We are now through with two major religious holidays, Easter and Passover. I dislike both holidays, Easter because it is soaked in images of cruelty and mythology, Passover because it is a nationalistic orgy. Now that I’ve offended half my readership, let me say something positive about something I once thought pretty silly: a version of Coca Cola branded as “Kosher for Passover.” It’s a small thing, to be sure, but an interesting one, at least to me. This post started with a research highlight I read over the weekend in the journal Nature, summarizing work published in Pharmacology, Biochemistry and Behavior, an Elsevier journal I don’t read. I’ll take the Nature summary on faith, since faith is a sub-theme of this post:
High-fructose corn syrup has been proposed to account for as much as 7% of the daily caloric intake in the United States ? a conservative estimate, say Bartley Hoebel and his team at Princeton University in New Jersey. They report that rats fed high-fructose corn syrup along with their regular chow for eight weeks gained more weight than those that munched on sucrose-supplemented chow, even when they consumed the same total number of calories. (from Nature Research Highlights, Nature 464, 653 (1 April 2010), doi:10.1038/464653a; original paper, Pharmacol. Biochem. Behav. doi:10.1016/j.pbb.2010.02.012 (2010))
There’s a bit more than this scrap, but the bottom line is that your bottom line is likely to get bigger if you take in a lot of high fructose corn syrup, the sweetener used in most big market soft drinks like Coca Cola. Except the yellow top Coca Cola that’s Kosher for Passover:
Connoisseurs of Coca-Cola and other soft drinks sweetened with high- fructose corn syrup have been scouring grocery stores in recent weeks. They?re searching for the rare yellow-capped versions of these sodas designated kosher for Passover. During the Jewish holiday, which begins this week, consumption of certain grains, including corn, is prohibited by kosher dietary laws. So once per year, soft-drink makers substitute the corn-derived sweetener with pricier sucrose. This creates beverages that are closer to the original formulations, and according to soda mavens, the sucrose sweetener is less cloying than its corny cousin. (Bethany Halford
Mitch Jacoby, Chemical and Engineering News [C&EN])
This is only a small part of a longish C&EN article on how rabbis police all the molecules in food branded Kosher for Passover. My mother was quite observant and kept a kosher kitchen for the first 15 years of her marriage. She stopped when I was born. A sign from God, perhaps? In any event, keeping a kosher kitchen is an arduous task, not well suited to the pace of the modern world. No pork, pork products, shellfish. Kosher meat has to be slaughtered in a special way and you can’t let meat and dairy products get within hailing distance of each other. That means two sets of plates. Any grape product, whether juice or wine, has to be made by Jews. My old boss used to say the reason there are fewer Jewish alcoholics is because of Manischewitz wine. Lots of rules, some of them arcane, none of them rational (despite rationalizations about trichinosis that likely had nothing to do with the prohibition against pork) and in today’s world pretty tough to adhere to. Think about how many different ingredients there are in the average supermarket offering. Hundreds is not unusual. And you can believe that the faithful have thought about it.
Take Coca Cola. Againk from the truly fascinating C&EN article:
?Coca-Cola was probably the first iconic food product to become certified kosher,? [Kosher food historian Roger] Horowitz says. Back in the 1930s, Coca-Cola approached Atlanta-area Rabbi Tobias Geffen to see about the soda becoming officially kosher. To do so, Geffen needed to know everything that?s in Coke, Horowitz says, including the famous secret ingredient. No matter how proprietary the knowledge, rabbis need to know everything that goes into a product in order to certify it. ?The rabbis then promise that they won?t tell anybody,? he adds.
In the process of certifying Coke as kosher, Geffen discovered a problem: The chemical glycerin, also known as glycerol, is used as a flavor dispersant in the cola.
Glycerin is often derived from rendered animal fat, so its source can be nonkosher: a pig or even a cow that was not kosher-slaughtered. So, Horowitz explains, the question for the rabbis at the time became: Does it matter where the glycerin comes from? ?In other words,? Horowitz says, ?if it?s no longer a pig, if it?s a chemical extracted from the pig and the chemical itself bore no resemblance to the pig that it came from, can it be kosher??
Geffen determined that the source does matter. Glycerin that comes from a non kosher source cannot be kosher.
This resulted in the equivalent of the Kosher certifying rabbi Full Employment Act, complete with the confidentiality of the food confessional. All those gazillion chemicals that go into modern food production now have to be investigated for their Kosherness, including things not even in the final product, like the grease in the baking pan that makes release of the food easier.
So there are now companies that do the Kosher legwork. One is OK Kosher Certification in Brooklyn. Their business is certifying a food is Kosher and they’ve done it for 114,000 products, including, we are told, 10,000 flavorings. That’s a lot of products to investigate thoroughly. How does anyone know how well they’ve really done it?
I guess we have to take it on faith.