Why kosher food is hot
Rachel Fletcher examines why the market for kosher products is expanding so rapidly
WE H A V E h a d t h e free-range trend, the o r g a n i c boom and n o w t h e Fair Trade obsession. So what will be the next niche food fashion to go mainstream? One senior New York rabbi has no doubts. He reckons that everyone these days wants their food kosher.
His evidence? Well, the global market for kosher food is on the rise, according to Rabbi Eliyahu Safran of New York, an authority on kashrut. Requests for kosher certification is growing in countries such as China, Turkey, India, and South America.
Rabbi Safran has been in London this week addressing a Food Ingredients conference. A rabbinical presence is not standard at the biannual event. That, he suggests, shows how seriously the kosher market is being taken.
“We like to say that kosher is hot,” he says. “The kosher marketplace in the US has been growing by 10 to 15 per cent a year in the past 10 to 15 years. The Orthodox Union now certifies 6,000 plants in over 80 countries.”
To an extent, the demand feeds off itself. “More and more kosher finished products means a need for more and more kosher ingredients from producers,” Rabbi Safran explains.
“That means countries throughout the world are seeking to produce kosher food to export to Israel and the US, where there is such great demand.”
Rabbi Safran’s authority certifies several hundred Chinese companies, for example. “There, a great majority of companies seeking certification are producing raw materials that are then used in finished products.
“There is also a great growth in India, a sub-continent in itself, and developing in technology and manufacture.
“And there is also growth in Eastern Europe since the fall of the Iron Curtain, which means companies seek to export to Israel, and also in Turkey and South America.”
But why is kosher food expanding so much faster than the Jewish birth rate? The reason seems to be that nonJews are buying into the kosher ethos.
In the US, kosher products have been relatively protected from the food scares which have blighted the prepared-food market.
Consumers are aware, for example, that kosher laws are stricter than US Department of Agriculture standards when it comes to animal health. Kashrut prohibits using cows with bro- ken bones or animals that are visibly sick. The laws strictly dictate how the animals are fed, killed and processed.
There is also a widespread perception that kosher chickens are less likely to be infected with bacteria such as campylobactor and salmonella. Kosher birds are washed, salted and passed through three tanks of clean water. Janet Corry, a scientist from Bristol University, feels that the immersion in salt might well inhibit bacteria, although there is no conclusive research to back this up.
It is not just health considerations driving forward the American kosher market. Because kashrut prohibits the mixing of meat and milk products, kosher food-labelling is rigorous. NonJewish vegetarians know that there is no hidden meat in milky or parev products, and vegans and those with lactose intolerance know that parev products contain no dairy. Plus, many Muslims are happy that kosher certified food also satisfies halal restrictions. Indeed, some glatt-kosher sandwiches now carry the words “halal approved”.
Then, there is the fact that a growing number of supermarkets in areas with a Jewish population are stocking kosher lines. But it is not just the Jews who are buying them. Matzah is marketed to non-Jews as a low-salt, low fat food. It has worked. According to a spokesperson for Rakusen, 50 per cent of its matzah is bought by non-Jews.
Some things may never catch on, however. Meticulous food-labelling or not, if you are queuing up at the checkout with a jar of gefilte fish, you are almost certain to be Jewish.
Supermarkets in Jewish areas all have kosher counters. But it is not just Jews who are buying the food