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The Drinks of a New Generation
Rabbi Tzvi Rosen, Star-K Kashrus Administrator; Editor, Kashrus Kurrents

Those of us who remember the famous marketing jingles of years past certainly recall that memorable myriad of humanity locking their arms together and singing the praises of a soft drink, "What the world wants is the real thing!" Today, that exclamation resounds throughout the beverage industry, the world is looking for the healthy, natural, nothing artificial, real thing.

Make no mistake, judging by the lines and lines of sodas that dot the soft drink shelves or, from an industrial point of view, how busy and successful the corn sweetening industry has become due to the demands of the soft drink industry the lion's share of the beverage market is still owned by these carbonated elixirs. However, if you stroll down the aisles of the supermarket beverage section you see a far more diverse display of drinks and drink combinations than you would have seen even two years ago. There is a definite movement towards greater soft drink diversification. Are there any marked kashrus differences between sodas, drinks, juice cocktails, or juices? Can these names be used interchangeably or does each beverage category have their own unique identity and process? Let us examine the facts.

By far, the king of the trade is that thirst quencher generically called soda. Soda (soft drink) creation involves two major processes: compounding the emulsion to create the soft drink flavor and bottling the finished product where the sweetening agents, carbonation and water are added.

Compounding soft drinks is achieved in one of three ways. Raw ingredients are blended together into soda flavor emulsions at the bottling facility or at a separate technical center dedicated to blend soda emulsions. From the technical center, the finished flavors are sent to local bottling facilities. Another method is for a soft drink company to contract a large national flavor house that specializes in flavor formulation. The flavor house will custom create emulsions to a bottling company's specifications. Whatever the method, the most intensive part of kosher certification work, revolves around compounding for it is there that the kashrus of the flavors, colors, oils, blending agents and even some sweetening agents are researched. Some formulas are very simple, others quite complex, some artificial, others very natural. Some flavors and essential oils are procured domestically, others internationally.

Some international flavors come from Eretz Yisroel where trumosand ma'asros issues have to be addressed. Whatever the case, the emulsion needs a reliable hechsher.

Less questions surface at the bottling facility. Soft drinks are filled cold and as a rule not pasteurized so that equipment does not present a problem. However, intermittent review is always necessary to maintain the kosher integrity of the finished product.

Flavored seltzers are very similar to soft drinks, less complicated but at times very deceptive. Sometimes a flavored seltzer will be a plain seltzer with flavor added. At times, the seltzers will not only be flavored it will be sweetened as well and will be more kindred to a soda than a seltzer in taste and complexity. In both instances the formulations need a hechsher.

In the carbonated beverage industry the terms, soda, pop, or soft drink can be used loosely and interchangeably; in the juice industry, the product terms become much more rigid. In turn, a lot of practical kashrus insight can be gained from the stringency of the etymology.

According to the FDA "standard of the industry", in order to be called a juice the beverage has to be 100% juice, nothing extra may be blended. This rule is strictly enforced with orange juice and grapefruit juice; any additive, such as vitamin C or calcium, has to be so indicated on the label. Cranberry juice, because of its tartness, requires additional sweetening to be palatable, hence, a new beverage category has been created a juice cocktail.

Once pure juice is concentrated, it loses its juice identity and is now called pure juice concentrate or juice concentrate. The addition of sweeteners or other concentrates to the juice or the juice concentrate is reflected in the renaming of the newly combined product. These products are now known as juice bases or juice blends. These products are not subject to internal industry control and a producer has the discretion and flexibility to add juices, sweeteners, and outside ingredients such as flavors, colors and additional additives.

From a Kashrus perspective, the most problematic juice additive is one of the beverage industry's most versatile. It is none other than grape juice. Grapes have multiple utility, grape juice obviously is an excellent juice to be added to fruit juice blends; white grape juice is frequently used as a sweetener; grape skin extract is a great natural color; Oil of cognac, derived from grapes, for example, is often used as a flavoring agent. Add to this fact that juices are filled hot as opposed to sodas that are filled cold. Therefore, the equipment such as the pasteurizer, and fillers must be monitored. Blending all these factors together creates a real recipe for reliable kosher certification of all juice blends.

It is evident that there is great fluidity in the beverage industry. The sophisticated flavors and juice - flavor combinations are ever changing. Short of the 100% pure juices with the notable exception of grape juice, nothing should be taken for granted and all soft drinks, juice combinations or juice blends would require reliable kosher certification.

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