A fifth question for Passover: Why are there so many kosher foods?
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There are roughly 6.5 million Jews in the U.S., according to the Census Bureau, and only about 1 million of them keep kosher. This week, as Jews observe Passover, that task becomes more onerous – in addition to eschewing pork products and certain kinds of beef, they also avoid foods containing wheat, oats, corn, rice and other starches.
Food manufacturers go through a lot of trouble to rejigger their recipes to make their products kosher for Passover. One of them is Coca-Cola, which temporarily substitutes cane sugar for the usual high-fructose corn syrup. Bottles that are kosher for Passover are so designated with a Hebrew-inscribed yellow cap.
You wouldn’t think that kosher Jews (who make up less than 1% of the country’s population) would buy enough Coke to justify the investment in switching the formula. For that matter, there probably aren’t enough kosher Jews to justify the explosion of kosher products now available in supermarkets – more than 70,000, up from a mere 3,000 in the 1970s.
What gives? In the latest issue of Chemical & Engineering News, University of Delaware food historian Roger Horowitz explains that Muslims, vegetarians, vegans and even garden-variety health-food enthusiasts now look to the kosher symbol as an indicator of purity and quality.
Exacting rabbis – some with food science degrees – monitor the production of consumer products like Coke to make sure all rules are obeyed. International Flavors & Fragrances Inc. employs two full-time rabbis to insure that up to 75% of its products maintain their kosher certification, according to the article.
-- Karen Kaplan