The why and wherefore of kosher – Ingredient Technology

The why and wherefore of kosher – Ingredient Technology – Interview

Claudia D. O’Donnell

As kosher labels move beyond traditional foods, dairy questions abound

The attraction of kosher foods extends beyond the Jewish religion in which it’s based. Seventh-Day Adventists, vegetarians, individuals with dairy allergies or lactose intolerance, Muslims and people who equate kosher products with higher quality make up a growing segment of consumers attracted to the kosher certification seal.

While most food processors know of kosher, many do not know exactly what is involved in the kosher certification process. We have turned over some of the most often asked questions to two well-known experts in the area of kosher processing: Joe and Carrie Regenstein. The Regensteins are with the Cornell Kosher Food Initiative, Ithaca, N.Y. Joe is also a professor with the department of food science, Cornell University, while Carrie serves as assistant director for instructional computing at Cornell.

* Dairy Foods: What is the biblical basis for the distinct set of kosher rules covering dairy products?

The Regensteins: With the commandment, “Thou shalt not seethe the kid in the milk of its mother,”–found three times in the first five books of the bible–people following the religious laws of Judaism evolved a separation of meat and milk.

All kosher foods must be classified into the category of “Meat,” “Dairy” or “Neither.” The last is referred to as “Pareve”–or parve–and essentially means neutral. No product can contain both meat and dairy ingredients. Even if all ingredients are kosher, the mixing of dairy and meat makes the product prohibited or “trefe.”

* Dairy Foods: How do the kosher classifications affect food processors?

The Regensteins: The prohibition of mixing dairy and meat extends to equipment used in kosher homes or kosher food plants. Most kosher homes have separate dishes, pots, pans, and even sinks and refrigerators–one for meat and one for dairy. Some homes have parve utensils.

Food plants often must go from one status to another. The process of equipment “kosherization” is used to convert from dairy to parve. This involves detailed rules such as the equipment being thoroughly washed, left idle for 24 hours and then flushed (covered) with very hot or boiling water. Some materials can only be converted by heating to red hot, which often involves a blow torch. Some materials cannot be kosherized. Going from parve to dairy is no problem. Parve materials may be used with either meat or dairy ingredients.

When parve and dairy lines (or non-kosher lines) are run simultaneously, the rabbinical supervisors must ascertain there is no crossover between categories or with anything non-kosher. For example, they make a careful check of plant piping and may require special seals to assure the integrity of the system. Some rabbis become pipe specialists!

* Dairy Foods: How are the ingredients that are used in dairy products affected?

The Regensteins: All ingredients in kosher foods must also be kosher. This extends to vitamins and growth media for microbial cultures.

Products from animal sources are difficult. Even if the animal is allowed under kosher rules (e.g., mammals that chew their cud and have a split hoof), the production of the ingredient from that animal must meet a whole set of kosher regulations.

Other ingredients affect ice cream and yogurt. For example, grape products fall under a special set of rules. Generally, grape-derived ingredients, including grape alcohol, the natural color enocianin, grape juice, etc., require special, supervised production.

Gelatin is a controversial ingredient with most current “kosher gelatin” not accepted by mainstream Orthodox thought. Recently, however, a strictly kosher calves-hide gelatin that is religiously parve (the arguments for this status are complicated) and high-quality fish gelatins have become available.

The use of clotting enzymes is another complex issue. Until recently, kosher cheeses were generally made with microbial rennet (its production meets appropriate ingredient and equipment rules) or from a special run of rennet from kosher slaughtered calves. Biotechnically-derived chymosin (microbial calves chymosin) is accepted by most Orthodox rabbis as long as ingredient and equipment rules are followed.

* Dairy Foods: Isn’t manufacturing kosher cheese particularly complicated?

The Regensteins: From a religious point of view, making cheese is considered a cooking process and thus involves the participation of a Sabbath-observing Jew. Usually this takes the form of that person adding clotting enzymes to the cheese.

However, there is now a procedure where electrical equipment can be controlled remotely by telephone by the rabbis to turn on or turn off equipment. Whether this system can be adopted to the requirements for adding rennet to the cheese vat remains to be seen.

* Dairy Foods: What do kosher rules say about dairy products used as ingredients in prepared foods?

The Regensteins: An interesting aspect of whey is that kosher whey can be made from non-kosher cheese. If the heat is kept below a certain temperature while the whey is still mixed with the cheese–about 110 |degrees~ F to 140 |degrees~ F as determined by each kosher supervisory agency–then no cooking of the whey occurs. Since, unlike the curd, rennet does not functionally affect the whey but is simply there as a very minor contaminant, the presence of this material can be nullified so that the whey is kosher.

Currently, all major kosher supervisory agencies consider all milk-derived products as dairy, including caseinates, casein hydrolysates (the enzymes used to produce them must also be kosher), specific whey proteins, lactose, and lactic-acid that is derived from lactose.

* Dairy Foods: Does milk need to be kosher?

The Regensteins: Since milk can be from non-kosher animals, its source is a concern. For many observant consumers, the fact that the government regulates milk and that non-kosher milks (e.g., mare’s milk) have more value elsewhere is sufficient to assure no non-kosher milk is used. Some very religious kosher consumers require watched or “cholev yisroel” milk which is under supervision from the time of milking. Certain supervisory agencies only certify products made with this milk.

* Dairy Foods: There is a common misunderstanding about what is involved in kosher certification. Could you clarify?

The Regensteins: When a rabbi inspects a plant, he checks that the products are meeting kosher regulations. He is not blessing the plant or products.

* Dairy Foods: There are inconsistencies in rabbinical supervision. For example, some rabbis accept enzymes of animal origin in the production of dairy products and some do not. Can this issue be resolved?

The Regensteins: There are legitimate and not so legitimate reasons for differences between rabbinical supervisory agencies. Different religious interpretations do exist. Different rabbis will rely on different precedents. Just as the laws of the different states aren’t always consistent, rabbinical law also is not always consistent.

On the other hand, there are times when it appears that a kosher supervision agency may have a business or political motive for their action, rather than a religious difference with the other supervising rabbi. Companies should ask for an explanation. Sometimes the Kosher Initiative at Cornell can be of help in getting such matters resolved.

COPYRIGHT 1993 Business News Publishing Co.

COPYRIGHT 2004 Gale Group