|Kashrus Goes Crunch
Rabbi Tzvi Rosen, Star-K Kashrus Administrator; Editor, Kashrus Kurrents
In order to appeal to a wider health conscious public, some kettle
chips are also fried in pure vegetable oil to copy their lard kettle chip
counterpart. It is conceivable that the
same kettles could be used interchangeably. If the same kettle cookers are used, even
though all the ingredients are 100% kosher and so indicated on the ingredient
panel, the 100% vegetable potato chip is considered non-kosher. However, the company will correctly inform the
consumer that the chip is fried in 100% kosher oil. The consumer has no way of knowing whether the
equipment was kosherized between uses. There would be no way of knowing whether or
not the potato chip is kosher, without reliable supervision on the plant
processes and a reliable kosher certification symbol on the package.
For years, kosher consumers have been indulging in those familiar potato chips in the red canister known as Pringles. Pringles now come in an assortment of flavors, as well. The canister’s color reflects the different flavors e.g., BBQ brownish gold, Sour Cream and Onion green, etc.; some are pareve and other’s dairy. What is not so evident is that the U.S. is not the only country that produces Pringles. Furthermore, it is not unusual to find imported Pringles that are not kosher certified being sold in a Dollar Store; the canister looks exactly like its kosher counterpart.
Pringles are, as one can clearly see, not manufactured in the same way as a conventional potato chip. Pringles are produced from dehydrated potato flakes that are reconstituted, fashioned into uniform shapes, and baked in molds to retain their shape. Similarly, baked potato chips which are sold in conventional bags are produced from processed potato flakes that are cut into unique shapes and are baked, not fried. This raises a very important issue that has to be addressed with all processed dehydrated potatoes products, as well as the newer snack foods veggie chips and sticks – that of Bishul Akum.
As we all know, potatoes are a vegetable fit for the king’s table, oleh al shulchan melachim, a fancy repast such as a wedding or a state dinner. This applies to grains and vegetables such as rice, potatoes and yams, as well as other food items such as meat or chicken that can’t be eaten raw and require cooking preparation before serving.1In order to be in kosher compliance, an observant Jewish homemaker or mashgiach is required to perform an integral part of the cooking process, such as turning on the fire or actually putting the food in the oven to fulfill the requirements of bishul Yisroel.2 Otherwise, a rabbinic ordinance has been violated. If the product requiring bishul Yisroel would be cooked exclusively by the aino Yehudi, this 100% kosher chicken would be as non-kosher as chicken cooked in butter.
There are exceptional circumstances where a product that typically requires bishul Yisroel does not need to fulfill these specific criteria. In the event that the final product is not prestigious enough, and would not be served or eaten at an official state dinner, these types of foods would not be forbidden as a bishul akum product.3 Potato chips fulfill both of these criteria.
What about veggie chips and veggie sticks, as well as Pringles, whose base ingredient is potato flakes that are totally cooked, dehydrated, and reconstituted into these colorful crunchy snacks? If the potato was fully cooked without bishul Yisroel intervention and then dehydrated, can the bishul akum stigma be removed, avoided or neutralized? There are multiple factors that must be considered before convicting the allegedly guilty potato flake. There are companies that cook the potatoes exclusively with steam. Ishun, steaming, is not subject to the laws of bishul akum.4 Indeed, some companies actually cook the
potatoes in water and the issue of bishul akum has to be addressed. Typically, in factories where boilers generate steam for the cooking equipment, bishul Yisroel criteria are fulfilled with the mashgiach’s lighting of the boiler.5 While this method would satisfy the Ashkenazi criteria of bishul Yisroel, it would not fulfill the Sephardi criteria for bishul Yisroel.6 Other kashrus agencies feel that since the product has been dehydrated into an inedible state, and is then recooked into a product that is not oleh al shulchan melachim, the bishul Yisroel issue is moot.7 Furthermore, there are certifications that would require bishul Yisroel even though the end product is a non-prestigious snack food. Why? Since the essential potato product is a vegetable subject to the bishul Yisroel criteria, even potato chips rise to the bishul Yisroel occasion and the fires must be lit by the mashgiach. One would need to contact the certifying agency to see how or if the bishul akum issues have been addressed.
Another snack food item that merits halachic scrutiny is rice crisps, a cracker-type snack similar to its corn tortilla chip counterpart. The basic ingredient of a tortilla chip or a corn chip is milled corn flour; rice flour is the basic ingredient for rice crisps. The flour is mixed into dough, cut to shape, and deep fried. The frying gives the chip its body and crunch. Unlike rice flour, corn flour downgrades the bracha to Shehakol. In a rice crisp, since the main ingredient is rice flour, the bracha is Mezonos.8 Would the rice crisp require bishul Yisroel? Since it is fried in oil ‘tiggun’ (akin to cooking), and rice is oleh al shulchan melacham, is rice flour categorically considered rice, requiring bishul Yisroel, or is rice flour a downgrade? Moreover, if rice crisps are served along with dips at a wedding smorgasbord, is the rice crisp elevated from its snack food status? If the rice crisp is billed as a healthy snack alternative, which is the manufacturer’s intention, then bishul Yisroel does not apply. Furthermore, a smorgasbord at a chassuna does not qualify as oleh al shulchan melachim.9 However, the brocha remains Borei Minei Mezonos.
When is the brocha on onions Mezonos? Onion rings conjure up visions of a delectable vidalia onion deep fried in a thick batter. The brocha on these onion rings is Borei Pri Hoadama because the batter is tofel secondary to the primary ingredient, which is the onion ring.10 In the world of snack foods, the tables have been turned! The dehydrated onion ring is actually made from wheat and expands into a crispy ring when it is deep fried. It is then seasoned with onion flavored seasoning to create the onion ring onion taste. Since the main ingredient is wheat, the brocha is Borei Minei Mezonos.
The new wave of health conscientiousness has catapulted the potato
chip's snack food lowfat counterpart, the pretzel,
into stardom. Today, the pretzel has
reached new heights of snack food respect, and pretzels have been taking the
market by storm in a variety of shapes, sizes, and tastes: hard, soft,
sourdough, thick, thin, lowfat or no fat, salt, low
salt, no salt, and flavored.
Modern techniques and varied snack food technology combine to create specialty snacks of all shapes and sizes. Corn flour dough is cut and shaped into chips, strips, and rounds, and extruded into spirals, exploded through a pressurized metal tube into cheese curls, or popped into popcorn. It can truly be said that these snacks are hopping with the poppin’. Similar kashrus concerns of oils, flavorings, kosher and non-kosher cheeses, and common equipment apply to all these snack foods, as well as to their potato chip and pretzel counterparts. It certainly can be concluded that no matter what the snack, the kosher consumer has to munch with care.