Each summer the STAR-K Hotline fields hundreds of questions from concerned kosher consumers, thirsty to know: Is my Slurpee kosher? Do smart waters need a hechsher? What are the concerns with shaved ice and sno-cone stands? We stand ready to quench your thirst for information!
Carbonated beverages involve two major processes: compounding the flavor bases to create the flavor, and bottling the finished product when the sweetening agents, carbonation and water are added.
Soft drinks are compounded into soda flavor bases at one of three locations: the bottling facility, a separate technical center dedicated to blending soda emulsions, or an outside flavor house. In the latter case, the flavor house will create custom emulsions with specifications laid out by the soft drink company.
Regardless of the location, the most intensive part of kosher soft drink certification entails compounding, since this is when the kashrus of the flavors, colors, oils and blending agents are certified. Formulas can be simple or complex, artificial or natural. Flavors and essential oils are procured either domestically or internationally. Some ingredients are compounded in distant locations that are not easily accessible. Regardless, the emulsion requires reliable kosher certification.
At the bottling facility, where the soft drink flavors are mixed with filtered water, sweetened and carbonated, things are much simpler. Since soft drinks are cold filled and not pasteurized, the equipment does not present a problem.
Flavored seltzers are typically comprised of plain seltzer with the addition of a flavor. At times, the seltzers are not only flavored but also sweetened, in which case they are more like a soda than a seltzer in taste and complexity. Either way, flavored seltzer formulations require a reliable hechsher year-round. Kosher for Passover soda and seltzer productions substitute sucrose or liquid cane sugar for dextrose, which is derived from corn. Passover flavor emulsions require special Kosher for Passover certification.
Pure Juices, Juice Concentrates and Juice Blends
The FDA mandates that in order for a beverage to be called a juice it must be 100% pure juice and have no additional components. This rule is strictly enforced with orange juice and grapefruit juice; any nutritional additive, such as vitamin C or calcium, must be indicated on the label. Cranberry juice, due to its tartness, requires additional sweetening, and is considered a juice cocktail.
Once pure juice is concentrated, it loses its identity as a juice and is called a pure juice or juice concentrate. When sweeteners or other concentrates are added to the juice concentrate, it becomes known as a juice base or blend and is not subject to internal industry control. The manufacturer has discretion to add juices, sweeteners and other ingredients – such as flavors and colors – to the blend.
From a kashrusperspective, the most problematic juice additive is one of the beverage industry’s most versatile – grape juice, which is an excellent addition to fruit juice blends. White grape juice and raisin juice are frequently used as sweeteners. Additionally, grape skin extract is a great natural coloring agent, and oil of cognac and wine fusel oil – which are derived from grapes – are often used as flavoring agents.
Moreover, juices are filled (bottled) while they are hot (unlike sodas, which are cold-filled). If the equipment is also used for a non-kosher product, it could make the juice blends not kosher. Therefore, the equipment – such as the pasteurizers and fillers – must be carefully monitored. All of these factors create a serious need for reliable kosher certification of all juice blends.
Energy drinks are soft drinks that claim to enhance a person’s mental alertness and physical performance. These drinks are comprised of high doses of caffeine in the form of guarana, yerba mate or special energy compounds. They may also include glucose, taurine and glucuronolactone, along with ginseng extracts, ginkgo biloba and other herbs as stimulants. Energy drink ingredients undergo processing and require reliable kosher certification.
Smart water is distilled water with a twist. Distillation removes the impurities along with most minerals, rendering it sodium-free; electrolytes, such as potassium calcium and magnesium, are then added back. The added electrolytes do not present any kashrus problems for year-round use and, as with any bottled water, you would be hard-pressed to find a bottle of smart water without reliable kosher certification. This across-the-board approval does not extend to Passover.
Slurpee is an exclusive 7-Eleven product controlled by Southland Foods, which has exclusive contracts with Coca Cola and other soda manufacturers that produce Slurpee products. It was “discovered” when sodas were placed into a freezer to chill and they became slushy. Kashrus research revealed that Slurpee machines actually maintain the frozen consistency of the Slurpee and do not tamper with or add additional ingredients to the bag-in-box Slurpee flavor. This is similar to a soda-dispensing machine.
In a Slurpee dispenser, the water is filtered and blended with the bag-in-box flavor which is frozen to the desired self-serve consistency. There are special couplings that connect the bag-in-box products to the Slurpee machine, and Southland maintains a network of district supervisors who do onsite inspections to ensure that all of their stores are in Slurpee compliance. If a franchise owner is caught cheating, he will lose his franchising rights.
Our Hotline regularly fields the question, “Can I go to any 7-Eleven and purchase Slurpees?” There is clearly no issue if the 7-Eleven store maintains kosher certification. However, in a non-kosher certified 7-Eleven store, consumers who want to verify a kosher-certified Slurpee product that is being dispensed, should ask the store manager or counter attendant to show them the actual bag-in-box. Otherwise, they will need to make the same decision as when purchasing Fanta or Coke from a soda fountain or soda-dispensing machine.
Ices and Sno-Cone Stands
Ices and sno-cones have become a very popular summertime treat. Sno-cones are made from crushed or shaved ice and are flavored with fruit flavors that are either pumped directly onto the top of the shaved ice (customary at sno-cone stands) or blended into the ice (as in the popular fashion of Rita’s ices).
Our Hotline receives frequent questions regarding the purchase of a sno-cone from a corner stand, since so many sno-cone flavors are certified kosher and clearly bear a certification mark on the label. The answer is actually a qualified, “maybe.”
It has come to our attention that proprietors sometimes use the original flavor pumps as dispensers, which they refill from a larger container that may or may not possess reliable kosher certification. While this is certainly cost-effective from a business point of view, it is not in the best interest of the kosher consumer from a kashrus perspective.
A question is also raised regarding whether or not one could consider ices to be truly pareve when sold in a store that serves kosher dairy alongside kosher pareve varieties, while possibly using the same scooper for both varieties. Obviously, companies do not want to cross-contaminate products, but it is up to the vigilant consumer to check if the scoopers are separated or cleaned between use.
Bracha Conundrum: Are Ices Liquid or Solid?
Our Hotline at times receives an intriguing halachic query regarding iced beverages – whether they are viewed as a liquid or solid as it pertains to the required bracha acharona. If ices are considered a solid food, the criteria for a bracha acharona would be the consumption of a “k’zayis” (the approximate size of seven Tam Tam crackers) b’kedai achilas pras (i.e., approximately 2 to 4 minutes). On the other hand, if they are considered a liquid, one would have to consume a reviis (i.e., approximately 4 oz.) in 30 seconds.
It is evident that there is great fluidity in the beverage industry. We hope these insights from the STAR-K Hotline about these popular beverages prove useful and help you keep cool, calm and refreshed all summer long!
 Not all reliable kosher certification agencies kasher the juice pasteurizer between non-kosher and kosher certified juice productions. The reasoning is that there is always much more than six times the amount of kosher juice versus the beliah (absorption of non-kosher grape juice) that occurs in the walls of the pasteurizer. Even so, many kashrus agencies, including STAR-K, require kosherization between non-certified grape juice and certified kosher juice productions.
 STAR-K research has found that purchasing a Fanta Slurpee, for example, is no different than purchasing a Fanta fountain drink. Anyone who is confident about the kashrus of the latter can assume the same level of acceptability of the former.