlightened by Richard’s presentation, I checked out the food I ate for breakfast the next morning – both my cereal & milk were kosher certified!
One last thing, what does COR stand for?…Council of Rabbis.